Other snakes:

Western Hognose Snake

Smooth Green Snake

Northern Red-bellied Snake

Red-sided Garter Snake

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Plains Garter SnakePlains Garter Snake

What it looks like

Plains Garter Snakes are medium sized snakes. They can grow to a length of over 100 cm, but most are 50 to 70 cm long. They are dark olive to black in colour with yellow lines down their sides and along the center of the back. The line on the back is amber in colour.

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The three kinds of garter snakes found in Manitoba can be hard to tell apart. The way to identify a Plains Garter Snake is to look at the yellow line on the side. If the line is in the 3rd and 4th rows of scales up from the belly it is a Plains Garter Snake. If the line is in the 2nd and 3rd rows of scales then it is either a Red-sided Garter Snake or an Eastern Garter Snake.


Garter snakes (all 3 kinds) look like "garters" which are striped bands used to hold up socks. The Plains Garter Snake is found mainly in the plains which is another word for grasslands.

Scientific Name

The Plains Garter Snake's scientific name is Thamnophis radix. Learn what that means on this page: Scientific Names.

Where it lives

Plains Garter Snakes are found in the Great Plains region, the prairies or grasslands, of central North America. In Manitoba they live in the southwest corner of the province.

Where Plains Garter Snakes live in North America.


These snakes live in grassland or prairie habitats and they often hunt near wetlands. They are active during the day and stay hidden at nights. Plains Garter Snakes are active from late April until October. They spend winter down below the frost line in animal burrows, small caves or cracks around buildings.

Snake in water
A Plains Garter Snake crossing a stream.
All garter snakes are good swimmers.

Food Web

All our garter snakes (all 3 kinds) feed mainly on amphibians, especially frogs and toads, but they will eat salamanders, too. They eat worms, small fish and other soft-bodied animals like slugs and tadpoles.

Garter snakes are eaten by birds such as hawks, owls, herons and cranes and by mammals like raccoons, skunks, weasels and bobcats.

Life Cycle

Plains Garter Snakes mate in spring soon after they leave their winter dens. The young are born alive from late July to September. A large female might give birth to more than 50 young! The baby snakes are only about 12 - 15 cm long. They take 2 or 3 years to reach adult size and may live 5 - 8 years.


Plains Garter Snakes are common in southwest Manitoba. In good habitat there may be 5 or more per hectare.

Special Things

The Plains Garter Snake is Manitoba's largest snake and is usually the first reptile to be active in spring. They can leave their dens when temperatures are only 4 or 5 C as long as it's sunny. All garter snakes protect themselves by pooping out a smelly musk if they are attacked, or if a person tries to pick them up!

How to Find Plains Garter Snakes

Like all our snakes the best way to find Plains Garter Snakes is to look for them basking along trails or roads in grassy areas. In spring and fall when they are leaving or returning to winter dens they may be seen crossing roads.

Use by People

Plains Garter Snakes aren't used by people. Some people try to keep them as pets, but they shouldn't be taken from the wild.

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