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Meet Our Plains Gartersnake

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Meet our newest addition to the Knoch Knolls Nature Center! Our Plains Gartersnake, Thamnophis radix, was found in someone’s yard looking lifeless and limp as a noodle in November of 2017. The naturalist didn’t know if it was dead or alive! But after being held for a while and brought inside it perked up. It’s now on display at the front desk and you can often spot his head poking out of his substrate.

Gartersnakes usually have stripes along the length of their bodies so we’ve named this snake Stripes. We don’t actually know if Stripes is a male or femails but it’s an adult since it’s about a foot and a half long. Plains Gartersnakes typically average about 12 to 24 inches but have been found to grow up to 40 inches. They are slender snakes with small heads and distinct “necks”. Although gartersnakes are cold-blooded like all other reptiles, with their body temperature dictated by their surroundings, Plains Gartersnakes are one of the more cold-tolerant snakes. Plains Gartersnakes have been known to emerge from hibernation on warm, sunny days in winter to bask in the sun. Perhaps this explains why it was still active in November when it was found.

Gartersnakes make good display animals because they are so curious! Stripes also spends quite a bit of time hanging out in his water dish. But when picked up gartersnakes’ can release a smelly liquid mixed with poop! So Stripes will not be used for nature center programs where visitors get to touch a snake. We’ll leave that job to Flicker, our Eastern Foxsnake. Plus gartersnakes can be mildly venomous. Their saliva slows down their prey, making it easier for them to swallow their food. While not harmful to most people, some people bitten by gartersnakes experience an allergic reaction with rashes and swelling.

Plains Gartersnakes tend to live in open grassy areas near lakes, ponds, and marshes. They are common in the northern half of Illinois. Worms are the favored food for small gartersnakes but they also eat slugs, minnows, salamanders, tadpoles, leeches, small frogs and toads and small rodents.  We feed Stripes nightcrawlers (earthworms) and he quickly gobbles them down!

Most gartersnakes are active from late March to late October and mate in the spring. They give birth to live young starting in August. The number of baby snakes can range anywhere from 5 to sometimes as many as 70 depending on the female’s age and size. In the wild, gartersnakes tend to congregate together to hibernate and its thought they do so in abandoned rodent burrows below the frost line.

Snakes are essential for control of rodent populations. Without snakes we would be overrun by mice, slugs and leeches! So Stripes is an Ambassador for all snake species, just like Flicker, and illustrates the importance of snakes as part of a healthy ecosystem.  

Stripes, our Plains Gartersnake, enjoying a dip in his water dish.


Contact Us

320 Knoch Knolls Road
Naperville, IL 60540
630-864-3964

Regular Hours
March-October

Monday-Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Sunday, 12:00-5:00 p.m.
Winter Hours
November-February

Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Sunday, 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
(Closed Sundays in Dec, Jan & Feb)

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