Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Checkered Garter Snake

The sun burned now across the Rim Country. Sanchez lay quiet. His partner walked back from the tree line to the flat hard dirt near the smoldering fire. “Ponga la pie,” his partner said. He thought to kick his feet, but saw they had not moved since daybreak. “Wake up Sanchez,” Nothing. “You’re either dead or there’s a snake in your bag.” He noticed a slight movement from Sanchez’s covered toes. “You’re not dead.” He waited then pushed the brim of his hat up, took the pistol from his holster and in one quick movement grabbed the sleeping bag and pulled. He shot once, twice, three times at the snake slithering across the earth then realized it was only a garter. Sanchez sighed.

Garter snakes, named after their resemblance to garter belts, are the most widely distributed reptiles in North America with a range from Nicaragua to Alaska. There are many species of garters but the Checkered Garter Snake is most common in the Trans Pecos. They are easily recognized by their long yellow back stripe, fainter side stripes and symmetry of black blotches.

Garters are carnivorous and eat a wide variety of any animal they can subdue including slugs, toads, rodents, leeches and lizards.

Garters are gregarious and hang out in cool dark communal dens during brumation. They communicate through hormone transport also known as pheromones, odors which activate behaviors such as reproduction.

Males are known to emit both male and female pheromones during mating season. Intense mating rituals include snake balls that can have as many as one hundred males and one female wrapped into a Medusa-like orb.

Garters emit a musky smell when alarmed and recent discoveries suggest they produce a mild neurotoxin known as three finger poison. Unlike pit vipers, the secreting gland and the rear fangs lack an efficient delivery system. A garter snake bite rarely causes pain or inflammation.

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