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Snakes are reptiles, like lizards and turtles. They are also vertebrates just like birds, fish, amphibians, and mammals. Since, snakes are reptiles they do not produce their own body heat, They must regulate their body temperature by seeking out sunny areas to bask in or shady areas to cool down.

Snakes constantly flick their tongue in order to taste their surroundings. They have no external ear openings but can pick up vibrations through the ground.

A snake will continue to grow throughout its life. As snakes grow they must shed their skin to allow for the increase in size. When food supplies are good snakes may shed their skin several times. There is no relationship between age and rattlesnake rattles on the tail of the rattlesnake.

During the winter months snakes hibernate below the frost line for as long as six to seven months. Snakes may perish during the winter when there is little or no snow cover, as the snow insulates the ground and keeps deep penetrating frosts from reaching the snakes. Only one snake in North Dakota is venomous. This is the prairie rattlesnake which is found in western North Dakota where the population is small and the chance of an encounter is slight.

Common Garter Snake

( Thamnophis sirtalis )

Photo by Harold Umber

Common garter snakes are also referred to as garden snakes, grass snakes, or red-sided garter snakes. They are found statewide and commonly inhabit the edges of woodlands, meadows, wetlands, and areas around housing developments. Common garter snakes are identified by three long yellow stripes on a black background. Garter snakes feed on a variety of food items which include frogs, earthworms, toads, small salamanders, insects, and minnows.

These snakes hibernate in large groups and in the spring give birth to live young. The number of young in a litter can be astounding. A litter may range from six to 73. Garter snakes are not aggressive, but may bite and thrash around if handled. The bite is not serious, a few scratches at the most. They will also release a fowl smelling musk from their scent gland which may require a couple of washings with soap and water to remove from your hands.

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Last modified Nov. 4, 1995