dcsimg

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 8.4 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

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Males track females via pheromone trails and compete for mating opportunities with receptive females. Males crawl alongside females and push on her with their noses while their bodies undulate. They touch the female's back with their tongues and attempt to copulate. If the female is receptive, she will raise her tail and allow copulation. A seminal plug may be inserted to deter copulation with another male. Both males and females can mate with multiple individuals.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Mating takes place after these snakes emerge from hibernation, in April or May. Females are sexually mature in their 2nd or 3rd year. Plains garter snakes give birth to live young from June through September, after a gestation period of 83 to 102 days. There are from 5 to 60 young in a litter, but usually 10 to 20. Litters may be larger in northern parts of the range, litter size varies with nutritional status and size of the female. Young are born at sizes from 11.9 to 24.1 cm and 0.93 to 2.48 g.

Breeding interval: Plains garter snakes breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Plains garter snakes breed in April or May.

Range number of offspring: 5 to 60.

Average number of offspring: 10-20.

Range gestation period: 83 to 102 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 3 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; sexual ; viviparous

Females gestate and give birth to live young, investing significant nutritional resources. After the young are born, there is no further parental involvement.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Untitled

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Genetic evidence suggests that T. radix is most closely related to Thamnophis butleri and Thamnophis brachystoma, among Thamnophis species.

Thamnophis radix fossils are known from the Pliocene of Nebraska.

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Behavior

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Plains garter snakes use their sense of smell extensively. They find prey, mates, and hibernacula by following chemical trails. They also use vision and vibrations to detect threats and navigate. Some evidence suggests they may navigate using polarized light. Males use touch in courtship rituals.

Communication Channels: tactile ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; polarized light ; tactile ; vibrations ; chemical

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Conservation Status

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Plains garter snakes are not considered threatened, although regional populations may be vulnerable. They are considered endangered in Ohio and a species of concern in Arkansas.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Life Cycle

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Plains garter snakes grow at a rate of approximately 1.1 cm per week during their first year. Growth rates slow in subsequent years.

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Benefits

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There are no adverse effects of plains garter snakes on humans. These are nonvenomous snakes that are shy and retiring, in general, although they will bite if threatened.

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Benefits

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Plains garter snakes are important members of the native prairie habitats they are found in.

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Associations

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Plains garter snakes are important predators of amphibians, earthworms, leeches, and other animals in their prairie habitats.

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Trophic Strategy

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Plains garter snakes eat a wide variety of animal prey, overlapping significantly with the prey preferences of common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis). They have been recorded preying on frogs and toads, salamanders, fish, birds, small rodents, leeches, earthworms, and grasshoppers. Amphibians eaten include northern cricket frogs (Acris crepitans), American toads (Anaxyrus americanus), great plains toads (Anaxyrus cognatus), tree frogs (Hyla species), striped chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata), plains leopard frogs (Lithobates blairi, northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens), and various salamanders. They have been recorded eating mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), southern redbelly dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster), bluntnose minnows (Pimephales notatus), bank swallows (Riparia riparia), and eastern meadowlarks (Sturnella magna). Plains garter snakes find prey by following an olfactory trail, then grabbing prey once they catch up with them.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; fish; insects; terrestrial worms

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Piscivore )

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Distribution

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Plains garter snakes are found throughout the North American plains region, from the Oklahoma panhandle, northernmost Texas, and northeastern New Mexico north to southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and east through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Habitat

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Plains garter snakes are found in meadows, prairies, and other grasslands near sources of water, such as ponds, streams, marshes, and sloughs. They may also be found in swampy areas or along rivers. They may be found in suburban or urban vacant lots. Habitats they occupy may be influenced by the presence of a congener; where they co-occur with common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), they may be found in more dry habitats than common garter snakes.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; riparian

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Life Expectancy

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A captive plains garter snake was recorded living to almost 8 1/2 years.

Range lifespan
Status: captivity:
8.5 (high) years.

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Morphology

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Plains garter snakes are long, striped garter snakes, usually from 40 to 70 cm long, but occasionally up to 109.5 cm. They have a dorsal and two lateral, yellow or orange stripes on a background scale color of dark brown to dark greenish. Lateral stripes are on scale rows 3 and 4. The sides may have some red pigmentation. Scales are keeled and measure 19 to 21 rows at the mid-body. There is a row of black spots between the lateral stripes and the ventral scales. They have an undivided anal plate. Males are slightly larger, with more ventral and subcaudal scales and slightly longer tails. Male tails are about 20.5 to 27.8% of total body length, whereas females have tails that are 17.6 to 27.5% of their body length. Males also have tubercles on their chin shields. There are no described subspecies.

Range length: 109.5 (high) cm.

Other Physical Features: heterothermic

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes shaped differently

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Associations

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Plains garter snakes may be preyed on by birds of prey, such as red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus), Swainson's hawks (Buteo swainsoni), kestrels (Falco sparverius), and northern harriers (Circus cyaneus). Other predators include foxes (Vulpes), coyotes (Canis latrans), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), mink (Neovison vison), domestic cats (Felis catus), and milk snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum). Humans also incidentally and intentionally kill prairie garter snakes. These garter snakes will bite, emit a foul smelling musk, or defecate to discourage predators. Their lateral stripes make them difficult to see in their grassy habitats and as they move. Plains garter snakes also have a series of antipredator displays that they will use, including hiding their heads, striking with the mouth closed or open, coiling or balling up their bodies, extending the body flat on the substrate, and waving the tail. They might also take refuge in water. Responses to threats vary with age.

Known Predators:

  • red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus)
  • Swainson's hawks (Buteo swainsoni)
  • kestrels (Falco sparverius)
  • northern harriers (Circus cyaneus)
  • foxes (Vulpes)
  • coyotes (Canis latrans)
  • striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis)
  • mink (Neovison vison)
  • domestic cats (Felis catus)
  • milk snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Dewey, T. 2009. "Thamnophis radix" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Thamnophis_radix.html
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Distribution

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Continent: North-America
Distribution: S Canada (Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan), USA (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, E Wyoming, E Colorado, NE New Mexico, Oklahoma, N Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas)
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Plains garter snake

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The Plains garter snake (Thamnophis radix) is a species of garter snake native to most of the central United States as far north as Canada and as far south as Texas. It has a distinctive orange or yellow stripe from its head to tail, and the rest of its body is mainly a gray-green color. The snake is commonly found living near water sources such as streams and ponds, but can also be found in urban areas and vacant lots. Although the IUCN lists the species as "Least Concern", some states have given it their own special status. This species is mildly venomous, although the venom is not toxic to humans.[1]

Description

Physical

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Thamnophis radix

The Plains garter snake has either an orange or yellow stripe down its back and distinctive black bars on its lip.[2] The stripe normally starts at the head and continues all the way to the tail tip.[3][4] Lateral stripes are located on the third and fourth scale rows and are normally a greenish-yellow color.[3][4] Its belly is gray-green with small dark spots along the edges.[4] Most have distinctive light yellow spots on the top of the head.[3][4] The snake is described as medium-sized and is on average around 3 ft (0.91 m).[3]

Behavior

Described as "one of the most cold-tolerant snakes", on warmer winter days, it often comes out of hibernation to bask in the sun.[4] It is most active between April and late October depending on location.[5] Mating normally takes place in April or May and birth takes place between August and October.[4] Courtship usually occurs near the communal hibernation site, and polygynous mating systems have been observed.[5] The snake's typical diet consists of earthworms, slugs, and small amphibians,[4][6] including the larvae of salamanders.[5] It has also been observed eating small mammals and birds, such as bank swallows and eastern meadowlarks.[6]

Habitat

The Plains garter snake is commonly found in meadows and prairies adjacent to water sources, such as marshes, streams, and ponds.[5] In built-up areas of the Chicago area, it has been observed in abandoned buildings, trash heaps, and vacant lots.[5] Populations in urban and suburban areas have been greatly reduced due to building activities and pesticide use.[7] Its habitat range overlaps with that of the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) in many areas, and it is thought the species may hybridize.[5][7]

Range

The snake ranges across a broad area of North America from as far north as central Alberta to as far south as Northern Texas and New Mexico. In the United States, it is also found in Iowa, eastern Wyoming, northern Kentucky, eastern Colorado, Minnesota, southern Wisconsin, Illinois, northwestern Indiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska and the northern half of Missouri. A small population is also in Ohio.[5][8] In Canada, the species is also found in Manitoba.[8] It can be found at elevations from 400 to 7,500 feet but prefer to stay under 6,000 feet.[8]

Subspecies

Formerly, two subspecies of the Plains garter snake were widely recognized, but most authorities have since dropped subspecies recognition. The first, T. r. radix, was commonly referred to as the eastern Plains garter snake, while T. r. haydeni (Kennicott 1860) was considered the western subspecies. However, the distinction between the two is weak, partly based on the number of scales and partly on slight coloration differences, with T. r. haydeni said to have cleaner markings and more ventral and neck scales. As the two subspecies share the same habitat in many regions of the United States, further complicated by their strikingly similar appearance, many now do not recognize the two subspecies.

The subspecific name, haydeni, is in honor of American geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden.[9]

Conservation

The Plains garter snake is listed as Least Concern (IUCN 3.1) by the IUCN Red List due to the snake's ability to modify its habitat, its wide distribution and its presumed large population.[8] However, the snake is considered to be "Endangered" in Ohio and is on a state list of endangered species.[5][10] In Wisconsin, it is a species of special concern.[11]

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Plains garter snake: Brief Summary

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The Plains garter snake (Thamnophis radix) is a species of garter snake native to most of the central United States as far north as Canada and as far south as Texas. It has a distinctive orange or yellow stripe from its head to tail, and the rest of its body is mainly a gray-green color. The snake is commonly found living near water sources such as streams and ponds, but can also be found in urban areas and vacant lots. Although the IUCN lists the species as "Least Concern", some states have given it their own special status. This species is mildly venomous, although the venom is not toxic to humans.

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