The California Red Garter Snake

The California Red Garter Snake

Wondering if the California red garter is harmful to humans? Wanting to own one, so does the California red garter snake make a good pet? If yes, can you keep the California red garter in your garden? How does the California garter snake live in the wild? Ultimately, how to identify and spot a California red garter snake?

I am author Michael Cook, an ardent snake enthusiast and member of Herpetologists research group. I am also a specialized writer for the Snake Store team. My journey on snake studies enroots from my childhood eagerness to spot snakes in our home garden. Today, I am an expert in behavioral investigations of snake species across all the continents, as well as a snake owner myself. Here, I want to answer all your questions about the California red garter, one of the most beautiful and common species endemic to California.

The California red garter snakes are small, reaching up to 54" (137 cm) with checkered patterns in red and black, and occasionally faint stripes. They are spotted around the dunes and marshlands of California, to grassy backyards. In winters, they are found in their hibernation pits around their habitats.

california red garter snake zoom

This article discusses the following subtexts;

  • A glance on distributions and species living in North America
  • Habitat and Identification of California garter snakes
  • Behavioral characteristics of California garter snakes in contrast with feeding and mating habits and seasonal changes
  • California garter snakes as pets

Find out everything you need to know about the California garter snakes below;

1- What Are the North-American Snakes Like?

North America possesses over 20 species of venomous snakes. They usually belong to the viper family, including rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, and coral snakes. These species can be found throughout the entire United States. Snakes are fairly common in North America. There are at least one species of venomous snake in every North American state, apart from Alaska. As explained in the Insider, "Every year, between 7000-8000 Americans are bitten by snakes, according to the University of Florida, but usually, there are only 5 to 6 bites that prove fatal.” What this means is that you have fewer chances of getting killed by a snake bite, roughly one in fifty million. America is home to a wide range of snake species but the most common among them are the copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes, which are all categorized as poisonous.

The California red garter snake is a venomous species that dwells throughout California. They are commonly mistaken for the San Francisco garter snakes because of the occasionally similar appearance. However, the one thing that sets them apart is that the San Francisco garter snake has red blotching patterns on its scales instead of black blotching. The reason that the two of them are often mistaken interchangeably is that sometimes, the California red garter displays more black blotching on its scales; while the red is less prominent, they tend to look almost identical to the San Francisco garter snake.

california red garter snake

2- Where is The California Red Garter Snake Found?

Common garter snakes are found throughout North America and divided into several subspecies, including the California red garter and the San Francisco garter snakes. However, the garter snakes are not present in the arid southwestern regions of the United States. The California Herps explains the geographical distribution of the California red garter snake in detail,"This subspecies, Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis - California Red-sided Garter snake, is endemic to California''. This species does not occur along the San Francisco coast, but it does occur in central San Diego City. On most distribution maps, this species does not have an accurate distribution in the eastern regions, and is often subjected to change. For this very reason, most of the eastern range is included in the maps.

After understanding where the California red garter is located geographically, there comes the question of which habitats they belong in. The California red garter is indeed adaptable to a wide variety of habitats. They can also survive in extreme environmental conditions, such as high temperatures, and dry climates. However, these snakes are usually found in places like meadows, marshes, woodlands, and hillsides. They seem to prefer habitats that are grassy and remain moist, including areas with vegetation and sunlight.

california red garter snake details

3- What does The California Red Garter Snake look like?

California red garter snakes have a colorful appearance; their scales feature a red base with yellow or blue stripes that extend all along their body. They also exhibit black spots and lines along their scales. The head of the California red garter snakes is slightly wider than their body. Most of their species have two or three pale stripes, but only some of them display side stripes which could also manifest in pastel tones. The California red garter snakes also have slightly larger eyes when compared with the rest of the garter snake species. The head is usually more reddish than the rest of the body, and their tongue is characterized with a deep red color and a black tip.

These snakes can grow an impressive length and up to 54" (137 cm). The male California red garter snakes are generally smaller than the females and also have longer tails. Young California red garter snakes are about 9" (23 cm) long when they are stretched, and showcase a similar appearance to their adult parents. The young offspring grow quickly, becoming mature in their second or third year when they reach a length of 22" (55 cm). The average adult California red garter snake weighs about 5.3oz (150 gr).

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4- What Are Some Common Behaviors of California Red Garter Snakes?

In the wild, an average California Red Garter Snake lives about two to four years. However, if they are kept in captivity, they can live up to ten years. Some species are even rumored to last longer than fifteen years. These snakes are most active during the daytime and under the warmth of the sun. As they primarily live near water, their inherent swimming abilities are marked above average. Their hibernation period usually starts at the end of October and continues until the beginning of April. They often choose naturally formed holes or cavities for hibernation, such as burrows, rock piles, or tree stumps.

These snakes are carnivorous and feed almost on any meat, or animal that they may come across. Their diet typically includes earthworms, amphibians, leeches, slugs, snails, insects, crayfish, small fishes and other snakes. They can also eat toads, as they are immune to their toxic secretions. California red garter snakes are equipped with excellent sensory facilities such as clear sight and hearing, which greatly contribute to their precise preying techniques. They can use several methods to capture their prey, and once they do, they bite their prey. The venom of California red garter snakes proves to be severely toxic to some animals and often results in immediate death. Like other snakes, the California red garter snakes also swallow their food whole.

california red garter snake head

California red garter snakes have unique defensive behaviors. Snake Facts explains, "When handled or if disturbed, they display a typical garter snake behavior and often release foul-smelling cloacal contents and musk. They may also coil and strike.” It should be noted that they only engage in these strategies when there is no other choice for them, such as escaping into the water. These snakes also prefer using their camouflaging abilities and the ability to move quickly to protect themselves. Their striped scales help them camouflage easily in grassy areas with lots of vegetation. It is difficult to spot them once they are forced out of their hiding areas.

5- How Do California Red Garter Snakes Reproduce?

The breeding season for California red garter snakes is in early spring, and they give birth to their offspring in the late summer. Some garter snakes may also breed in autumn. The breeding season starts as soon as the hibernation period ends. When spring starts, the male California red garter snakes immediately come out of hibernation to find a female snake to mate with.

Female California red garter snakes typically give birth to live snakes and may give birth to eight to twenty young snakes at a time. The snakes are born from mid-summer to early fall when the gestation period ends, which goes on for about 90 days. Young California red garter snakes are independent as soon as they are born, and they are born with pale-colored scales that gradually develop over time. The young regularly shed their skin until they mature, which happens after three years after the time they are born.

california red garter snake on dirt

6- Can The California Red Garter Snake be Kept as a Pet?

This species of garter snake seems difficult to take care of, but it is actually quite simple to do so. These snakes are slim and flexible. They can be kept in cages with about twenty gallons of capacity, with a recommended bedding of cypress mulch. This will help the snake to shed its skin better, and also will not dry out its surroundings. It is advisable to keep a water dish around the cage, not just for the snake to drink out of, but also to swim in. As the California red garter snakes are used to wet areas, they will need moisture to stay comfortable.

Since the snakes are cold-blooded, they would require a heat lamp or some alternative source to obtain their body warmth. This is vital to the well-being of a captive snake and in case of its absence, they may freeze to death. It is a good idea to keep your California red garter snakes in the yard or garden as they can get rid of unwanted pests and insects that may disturb the plants in your garden. While this species of snakes are known for their unique lifestyle, they are still quite manageable and easy to handle.

california red garter snake on rocks

7- Are The California Red Garter Snakes Dangerous?

The California Red Garter Snakes are typically not considered dangerous towards humans. They are capable of releasing toxins into the animal that they bite, but they usually do this to their prey. If they bite a human, it will cause a mild, undesirable reaction. This includes itching and temporary inflammation, that will disappear after a short while. A bite by a California red garter snake can become infected if it comes into contact with moisture or water. This is why you still need to care for the wound, especially when it is fresh. However, the fact remains that the snakes are harmless to humans because of the low toxicity levels of their venom and they also do not transfer large quantities of venom when they bite.

california red garter snake on sand

8- Snake Patterns that Inspire Art and Fashion

You now hold proficient knowledge on California garter snakes- both in the wild and under captive conditions. You can now educate your friends who are dealing with California garden snakes or are pets’ owners- offering them your valuable information on identification, their needs in natural and artificial habitats under captivity, their mating habits, and even throw in a few additional tips to ensure the general wellbeing of these magnificent creatures.

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