Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/503

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HABITS OF THE GARTER SNAKE.

HABITS OF THE GARTER SNAKE.
By ALFRED GOLDSBOROUGH MAYER.
WITH DRAWINGS BY THE AUTHOR.

AMONG those many creatures which know our fields and forests for their homes, is the little garter snake; or, as naturalists would have us dub him, Eutænia sirtalis. If one will but overcome a deep-rooted antipathy to crawling things, and will exchange the city's heat and turmoil for a few weeks of outing in the pure air of our sweet-scented fields, and make our little friend's acquaintance, much that the observer will not willingly forget will be his reward. When the snake is full grown, it is usually a little less than three feet long. The color is very variable, the usual body hues being brownish olive, sometimes with darker patches upon the sides, and generally there is a lighter yellowish streak down the middle of the back.

The belly plates are greenish blue or yellow, and the tongue is bright red, tipped with jet black. When angry, the snake spreads out its easily movable ribs, so as to make itself as broad and ugly as possible, and then one sees patches of white flecks between the scales on the sides. The general effect of the markings is so much like that of the ground upon which the reptile is crawling that even an observant naturalist rarely sees anything of his snakeship until he finds him almost under foot. All snakes crawl by side twists, and not by up and down undulations. They move themselves along by taking advantage of the friction between the sharp edges of the abdominal plates and the ground. The numerous ribs which can be moved forward and backward, as well as up and down, aid them greatly in their progress; and all the movements are performed with such gliding grace that one imagines the serpent to be impelled onward by some hidden, mysterious force. Place the PSM V42 D503 Head of garter snake.jpgFig. 1.—Head of Garter Snake. snake upon a smooth glass surface, however, and it writhes and squirms in a helpless fashion. The garter snake is an excellent swimmer, making rapid progress through the water by means of a rhythmical sinusoidal movement of the submerged body, the little head being always just above the surface. It is a lazy creature, possessed of little desire to see the world, for it rarely wanders far from the place of its birth, as long as food remains abundant. It loves the sunny borders of swamps and ponds, where frogs and earthworms abound, and where it may bask ex-