Garter Snakes: Are They Dangerous, or Are They Your Garden's Greatest Ally?


May 18 2021, Published 1:33 p.m. ET

Are garter snakes dangerous?
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If you’re walking through your backyard and spot a skinny snake slithering through the grass, don’t panic. Of 50-or-so snake species living in the U.S., only about 21 have fatal bites — so the tiny, friendly snake you just encountered is probably nothing more than a common garter snake. But are garter snakes dangerous even without the venom, or are they evidently helpful to homeowners?

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Garter snake head
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What are garter snakes?

According to Cuteness, garter snakes are one of the most common snake species found in North America. Most garter snakes are thin and reach an average length of between 2 and 3 feet. You can usually identify them by looking for the yellow, red, or white stripes that run the length of their otherwise dark-colored bodies. Normally found in backyards, grasslands, wetlands, and forests, garter snakes can often be found basking on garden rocks at the hottest part of the day.

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Are garter snakes dangerous?

Almost all garter snake subspecies are classified as harmless, according to Live Science. These tiny, innocuous snakes are generally considered to be non-venomous and won’t usually bite unless thoroughly provoked. However, if handled improperly, garter snakes are prone to discharge musk or defecate when handled. 

Be that as it may, many choose to keep garter snakes as pets. According to Reptile Advisor, garter snakes make for decent pets and become accustomed to handling rather quickly, though they are considered “wrigglier” than most other snakes. They also don’t require rodents for feeding and can survive on small fish in captivity. 

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Source: Getty Images

Are garter snakes poisonous?

Unlike vipers, rattlesnakes, and cobras, garter snakes don't possess any venom. According to Terminix, some subspecies do have enough of the necessary toxins in their saliva to be considered venomous — just not to humans. While they are not technically poisonous, garter snake bites can cause minor swelling and itching in humans, and some people have shown allergic reactions in the past, though it is rare.

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If bitten by a garter snake, you should start out by cleaning the wound thoroughly to avoid infection, and call 911 if you experience any nausea, vomiting, disorientation, or difficulty breathing. If you're not certain that the snake that bit you is a garter snake, or if you suspect the bite is from a venomous species, call 911 immediately. 

Are garter snakes dangerous to dogs?

According to Cuteness, a garter snake’s mild venom could cause your dog just as much irritation as it caused you. If a situation of dog versus snake arises, your best bet is to keep an eye on any potential symptoms and clean up your pup’s wounds. Also, make sure they haven’t eaten any of the snakes as that could result in an upset stomach. 

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Snake's tongue
Source: Getty Images

Why are garter snakes helpful?

According to Terminix, garter snakes are great for your lawn and garden because they feed on the types of pests that gardeners loathe: snails, slugs, leeches, and grasshoppers. Though most are too small, larger species may choose to dine on mice, frogs, tiny fish like killifish and salamanders.

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