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The small reptile, which can grow to more than one metre in length, is distinguished by its red-sided markings and dark green colouring. The garter snake isn’t harmful to humans but they do bite. Daly said a bite from this kind of snake feels like velcro or grabbing a thistle. And while garter snakes technically have venom, he said the amount isn’t dangerous to humans, only fish and frogs.
In addition to the red-sided garter snake, Alberta has two other species — the plains garter snake and the wandering garter snake, the largest of the three.
Daly said the garter snake is usually found near water, including the city’s river valley and they are excellent swimmers. He said it can be hard to distinguish how big the population is in the city but his rough estimate is it’s in the thousands.
“They’re pretty secretive,” he said. “It’s hard to say exactly how many but you can do reasonably accurate surveys at an individual hibernaculum. If you have the time to count the snakes coming in and out.”
The province’s largest snake is the bull snake, which can grow between 900 to 2,000 millimetres, while the most venomous is the prairie rattlesnake. According to Alberta Parks, the rattlesnake’s bite is rarely fatal to humans.
Daly notes that sometimes during hibernation, garter snakes will lay beside rattlesnakes in the same den for warmth.
“Rattlesnakes are quite happy to use the same hibernaculum,” he said. “They just use the same space so the more the merrier. The rattlesnake doesn’t eat other snakes typically. So that works out just fine.”
Daly said snakes generally start to hibernate in mid-September, however, it depends on the weather.