Difference Between a Garter & Garden Snake

By Falinia Adkins; Updated April 24, 2017
Garter snakes will normally flee from humans and domestic animals.

The garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) belongs to the collective category of snakes referred to as garden snakes and are normally harmless and non-venomous. Garter snakes are also known as the eastern garter and common garter snake. These reptiles are called garden snakes because they are typically seen in gardens most likely because of the moist soil conditions and food source. Although many people may fear garter snakes, they are actually beneficial in controlling garden pest populations such as slugs.


Garter snakes are easy to spot, having three yellow stripes that run the length of the body and a checkered pattern that covers the body between the stripes. The underside or belly of the garter snake is a pale yellow or white with no stripes on both males and females. Garter snakes are normally between 18 and 26 inches long with males being a bit thicker and longer than females, but they can reach lengths of up to 4 feet. Garter snakes are found through North America especially in the southeastern regions where the garter snake takes on a blue hue to its striped pattern.

Habitat and Diet

Garter snakes can swim but are not agile climbers; therefore, they inhabit meadows, marshes, ditches and damp woods staying close to the ground looking for insects, frogs, salamanders, fish and tadpoles. Farms, forest edges and roads are also places the garter snake will inhabit looking for bird eggs, mice, leeches and small carrion. These snakes have also been known to eat grasshoppers, crickets and other smaller snakes such as the ring neck snakes.


The garter snake also has many predators that feed on it as well such as the larger black rat snake and northern water snake. Because the garter snake is active at night as well as during the daylight, it is prey to raccoons, opossums and skunks as well as large bullfrogs and snapping turtles. Garter snakes are commonly killed on road ways as they feed on dead frogs or humans not aware of the benefits of garter snakes.

Interesting Facts

Garter snakes are one of the first snakes to appear in spring and can be active throughout the year even on warm winter days. Unlike other snakes, garter snakes do not lay eggs; instead, they have a live birth of up to 50 babies at once.