One morning last week as I trundled a wheelbarrow load of garden soil, I startled a snake crossing the rock sidewalk. I watched him – warily, it’s true – as he slithered into the “red bed,” and underneath a yucca.
He/she was a non-venomous checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus marcianus). I am not a snake whiz, but we’ve seen this little critter several times. Last year, my husband caught him for the budding herpetologist to get acquainted with. The snake did not really enjoy this process, and before it was all over . . . he bit her. Her first snakebite!
This is the third or fourth sighting of a checkered garter snake near the side porch. Apparently it lives here as another member of our family, albeit a shy one. If so, its survival is impressive, as we have a cat. He is an old cat, though. Perhaps he’s a bit slow.
Today I consulted our A Field Guide to Texas Snakes (Alan Tennant) to look up the checkered garter snake. My picture matches the one in the book, so our identification seems to be correct.
According to the guide, our snake friend is common across Texas, except in East Texas. In Central Texas, it likes grassy upland areas near water, “where it is widespread but not numerous.” We see it near our ponds. And the reason it likes water: it eats worms, tadpoles, mice and frogs. In fact, one of our sightings was of the snake with a toad halfway down its throat.
These snakes bear live young, around 8” long, between late May and October. When full-grown, they average 15 to 28 inches in length, with one on record at 42.5 inches. Ours is probably around 2 feet long.
The guide says that these snakes rove around at dawn and dusk in the spring and fall, and are completely nocturnal during the hot months. However, most of our sightings have been in the daytime.
An interesting historical tidbit: the snake is named for Capt. Randolph B. Marcy. In 1852, Marcy mounted a two-month expedition to explore undocumented parts of the Texas and Oklahoma territories. He was the first white explorer of Palo Duro and Tule canyons and discovered the sources of the Red River. He also discovered 25 new species of mammals and 10 of reptiles, including the checkered garter snake. (Information from The Handbook of Texas Online.)
I guess we should give this fellow a name, if it’s going to hang around. Any ideas?
The blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum) and prairie verbenas (Glandularia bipinnatifida) are throwing a big party to celebrate the wet spring in the dry bed out front. Their colors juxtaposed against the century plant, woolly butterfly-bush (Buddleja marrubiifolia) and cenizo are very nice. Very nice, indeed.