For those of us lucky enough to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, sometimes all we have to do is just step outside to see some of the world’s most remarkable creatures. If you are feeling adventurous this summer, visit one of the ponds, wetlands, or marshes of San Mateo County, because you may have a chance to see a San Francisco garter snake slinking through some underbrush.
The San Francisco garter snake is considered to be one of the most beautiful serpents in the world because of its distinctive color pattern, and it happens to live right here in our own backyard! It can easily be recognized by its burnt orange head, followed by a greenish-yellow stripe, edged in black, bordered by a continuous red stripe, running down its back. If that image isn’t stunning enough, these magnificent natives have a complementary bright blue belly to top it all off. The facial markings of San Francisco garter snakes are as unique as fingerprints, making each individual as distinctive as the patterns on its back.
Like all snakes, the San Francisco garter snake is carnivorous. While this snake has been known to feed on fish, worms, salamanders and the poisonous California newt, which the San Francisco garter snake is astonishingly enough immune to; one of its favorite meals happens to be the endangered California red-legged frog. This selective and limited diet is part of the reason the San Francisco garter snake is on both the federal and California list of Endangered Species. Continued urban and agricultural development in their restricted habitat has also contributed to keeping these splendid serpents on the Endangered lists.
With mating usually occurring in the spring, live births of around 16 young per snake take place mid-summer. This may seem like a respectable amount of offspring, but unfortunately there is high mortality rate within this garter snake subspecies. Much of this is due to predators such as large bullfrogs nabbing juveniles. Mortality rates are exacerbated by a lack of tree frogs, which these newborns garter snakes often feed on.
This vibrant garter snake might look dangerous, but it’s not poisonous to humans. Although if you manage to catch this snake it may leave a foul stench and secretion on you. These garter snakes prefer to burrow in the hillsides near their aquatic habitats and are the first snake to appear in the spring and last to retreat in the fall. So if you ever find yourself out in nature, do not be afraid if you see one of these garter snakes slithering around. Rather, count yourself lucky to have laid eyes on one of our most special local reptiles.