With over 30 different species and subspecies found in North America, garter snakes have become a well-known animal that’s found in multiple habitats, including urban areas. These common snakes come in various colors and patterns, with each species possessing its own unique set of characteristics. In this article, we’ll look deeper into their world and explore the different types of garter snakes that can be found throughout the U.S., highlighting their fascinating adaptations and unique traits.
What is a garter snake?
A garter snake is a type of non-venomous snake that lives in North America. They’re known for their dark coloring and three stripes: one on the back and one on each side.
These animals can also have different colors and patterns depending on their location. Some garter snakes have red or yellow stripes, while others have green or blue stripes.
At first, it was thought that they didn’t have venom, but later research has shown that they do have a mild venom that they use to stun their prey. A garter snake’s small amount of venom isn’t considered dangerous to humans.
34 Types of garter snakes
1. Common garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sirtalis
One of North America’s most widely distributed snakes is the common garter snake. Their range extends from the southernmost tip of Florida in the United States to the northernmost tip of the Northwest Territories in Canada. These species can also be found in close proximity to human habitation, and during the mating season, they can be seen forming “mating balls.”
2. Mexican garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis eques
There are ten subspecies of the Mexican garter snake, and most of them are only found in the lake basins in Mexico. However, you can also find some of these animals in New Mexico and Arizona. Similar to other garter snakes, they favor living close to water sources and eat almost any kind of prey they can find in their natural habitat.
3. Northern Mexican garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis eques megalops
The Northern Mexican garter snake is a subspecies of the Mexican garter snake that’s primarily found in the state of Arizona. However, isolated populations have been found in the southwestern part of New Mexico.
Due to the fact that they share a similar coloring with other striped garter snakes, it can be hard to differentiate them from one another. However, the heads of large adults are frequently broader than those of other species.
4. Bogert’s garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis bogerti
The Bogert’s garter snake is a medium-sized snake that’s only found in Mexico, specifically in the state of Oaxaca. You can find them in the woodlands and forests of mountainous regions, where, unlike other snakes, they give birth to young snakes that are fully developed rather than laying eggs.
5. Shorthead garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis brachystoma
Although the shorthead garter snake can be found in the far northwest of Pennsylvania and the far southwest of New York, only a few of these species are found in these areas.
It only grows to a maximum of 22 inches, and the name of this species comes from the size of its head, which is shorter than that of other garter snakes. Most shortheads will only come out during the day on cloudy days, but some have been seen basking in the sun on clear days.
6. Butler’s garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis butleri
The Butler’s garter snake has a coloration that ranges from olive brown to black, and it has two rows of dark spots between the side and back stripes. When handled, butler’s garter snakes are more likely to thrash around in place, unlike other species of garter snakes, which have a tendency to escape when handled.
It’s possible to come across them in the states of Ohio and Indiana, as well as in the eastern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and in Ontario, Canada.
7. Western terrestrial garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis elegans
The western terrestrial garter snake is a species of medium-sized snake that can grow to a maximum length of 41 inches. This species can be found in the western United States, specifically in the panhandle of Oklahoma and western Nebraska.
They spend most of their time on land, but some populations in the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin are found in semi-aquatic environments.
8. Wandering garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis elegans vagrans
The wandering garter snake is a subspecies of the western terrestrial garter snake. The range of this species extends from Canada all the way down to New Mexico and includes parts of the United States such as Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona.
Most adults of this species also have small, black, square-edged blotches or spots on their backs, in addition to the light stripes they already have.
9. Mountain garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis elegans elegans
The mountain garter snake is another subspecies of the western terrestrial garter snake that can be found in the Sierra Nevada mountains, as well as in Oregon and all the way up to the edge of northern Nevada. They can reach a maximum length of 43 inches, and their dorsal stripe ranges from orange to white, while their lateral stripes are yellow with prominent red spots along the top.
10. Sierra garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis couchii
The Sierra garter snake is a species of garter snake that’s native to the state of California as well as the state of Oregon. They’re also called the couch’s garter snake, after a U.S. Army officer and naturalist named Darius Nash Couch. The western United States is the only place you’ll find these highly aquatic creatures.
11. Blackneck garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis cyrtopsis
One of the garter snake species found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Guatemala is the blackneck garter snake. They can be found in a variety of habitats, the most common of which are grassy areas located close to water sources. When these animals sense that they’re in danger, the first thing they do is try to flee through the water.
12. Western blackneck garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis cyrtopsis cyrtopsis
The Western blackneck garter snake is among the subspecies of blackneck garter snakes found in the southwestern United States. The color of these snakes is dark olive, and they have a stripe that runs down the middle of their backs that’s an orange-yellow color. They can also reach a length of up to 42 inches.
13. Eastern blackneck garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus
The Eastern blackneck garter snake is a subspecies of the blackneck garter snake. The longest these snakes can get is 20 inches, which is shorter than the Western Blackneck Garter Snake. Also, their dark bodies have three stripes, and they’re more often seen on land than in water.
14. Two-striped garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis hammondii
The two-striped garter snake is an aquatic garter snake endemic to the western part of North America. This species can be found in central California, and unlike other garter snakes, which have three stripes on their bodies, these creatures only have two stripes on their bodies, which are found on their sides.
15. Checkered garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis marcianus
The checkered garter snake is a species of garter snake that’s greenish in color and has black checkerboard patterns on its back. However, despite their reputation for biting anyone who tries to threaten them, this species of garter snake is one of the easiest garters to domesticate. These animals are only found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America.
16. Marcy’s checkered garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis marcianus marcianus
The Marcy’s checkered garter snake is a subspecies of the checkered garter snake that lives in northern Mexico, Baja, California, southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and southern Kansas. In the exotic pet trade, Marcy’s checkered garter snakes are common, and an albino morph is especially in demand by enthusiasts.
17. Northwestern garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis ordinoides
The Northwestern garter snake is one of the garter snakes that live on the edge of meadows that are surrounded by forest. They’re solitary creatures that spend the majority of their time searching for food, and they can be found in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. They aren’t typically found in areas near open water, compared to the majority of other species of garter snakes.
18. Giant garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis gigas
As the name implies, the giant garter snake is the largest of the garter snake species, reaching a maximum length of 65 inches. They’re usually found in Central California, especially in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. They’re highly aquatic and go into a dormant state underground when the temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
19. Western ribbon snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis proximus
The Western Ribbon Snake is extremely common in the United States, particularly in the state of Wisconsin, as well as further south, all the way down into Central America, including Belize and Costa Rica. This species can move very quickly, and it uses that speed to outrun its prey, which consists of fish and other animals that can escape easily.
When it senses danger, this animal will dive into the water and try to swim away, or it’ll escape into the nearby brush.
20. Redstripe ribbon snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis proximus rubrilineatus
The redstripe ribbon snake is a subspecies of the western ribbon snake that lives in the southeastern United States, more specifically in the Edwards Plateau in west Texas. This small, slender snake gets its name from the red stripe that runs down its back instead of the more common yellowish or whitish one.
21. Gulf Coast ribbon snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis proximus orarius
Another subspecies of western ribbon snakes, known as Gulf Coast ribbon snakes, can be found in or near marshes along the Gulf Coast. They have the same number of stripes and background color as other ribbon snakes, but this particular subspecies has a light bluish stripe on each side.
22. Narrow-headed garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis rufipunctatus
The narrow-headed garter snake is one of the most aquatic of all garter snakes, and it can be found in the states of Arizona and New Mexico. They usually live near rivers or streams, and they only eat fish, but may also eat salamanders and crayfish.
Narrow-headed garter snakes stand out from other garter snakes because they lack a distinctive body stripe, are instead a grayish color with irregular dark spots, and have a triangular head.
23. Plains garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis radix
The Plains garter snake is one of the species that can be found across North America, from central Alberta to Northern Texas and New Mexico. They’re frequently found in urban areas as well as vacant lots that are located close to water sources. These creatures are one of the snakes that can handle cold the best, and you can see them basking in the sun on sunny winter days.
24. Ribbon snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis saurita
The Ribbon snakes are small snakes with thin bodies that live in the eastern part of North America. There are multiple subspecies of this species, all of which have stripes on their bodies and can be found in a variety of states across the continent of North America. These animals reach their full maturity at the age of three, and adult females are significantly thicker than adult males.
25. Bluestripe ribbon snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sauritus nitae
There is a subspecies of ribbon snake in Florida called the bluestripe ribbon snake, and you can find it along the Gulf Coast. They have a back stripe that’s lighter than the rest of their body, and the stripes on their sides are a bluish color, which is how they got the name “bluestripe.”
26. Southern ribbon snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis saurita sackenii
The Southern ribbon snake is a subspecies of the ribbon snake that can be found from South Carolina all the way down to Florida. They’re also sometimes referred to as the Florida ribbon snake or the Peninsula ribbon snake. This slender animal has a tendency to be smaller than other subspecies of ribbon snakes, and they’re both semi-aquatic and semi-arboreal in their habitat.
27. Eastern ribbon snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sauritus sauritus
One of the four subspecies of ribbon snakes is the eastern ribbon snake, which is also referred to as the common ribbon snake. They’re mostly found in wetlands and are quite common in the southeastern United States. These creatures are active throughout the entire year and only go into hibernation during the colder months.
28. Northern ribbon snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis
One of the subspecies of the ribbon snake, known as the Northern ribbon snake, can be found in the northern parts of the United States, including southern Maine, southern Ontario, Michigan, New York, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. Similar to other kinds of ribbon snakes, they favor living in wet meadows and fields that are located close to water sources.
29. Aquatic garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis atratus
Along the coasts of Oregon and California lives a unique species of garter snake known as the aquatic garter snake. These aquatic garter snakes can be a variety of colors, including dark brown, light gray, or even black, with alternating rows of darker blotches on the sides.
They also have a yellow stripe running down the middle of their backs, which may be missing in some. This snake will also mimic an insect by flicking its tongue above the water in order to attract smaller fish.
30. Texas garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sirtalis annectens
The Texas garter snake is a subspecies of the common garter snake that can only be found in Texas, more specifically in the central region of the state. They prefer to live in or near water and have a greenish-black back with a bright orange or red stripe down the middle of it. Their stripes are also pale yellow at their outer edges.
31. California red-sided garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis
The California red-sided garter snake is a subspecies of the common garter snake that lives in the coastal dunes and marshes of California. California red-sided garter snakes are known for having an orange or redhead and a red body with yellow or blue stripes and a row of black spots or blotches that look like stripes.
32. Eastern garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
One of the many subspecies of the common garter snake, the Eastern garter snake can be found all the way from the southernmost Ontario and Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico, and along eastern shores to the Mississippi River in the United States. You can find these snakes in any open area, from fields to abandoned farmlands to garbage dumps, and they’re considered the most prevalent snake in New England.
33. Chicago garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sirtalis semifasciatus
The Chicago garter snake is a subspecies of the common garter snake that lives in Chicago. You can also find it near rural waterways in the northeastern part of Illinois. They can be distinguished from members of other subspecies by the broken side stripe that’s located near the head of the snake.
34. San Francisco garter snake
- Scientific Name: Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia
There is a subspecies of the common garter snake known as the San Francisco garter snake that’s only found on the San Francisco Peninsula. They have a bluish-green base color with stripes that can be black, red, orange, or blue-green. This animal also has a red head, and its eyes are much bigger than the eyes of other species of garter snakes, which is why it has very good eyesight.