Waterton Lakes National Park

Two species of reptiles, the wandering garter snake and plains garter snakes are found in the ecosystems in and around Waterton Lakes National Park. These species are vital parts of the food chain. They prey on insects, amphibians, birds, and small mammals, and are important food sources to hawks, ravens, weasels, coyotes, and others. Neither species have venom harmful to humans.

It is uncommon to see a snake in the park, though you may come across one basking on a rock or soaking in the warmth of a road’s dark surface. It is more likely you will find a snake’s shed skin in the park than an actual snake! Keep on the lookout for them as you explore the park’s roads and trails, and show them respect by giving them space.

Wandering garter snake (Thamnophis elegans vagrans)

A wandering garter snake crosses a highway

If you see a snake while visiting, it is likely a wandering garter snake. They’re found in a variety of habitats in the park, especially near wetlands, ponds, lakes and rock piles.

Wandering garter snakes are typically greenish-grey, with yellow stripes and dark checkerboard marks down their bodies. Like all garter snakes, wandering garter snakes have venom in their saliva to immobilize their prey.

Wandering garter snakes spend winters gathered in large groups in dens, called hibernacula. Their dens may be used for many generations and also by different species of snakes.

Red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis)

red sided garter snake

The red-sided garter snake is less commonly seen in Waterton Lakes National Park. They are usually near wetlands and along roads. The species ranges through central parts of North America.

As their name implies, they usually have narrow red stripes along the sides of their dark green- to black-coloured bodies. Red-sided garter snakes also have yellow stripes along their bodies. This can cause confusion in identifying red-sided and plains garter snakes, but the red stripes are key to identification.

Like other snake species, they gather in groups below the frost line for the winter. Red-sided garter snakes have been recorded amassing in the thousands inside their hibernacula!

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