Eastern Black-Necked Garter Snake
Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus

Georgetown, Texas: July 27, 2004

Thanks to S.W., Georgetown, Texas, for sending in these photos. She believed this was a red-striped ribbon snake, because the spinal markings are very similar. That's an easy mistake to make, as both snakes are in the same genus and share many features. 

One way to immediately tell the difference between a ribbon snake and a garter snake is to examine the scales of the snake's upper lip. Sounds complicated? It isn't. You can do it from a distance.  In fact, the two photos provided here show exactly what makes it obvious to the expert (you become a garter snake expert, once you get this down) that the snake is a garter and not a ribbon: the scales have dark vertical markings. Ribbon snakes have pale, unmarked labial scales. 

Both ribbon snakes and garter snakes are non-venomous. The garter snake feeds mostly on toads and frogs. Evidently this one has a meal in its belly, as it appears to have a lump in its tummy (most obvious in the upper photo).

I asked S.W. to send more details about this snake and her experience with it, and this is the reply she provided:

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Thank you for the positive ID on my reptilian visitor as an eastern black-necked garter snake.  I am surprised that the black-neck is the naming feature, as the red stripe seems the more outstanding feature to me!  I am learning about all kinds of creepy crawlies since I moved here.  I am from South Carolina, originally, and have lived much of my life in the southeast.  I am used to much the same wildlife being around when I lived elsewhere, but they didn't come to call like they seem to do here.  I live in a subdivision at the northern edge of Georgetown.  I guess the critters realize what a friendly neighborhood we have here.

As for how I saw and handled the snaky visitor, here is the complete saga:

Stepping out the back door onto our porch, I was startled by a startled snake.  It was dark with a red stripe down the center of it's back.  It seemed to slither into a cardboard box that I had near the door.  A hesitant nudge of the box by my big toe got more slithering sounds, so it was either in the box or right next to it.  I figured it would hide out there for a few minutes while I figured out what to do (I have the children at home for summer vacation and didn't want a poisonous viper lurking around).

I went directly to the internet to see if I could find for sure out if it was poisonous. Putting "red stripe, snake" into google wasn't really any help, but I was determined.  I got it down to being some kind of ribbon snake or garter snake, so I was confident it wasn't poisonous.  I put "ribbon snake" into google and came up with your site, among others.  When I saw "Georgetown" and the picture of one of the snakes with a red stripe, I was sure it was a red-striped ribbon snake.

I went outside to check on the snake, and saw that it was out of the box and slowly making its way across the porch.  When it saw me, it stopped.  Since it was going to pose anyway, I got my camera out and took the pictures I sent to you.

Since it appeared to be leaving, I left it alone.  When my husband got home from work, I made him turn over everything on the porch to make sure it was gone.  (It was.  If it wasn't, I was going to take my broom and sweep it into the flower bed.  If it got on the broom, I was going to throw the broom in the drainage ditch and leave it there until the next morning!)

I have added it to my list of creepy critters I have seen in the yard or house since I moved here.  You didn't ask, but here's the list:

  • Scorpions (I was blessed with a sting from one crawling in my bed.. and another crawling in my pants), No pics of these.. I knew what THEY were.
  • Tarantulas.. My dog finds these in the yard a lot.  I took pics. That is another creature that kills by inducing heart attacks
  • A black snake.. this one I knew.  A coach whip.  We have those in South Carolina and Florida, previous states of residence.
  • Some other kind of unknown snake.  I never saw the snake itself, but I found it's skin in the yard.  It looked like a little one.
  • Coyote.  I thought I was blessed with a grey fox.  I am such a city girl.
  • Vultures.  They make me nervous when they circle my house! I keep thinking that maybe the know something that I don't!
  • An Ironside Beetle... This one is another harmless thing. I hadn't seen one of them before, but left alone once I learned more about it.
  • A Hummingbird Clearwing:.. this one FREAKED me out.  I thought it was the biggest bee in the world.
Some of the fun critters that visit:
  • Deer (I love to see these guys... landscaping isn't a priority for me.)
  • Rabbits (same as deer)
  • Road Runners (My favorite bird since I arrived).  There is a nest near here somewhere and I often see the adults running by with lizards in their beaks to take home.
  • LOTS of birds.  I have taken up birdwatching and noting which ones come to visit my feeders or porch.
  • Frogs.  I love frogs.. I saw that the red ribbon snake ate frogs and I worried for "my" frogs, but I figured more would come after the snake left.
Please  note that I'm not complaining about my nice or creepy critters.  I think I am an unfulfilled naturalist and enjoy watching and learning about them.  (But I could do without the fire ants. they have plagued me wherever I have lived!) I have even gotten the kids involved, but I am still not brave enough to give them "hands on" experiences with the baddies, even when I learn that they can't hurt you.

Thank you once again for taking the time to email me.  I really enjoyed your website, all the more because it seems that you enjoy it, too.   I hope you aren't too bored or offended by my long email! I just love to share my adventures in Texas.

Sincerely,
S. W.

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Editor's Note: This lady sounds like a fulfilled naturalist, to me. She's also an excellent writer, which led me to invite her to join the San Gabriel Writers' League in Georgetown. We need more good writers in our League, and she will fit in perfectly.

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