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Ribbon and Garter Snakes

Louisiana has abundant wildlife, including reptiles such as snakes and turtles. All are welcome in Yvonne's backyard wildlife habitat.

Common Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis

Common Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis

Ribbon and garter snakes are beneficial, non-venomous (non-poisonous) reptiles of the genus Thamnopsis. Several different species of ribbon snakes inhabit Louisiana. They are blackish or brownish with gold or yellow stripes. Most live near water, and all have live young, in litters of from 4 to 24 baby snakes.

Face to face with a very young ribbon snake.

Face to face with a very young ribbon snake.

Ribbon and garter snakes are harmless snakes that should be welcomed into gardens because they eat small rodents, snails, slugs and harmful insects, among other things.

Below are descriptions of some species of ribbon and garter snakes we have in our area.

Most of the photos on this page (unless otherwise noted) were taken by the author, Y. L. Bordelon (aka naturegirl7) on our property in Southeastern Louisiana.

Eastern Ribbon Snake

Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus)

Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus)

The eastern ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) is a medium-sized, slender, reddish-brown snake, with a golden yellow stripe down its back and a light yellow lateral stripe on the third and fourth dorsal scale rows. In the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, where we live, it is often confused with its close relative the western ribbon snake, which also lives here. However the eastern ribbon snake is confined to the Florida Parishes north of the marshes bordering Lake Pontchartrain.

It eats fish and adult and larval amphibians. It bears live young in broods of from 3 to 26.

Ribbon Snakes probably mating by our water garden in Baton Rouge.

Ribbon Snakes probably mating by our water garden in Baton Rouge.

A colorful western ribbon snake

A colorful western ribbon snake

Western Ribbon Snake with red stripe observed in Western Kentucky

Western Ribbon Snake

The western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus) is a moderately long, slender, olive brown to black snake with a gold or orange stripe down its back. It is found all over Louisiana and is the most commonly encountered snake here. It lives near ponds, streams, ditches, swamps, rice fields and other wet areas. It eats fish and adult and larval amphibians.

The Gulf Coast ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus orarius) is a sub-species of the western ribbon snake characterized by an olive brown dorsum and a broad gold vertebral stripe. It lives adjacent to marshes.

Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake Video

This young ribbon snake was hunting for frogs around our pond in Southeastern Louisiana.

This young ribbon snake was hunting for frogs around our pond in Southeastern Louisiana.

The small ribbon snake above was photographed as it was hunting a cricket frog along the edge of our pond in southeastern Louisiana. It didn't capture the cricket frog, but I got a picture of both of them as they went about their daily duties.

This is yet another example of the cycle of life in action:

Scroll to Continue
  • Insect eats plant
  • Frog eats insect
  • Snake eats frog
  • Larger predator eats snake
  • And on and on, until the largest predator dies and turns back to soil which feeds the plants.
Young ribbon snake in SE Louisiana. This baby ribbon snake was unusually peckish.

Young ribbon snake in SE Louisiana. This baby ribbon snake was unusually peckish.

Common Garter Snake

The eastern garter snake or common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is a moderately long, brown, gray or nearly black snake with a yellowish or red-orange vertebral stripe and a light yellow lateral stripe on the second and third dorsal scale rows. It looks similar to the Western Ribbon Snake, but can be distinguished by the position of the lateral stripe. The Eastern garter snake (T. s. sirtalis) is the only subspecies reported in Louisiana. Some individuals have a red-orange vertebral stripe, which suggests genetic influence from the Texas garter snake.

The eastern garter snake lives in forests, along the banks of small streams, and in other habitat near water. Its diet consists of primarily earthworms and amphibians, but also small mammals, fish, leeches, other snakes, crawfish, snails and slugs, birds, sowbugs and insects, which is why it is welcomed by gardeners for its free pest control service. The young are born alive in broods of from 9 to 38 little snakes.

This photo was taken in Ohio and the coloring of this specimen is more brown than the ones in Louisiana.

This photo was taken in Ohio and the coloring of this specimen is more brown than the ones in Louisiana.

Hibernating Garter Snakes

Eastern Garter Snake

Crayfish, Ribbon, and Garter Snakes of Louisiana

Ribbon and Garter Snakes

Ribbon and Garter Snakes

A. Graham's Crayfish Snake, Regina grahamii

B. Glossy Crayfish Snake, Regina rigida

C. Eastern Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis sauritus

D. Western Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis proximus proximus

E. Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis proximus orarius

F. Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis


Dundee, Harold A., and Douglas A. Rossman, The Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana.

© 2008 Yvonne L B

Squiggle Out a Line.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 30, 2014:

Surprisingly enough, here in San Diego I have never seen a garter snake, although where my Mom lives in Colorado they are all over the place. It disturbs me how the "only good snake is a dead snake" philosophy still prevails with a lot of people I know. I don't even think it matters if people study the role of snakes in pest control - they choose to remain ignorant and kill snakes in spite of the facts. Great hub.

suepogson on July 10, 2013:

A lovely down-to-earth lens - beautiful photos. I don't live in an area where tehre are garter snakes ande I'm sad to hear comments that they are declining. I hope they can recover.

JeffGilbert on March 14, 2013:

When I was a kid, I saw a lot of garter snakes in my neighborhood. Now even the butterflies have dissapeard. I don't know what's happening. But urban environments are becoming less and less friendly to these animals. Great lens though, very informative!!

espressoman lm on February 18, 2013:

We used to see garter snakes all the time when I was a kid. Sadly, they have all disappeared from our area.

Monica Lobenstein from Western Wisconsin on September 05, 2012:

I just got to hold a snake for the first time a couple of weeks so and it was so cpl! I liked snakes before and now I really love them. You have some great photos here and a vert informative lens. Well done!

Gloria Freeman from Alabama USA on September 05, 2012:

Garter snakes are good for the garden, I like that they eat bugs and things.

potovanja on July 31, 2012:

Likes for your LENS:). Thank you 4 visit my...

potovanja on July 31, 2012:

Likes for your LENS:). Thank you 4 visit my...

SpenceG on July 18, 2012:

One thing that I did remember from 6th grade was that garter snakes are good for the garden.

sojourner-1 on July 13, 2012:

It's not that I don't like snakes. I don't like them near ME.

AJ from Australia on April 14, 2012:

Snakes are not my favourite creature, but you present them very well. Blessings.

RossJay on February 22, 2012:

This is amazing information and looking all pictures nice.

Dog Kennels | Chicken Coops | Rabbit Hutches

Laraine Sims from Lake Country, B.C. on February 07, 2012:

We have rattlesnakes where I live so whenever I am in the garden and encounter a snake I am very wary. I check it out and so far I've only had garter snakes. It used to be that I couldn't even look at snakes in a photo and chills ran up my spine. Now, I am more conditioned to seeing them and understanding them .. they only scare me when I come onto them unawares. I scare them too! lol The video you picked is excellent! Angel blessings.

Showpup LM on August 28, 2011:

The photos alone make this lens worth visiting but the information is great. I really enjoyed it.

acisni lm on August 14, 2011:

I just love snakes. I live in Ireland where we have no snakes at all - thanks to St. Patrick or so the saying goes. Thanks for a great lens and good luck.

Pete Schultz on April 18, 2011:

you certainly know and appreciate snakes...something I have a hard time with...but I generally leave them all alone, 'cause I head the other way. Never-the-less, and interesting and educational lens. Thanks.

SandyPeaks on December 21, 2010:

Wonderful lens - glad to see snakes are appreciated by many! Blessed by a SquidAngel.

Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on September 11, 2010:

@anonymous: Oh how clever you were and at such a young age. So the little snakes returned your favor by eating those nasty pests from the garage. What a great story!

anonymous on September 11, 2010:

My brother and I found 5 garter snakes when we were little and put them in a big bucket. When mom found out she was furious! We had to get rid of them, but we did it in the yard! A year later we were cleaning out the garage and a big snake came out ... one of our babies from the last summer. It had been eating the mice in our garage all winter. :)

Nan from London, UK on August 11, 2010:

Where I grew up in Kansas we were always finding garter snakes.

Added to "Another 100 Lenses for my 200th Lens"

ss834 lm on June 21, 2009:

We found a snake in the backyard and I came here to ID it. Sure enough, it looks like a garter snake. Very helpful lens!

anonymous on March 13, 2009:

Another great lens. I had a garter living under my porch for about 8 years, I no longer see him, but have lots of pics of him. I called him Speedy. Please visit my lens here and sign my guestbook.



The Goblins Den on January 21, 2009:

Lots of good pics and info! 5 stars!

ElizabethJeanAl on January 20, 2009:

I'm not real fond of snakes but they have their place in the natural order of things.

Great lens


rio1 on November 08, 2008:

Great lens. Snakes are the most maligned animals on earth. When encountering a snake, one should walk around them or nudge them to allow them to go on their way. Live and let live, for snakes have just as much a right to live as we do. Thanks again for an very educational lens, which I hope more people will read.

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