By Katie Christman
VINS Education Intern
A sudden case of identity theft has been thrust upon the staff at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (cue the dramatic music). Fortunately for us, our credit cards remain untouched and are bank accounts are secure. Rather, an unsuspecting snake has become the victim of mistaken identity!
Take a good look at the snake in both of these pictures, above and below. Are both of them garter snakes? Is one of them a garter snake, or neither? The picture below is of a common garter snake (photo by Tom Spinker), one of the most common snakes that you will find here in Vermont. The picture above is of an eastern ribbonsnake (photo by Susan E. Adams), a snake that is labeled as a species of special concern in the state of Vermont. Special concern is a protective legal designation assigned by Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage Information Project, meaning that a species, in this case the ribbonsnake’s population is rare and its status should be watched.
Out of the 11 species of snakes that are found in Vermont, garter snakes are considered by some to be one of the most varied species in their coloration. Usually, most garter snakes can be found with two to three lateral stripes running from the head to the tail, with stripe color varying from yellow to brown, green to bluish white. The body’s color is usually darker ranging from brown, green, olive, or black. Dark spots and checkered patterns can be noted on the body as well. (This pattern resembles those of men’s stocking garters, hence the name.) Ribbonsnakes have similar colorations to the garter snake, but two things stand out for this reptile: the size, with ribbonsnakes hitting between 45-66 inches and garter snakes hitting 18-54 inches; and a distinguishing spot of yellow in front of the eyes.
If you’re ever out on a hike in or around a wetland, be on the lookout for this rare species as they prefer wet habitats, compared to the garter snake that can be found anywhere ranging from wetlands to clearings to suburban settings.
Stop by the VINS Nature Center and visit our native wetland exhibit to see this special snake up close!