Checkered Garter Snake
Thamnophis marcianus marcianus

Austin, Texas: June 21, 2004

Photographs Courtesy Matt G.

Thanks to Matt G., Austin, Texas, for sending these photos in. The checkered garter snake is found throughout the western two-thirds of Texas, in northern Mexico, the Yucatan, eastern and southern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and the southeastern tip of California. It prefers arid climates.  

The background color of the body is variable, from dark gray to yellow. Most are either tan or pale gray, with a narrow white or yellow spinal stripe and a checkerboard of squarish black spots arranged in two rows below the spinal stripe on each side of the body. A third row of smaller, dark round spots is below the checkerboard rows, separated from them by a whitish stripe but with a buff, olive, or dark gray background

The head has several key markings that distinguish the checkered garter snake from other species in the genus Thamnophis. A whitish or light yellow crescent separates the black collar on the neck from the labial scales. The first two labial scales from the end of the mouthline are almost the same color as the dorsal scales of the head, while the remaining labial scales are pale with black edges (a characteristic of the garter snakes). 

The checkered garter snake, as with all of the garters, is essentially non-venomous; though its saliva is mildly toxic, it does not pose harm to humans under normal circumstances. It is probably prudent, however, to avoid letting small children handle these snakes, as their saliva might produce injuries with small children, who are more sensitive than adults. Except when threatened it is mild mannered and docile. If handled it will probably expel musk and feces to discourage retention by the handler. It feeds on frogs and toads. 

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