Thamnophis elegans vagrans
Wandering Gartersnake / Couleuvre de l'Ouest
The Gartersnakes, and other live-bearing, harmless snakes, which were included
within the Family Colubridae, have recently been placed in the Family Natricidae.
The subspecies in Canada (Thamnophis elegans vagrans), also called the Wandering
Gartersnake, can reach just over a metre in total length. It is quite variable in colour
but usually has a distinct pale yellow or brown stripe down the back. The side stripes
are the same colour as the back stripe and occupy the second and third scale rows. The
background colour is brown, grey or green with darker spots between the stripes. The
Terrestrial Gartersnake is distinguished from other Gartersnakes by the eight scales
on its upper lip,
two of which are enlarged.
Similar snakes found on the prairies are subspecies of the
Common Gartersnake and the
Plains Gartersnake. The Plains Gartersnake has
its side stripes on the third and fourth scale rows and these are paler than the
back stripe. Although the subspecies of the Common Gartersnake also have the side
stripes on the second and third scale rows there only seven scales on the upper lip.
The subspecies of Common Gartersnake found on the prairies is the
Red-sided Gartersnake which has red or
orange bars between the back and side stripes. The subspecies of the Common Gartersnake
found in British Columbia, (Valley Gartersnake
and the Puget Sound Gartersnake) either have
red or black on the top of the head. The
Northwestern Gartersnake has only seven scales on the upper lip and has a
more distinct brightly coloured back stripe.
The Terrestrial Gartersnake is widely distributed in southern British Columbia,
Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. Its range extends south to New Mexico.
This species is often found near streams, lakes, ponds and marshes but may also be
found some distance from water.
Like other Gartersnakes this species bears live young rather than eggs. From 4-19
young may be born in a litter in mid to late summer.
The Terrestrial Gartersnake eats a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate prey captured
both in the water and on land. Large numbers may hibernate together in mammal burrows
or natural crevices and be found together on emergence in the spring. It is sometimes
seen basking in the morning and will take to water when disturbed.
This species is considered secure in Canada.