A rowdy Garter tearing it up at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge; 31 July 2016

Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, the Eastern garter snake;
Brevard county, Florida (31 July 2016).

When it comes to punchiness and unnecessary carnage, some Garter snakes have a bit more kick than others. This individual was indeed one of the slightly-punchy garters I’ve come across in central Florida. Not too big or heavy, but not a kid either, this Garter did not hesitate in striking and chomping the fumbling hands attempting to corral it into a condition of relative calm and sobriety.

For my macro-facial reptile shots, I’m often holding the snake with my left hand and photographing it with my right. I also tend to give each snake plenty of room to be more fluid and flex around when I’m working with them. Well, I do that with the non-venomous snakes, at least… Sometimes, however, this ends up in Snake-meet-Janson-Janson-meet-snake bites. It just goes with the territory, but it’s not something that freaks me out. Every now and then, a snake will deliver a punch of a bite, but usually these “bites” are just quick fire, rapid “taps.” Racers, for example, will often strike and tap repeatedly, but the bites typically aren’t very strong, deep, or serious — even if they may draw a wee bit of blood. I hesitate to even call these kinds of taps “bites.”

As for garters? Oh yeah, wild garters can bite hard and with quite a bit of vigor. They’ll chomp down and sometimes chew, digging deeper into the flesh. Some folks also have an adverse reaction to Garter snake saliva; a deep bite can cause quite a bit of swelling. In other words, when it comes to wild snake bites in Florida, Garter snakes —one of the more popular pet trade species out there— are one of the species you should take a bit more seriously — despite their reputation in the pet trade. The worst biting event I’ve ever had was from a crazed Garter snake back in 2005 or so (more on that later). As for this one, it did bite down a bit, but it wasn’t too heavy. Just enough punch to make it more memorable than most, and certainly a fine reminder that sometimes garter snakes don’t play around at all.


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