Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Gartersnake’

Eastern Gartersnake

November 18, 2017

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) was spotted during a photowalk along Easy Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

After taking a closer shot of the snake’s head (above), I backed away for a wider view that shows the snake is a little more than two (2) feet in length (below).

Eastern Gartersnakes can be differentiated from Common Ribbonsnakes (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) by the presence of “dark vertical lines on the supralabial scales.” This key characteristic is shown clearly in the following photo.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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If snakes could talk

June 1, 2017

In my experience, snakes flick their tongue frequently when they feel threatened by a predator. If snakes could talk, then this one might be saying “You’re making me feel anxious!”

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) was spotted along Pope’s Head Creek at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. A wider view shows the snake is approximately two (2) feet in length. Notice its tail appears to have been amputated and healed afterward.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

A closer look at the snake shows several fresh injuries along the body, such as the gash near its head.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

Several bus loads of middle school students were visiting the park on 10 May 2017. I saw three students downstream from me who were separated from the larger group. They were throwing rocks at something along the shore. As I approached them, they started walking in the opposite direction. I spotted the snake when I reached the same place where the students had been throwing rocks.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

I’m guessing the students were trying to kill the snake before they saw me. So if snakes could talk, then this one might be saying “Thank you for saving my life!”

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

Editor’s Comments: What’s the take-away from this ugly experience? This is another example of “good thought, bad idea.” It was a good thought to schedule a school field trip to a nature park; it was a bad idea to lose track of several students! Middle school students require adult supervision at all times. Trust me, as a retired K-12 science teacher, this is the voice of experience talking. The teachers are lucky none of their students were injured when they were missing in action. The snake wasn’t as fortunate — it was injured as a consequence of the teachers’ negligence. Let’s hope the snake survived its injuries!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Opposing viewpoints

April 15, 2016

Michael Powell and I met for a long photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 11 April 2016. We spotted (and photographed) a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) during the morning and an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) in the early afternoon.

Mike’s viewpoint

The following photo shows Michael Powell shooting the snake, up close and personal, using a field-tested technique I refer to as “Sandbagging the Grinder.” Sometimes Mike uses his camera bag for support and stability in order to shoot tack-sharp photos with a Tamron 180mm macro lens. “The Grinder” is my nickname for Mike’s macro lens because you can hear the internal gears grinding when it’s autofocusing — it’s loud, but hey, it works well in the hands of a skilled photographer!

Michael Powell photographing an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

My viewpoint

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The preceding photo is the next shot I took after taking the photo of Mike. I was shooting with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom digital camera — my go-to camera for long walks in the field. I was sitting on my Coleman camp stool. The camp stool enables me to get closer to subjects either on- or near the ground, without belly-flopping like Mike. And I think it’s easier to hold my camera rock-steady when I’m sitting on the chair with my elbows resting on my knees.

Editorial Commentary

Regular readers of the “Huntley Meadows Park Community” Facebook group know I recently commented on a post showing a young woman shooting photos of a Northern Black Racer by crouching on the ground about three feet in front of the snake’s face. I like to get as close as possible to the wildlife I photograph, but it’s important to do so safely. Snakes, especially Northern Black Racers, can move quickly and unexpectedly — when you position yourself in the line of fire in such a way that you can’t react and move just as quickly, you risk being bitten.

Both snakes that Mike and I photographed startled us when one minute we’re shooting photos and the next second the snakes slithered away like they were shot out of a canon! In this case, it’s possible I distracted the gartersnake enough to afford Mike the opportunity to get closer than he could have if he were alone. Only the snake knows what it was thinking at the time. But I know this: I would never do what Mike did. That being said, if one is going to risk being bitten by a snake in order to get some good close-up shots, then an Eastern Gartersnake is probably a lower risk than a Northern Black Racer.

Bottom line: Let’s be careful out there!

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Brumation termination

March 12, 2016

A few days of record-setting temperatures appear to have terminated brumation for at least one species of snake at Huntley Meadows Park: several Eastern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) were spotted during a photowalk along the Hike-Bike Trail on 09 March 2016.

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

I heard this one before I saw it. In my experience, snakes slithering through leaf litter make a sound that is clearly distinct from leaves rustling in the wind.

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

When the snake saw me, it froze and remained motionless for several minutes — a survival strategy sometimes used by snakes when they feel threatened. I estimate the snake is 2.5 – 3.0 feet in length.

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Related Resource: Brumation break, by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Brumation break

November 17, 2015

Do snakes hibernate? Technically, no. They brumate.

Brumation is an example of dormancy in reptiles that is similar to hibernation. It differs from hibernation in the metabolic processes involved. Source Credit: Dormancy, Wikipedia.

Reptiles usually begin brumation in late fall. Imagine our surprise when Michael Powell and I flushed three Eastern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) as we walked through deep piles of leaf litter in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park on 11 November 2015!

Mike spotted the first snake; we could hardly see it, well-hidden under the leaves on the ground. The second snake was clearly visible, albeit briefly, when it fled for the safety of another leaf pile. The third snake (shown below) slithered out from undercover; when the snake saw us, it froze and remained motionless for several minutes — a survival strategy sometimes used by snakes when they feel threatened. I estimate the snake is 2.5 – 3.0 feet in length.

Eastern Gartersnakes can be differentiated from Common Ribbonsnakes (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) by the presence of “dark vertical lines on the supralabial scales.” This key characteristic is shown clearly in the following photo.

The following photo shows Mike crouching near the same Eastern Gartersnake, shooting some up close and personal photographs using a 180mm macro lens.

This is the last photo I shot before the snake took off like a rocket, headed for the safety of a nearby ditch.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

After a bloody battle!

May 20, 2014

On 09 April 2014, I spotted an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) in a wooded area near the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park. Notice the blood stains and wounds on the head of the gartersnake, as well as the large lump in its body one-third of the way between the snake’s head and tail.

It’s time for an episode of “CSI: Huntley.” The evidence indicates the blood stains are relatively fresh and the snake ate recently. Question is, who was the predator and who was the prey? There are at least two possible answers: The gartersnake was either the predator or the prey.

If the lump in its body is connected with the wounds, then I would say [the prey was] either a small mouse (either white-footed or deer) or a skink (skinks have nails as well). If the lump and wounds are not connected, then it could be [the result of] a battle with a predator like a raccoon, fox, crow, hawk, owl or [Northern] Black Racer. Source Credit: Kevin Munroe, Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County Park Authority.

Since we can’t interrogate the snake, the only way to know what actually happened would be to remove the remains of the animal forming the lump in the gartersnake’s body and compare its blood type with the blood type on the snake’s head: If the blood types match, then the snake was probably the predator; if the blood on the gartersnake’s head is its own, then the snake was probably the prey.

For what it’s worth, I favor the conclusion that the snake was the predator and the blood stains and wounds are the result of a bloody battle with its prey.

Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Usually I wouldn’t publish a photo like the one shown below. It appears as though a plant stem is “growing” from the top of the snake’s head. That’s a good example of bad composition. I used the photo because it’s the only shot I took showing a view of the left side of the snake’s head.

Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

The following gallery shows a couple of full-length shots of the gartersnake, and a closer view of the lump in its body. I estimate the snake is three- to four feet long.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Gartersnake (female)

April 18, 2014

Eastern Gartersnake (female)

Kara Jones, a graduate student and teaching assistant at George Mason University, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, is shown examining an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) as part of her field studies at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a female, according to Kara.

Snakes can be sexed based on the length and shape of the tail. Males have intromittent organs called hemipenes, which are stored within the tail. Therefore the tails of male snakes are longer and thicker than females. So it takes some time to learn how to sex snakes visually since you have to handle a number of snakes before you get used to the relative thickness and length between males and females. Source Credit: Kara Jones.

I was fortunate to meet Kara during a photowalk through the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park on 06 April 2014. Thanks to Kara for sharing lots of good amphibian- and reptile knowledge during our walk-and-talk along the boardwalk!

Eastern Gartersnake (female)

Fun fact! Gartersnakes are ovoviviparous, that is to say they give birth to live young. Females can store males’ sperm for long periods of time, even years, waiting for the appropriate conditions to reproduce. Gartersnakes are born in litters of up to 80 or more, and are immediately able to live independently with no parental care. Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sp.) are the most widely distributed genus of reptiles in North America. Source Credit: Karen Loughrey Richard, Project Noah Facebook group.

Eastern Gartersnake (female)

Editor’s Note: Please don’t try this yourself — collecting specimens for observation is not allowed at Huntley Meadows Park.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Gartersnake (pre-molting/shedding)

December 18, 2013

Eastern Gartersnake (pre-molting) and fly (Family Muscidae)

The preceding photo shows an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted during a photowalk through Huntley Meadows Park on 27 September 2013. Did you notice the fly perching on the snake’s head? When I saw the fly through the camera viewfinder my first thought was, “Either pre-molting snakes are vision-impaired/blind or this fly has a death wish!” Turns out I was partly correct.

Blue-to-gray eyes are usually a sign that the snake is about a day away from molting/shedding its skin. When the eyes are blue-gray their vision is impaired — they can still see some movement and light versus dark, but not much detail. Source Credit: Kevin Munroe, Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County Park Authority.

I consulted the BugGuide group on Facebook for help in identifying the fly. Michael Butler identified the fly as a member of the Family Muscidae. Jeff Beane told me the fly was not in danger because garter snakes don’t eat flies! Aaron Belulz and several other folk kindly suggested I had misidentified the snake as a Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus); after some research and a second-look at my photo set, I realized they were right!

Eastern Gartersnakes can be differentiated from Common Ribbonsnakes by the presence of “dark vertical lines on the supralabial scales.” This key characteristic is shown more clearly in the following photos.

Eastern Gartersnake (pre-molting)

Eastern Gartersnake (pre-molting)

Special thanks to Kevin Munroe as well as all the BugGuide group citizen scientists who helped me with this spotting!

Copyright © 2013 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Lessons Learned: Lens shadow

February 13, 2013

The following photos show “Louisa,” a good friend and fellow Project Noah spotter, photographing an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted in the woods along the path between the boardwalk and the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park.

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I shot the photos using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom camera. The shadow at the bottom of Photo 1 is called “lens shadow.” Lens shadow is caused when light from a camera’s built-in flash is partially blocked by the lens and/or lens hood. Photo 2 was cropped to eliminate the shadow.

Copyright © 2013 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved. www.wsanford.com

Eastern Gartersnake

August 18, 2012

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted in the woods along the path between the boardwalk and the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park. According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, the Eastern Gartersnake can be differentiated from the Common Ribbonsnake by the presence of “dark vertical lines on the margins of the supralabial scales.”

P1140616-rw2-ver2_apertureP1140616-rw2-ver3_apertureP1140618-rw2-ver2_apertureP1140618-rw2-ver3_apertureP1140612-rw2-ver3_apertureP1140612-rw2-ver2_aperture

Louisa,” a good friend and fellow Project Noah spotter, is shown photographing the same snake (see Photos 5-6 in the preceding gallery).

Copyright © 2012 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved. www.wsanford.com


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