Garter Snakes

I’m pleased to report that Lily’s cruciate tear of her right hip joint has mended enough that she can stand squarely on all fours.



She still limps. but she no longer appears to be in pain. She’s now allowed to course around the backyard, sniffing out the story of what has been going on while she has been dozing inside. Still, I need to protect both hips from further deterioration, and so most of Lily’s day is spent napping at my feet. This seems to be fine with her. Lily is twelve and is enjoying her rest.

The community of wild animals that live near my house know that Good Farm Dog Lily is old. The other day I watched from the window as a squirrel meandered across the yard and then drank from the pond. Even a year ago, a squirrel would never have dared to do this, as there was no telling when that streak of a dog would take off and go for the kill.

Lily used to keep other animals in check, too. I hadn’t realized the extent to which she impacted on the denizens of pond until the snakes moved in.



Over the years snakes have tried to take up residency. The pond is a perfect habitat – warm rocks, plenty of food, hiding places. But Lily always dispatched the interloper. She doesn’t like snakes. I don’t either. Up until now, the snakes that I did see on the property were small. Lily made sure they didn’t reach full size. But look at how big that one is!

I could deal with one snake. But garter snakes gather in groups.



Before winter, they form aggregations and then hibernate together. Then, in the spring, they’ll get into mating balls. Ugh.



I’ve seen a hawk catch and eat a snake. Maybe, now that Lily isn’t chasing the hawks from the sky, they’ll come down and eat the snakes.

This is a lesson in how each member of a community impacts all of the others. Even the ones you don’t usually see or think about. I can ponder that for a short moment – and then get right back to the I don’t like snakes thought. Makes me appreciate all of those years that Lily was a working farm dog. She deserves her retirement, but I miss having a working farm dog!


  1. Perhaps you can clicker train the snakes to some purpose…chasing mice!

  2. yucko, I have lots of garters here too, I did a straw bale garden this summer they loved it. I don’t like them either I know they are harmless but they scare the c—p out of me. my great dane chases them

  3. I realize I’m in the minority and can certainly empathize with your dislike of snakes (mine are the big, flying cockroaches we have in Texas – yikes). But if I can identify the snake – i really enjoy watching them. I particularly like watching them hunting in water. I’m afraid I would spend most of my time with a set of binoculars about 6 feet behind that “sunning” rock. LOL

    • Debbie, I took the second photo through the spotting scope that I normally use for birdwatching from my second floor office. I kept watching and saw the larger snake yawn, then take in a big breath. Fascinating behavior! (Yes, Terry knows I like snakes…)

      • Hope you can sneak in some more snake pictures, while Terry’s not looking. Tee Hee


  4. Also, glad to see that Lily is feeling better. As a middle aged person with lousy knees – I can feel her pain.


  5. I’m so glad to hear that Lily is doing well! What a long road to recovery. My boarding stable has a bevy of Jack Russell’s that keep the varmints in check and the wildlife at bay. They are small and quick enough to avoid big hooves, and they ignore free ranging chickens. They seem like a perfect farm dog!

  6. Yay! for Lily! How awesome to have good doggy news!

    Snake lover here! I would be sooo thrilled to have those guys here. Though my husband would vehemently disagree! We are finally getting snakes back in our yard after a long dry spell. Our former neighbors, due to health issues, became crazy cat people. My daughter counted 26 in our yard one summer. Nothing lived here. This year we have had some chippers, bunnies, a grounhog (those I could do without), and two garter snakes! Yay!

    I would be out by your pond, as my father would say, ‘making like a tree’ to sit and be with your snakes!

  7. Wonderful to see Lily on all fours, I was going to ask if we could see some pics of Lily and Scooter as we rarely see them on the cams..:)
    Could you try making a lot of noise around the pond a few times a week, if they can’t settle they will leave. Would they attack the Girls if they disturbed them ??

    • We’re by that pond a lot – after all, we have to feed the fish daily, and Steve maintains the pump, etc. Alas, it doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

  8. I like snakes a lot (I have two as house pets) but thanks to hawks and other urban wildlife, I don’t ever see much more than a lizard in my yard. I do have an active dog and two mighty hunter cats who seem to keep the rodent and reptile population in check. I also think my hens might be able to deal with the likes of a garter snake, if it was small. I once saw them take on a whole nest of field mice unearthed from under an ancient coop. Pretty awesome!
    Are you worried about the Beast and friends?

    • I’ve seen my hens catch and eat a snake – but far smaller than the big one in the pond. I’m not worried about the Beast, and honestly, there are too many fish to overwinter, so if the snakes eat all of the little ones, that would be a good thing.

  9. Terry, I have to second the commenter, above, who suggested a Jack Russell for you. I have two ‘true’ JRT’s (as opposed to the AKC version), and if selected properly and owned by someone who likes to train animals, they’re incredible dogs. So, so smart, cheerful personality, very prey driven and they love to learn new stuff. I’ve owned larger dogs, most of my life –often smart working breeds– but have been pleasantly surprised with my JRTs. They’re a ‘lot of dog’, but I make sure they get enough exercise, and try to teach them something new every few weeks. The secret is training, (as it usually is), and mine are eager to please, very respectful of boundaries and very well behaved. They know an astounding number of complex tricks, more because they love to learn things and they learn very quickly than any need I might have for parlour-trick performing Jacks. But it is fun to show their understanding of finger/hand commands, whistle commands and voice commands. I find the secret to managing their energy level is to simply give them a predictable routine of exercise and inactivity and they can then manage their energy easily. I have littermates, both tricolors, solid white bodies, one smooth coat and one broken coat. They’re hilarious and very lovable…and I haven’t seen a squirrel, snake, deer or even a chipmunk in my yard for years.

    • JRTs are on my short list of favorite dog breeds! You’re right about what they need to be happy. Yours are lucky to have you!

      • For whatever my two cents is worth, two JRTs are easier than just one. They wear each other out, entertain each other and keep each other from getting bored. I took great care to condition them carefully to my absences during the day, so no separation anxiety and often return home after an errand to find them wrapped up in each other, sound asleep, happy as clams. Two are also slightly competitive, which helps enormously with off leash outdoor activities. Although both have excellent recall, neither wants the other to be closer to me, so when we’re outside without leashes, they stay close and focused. Plus, two are absolutely hilarious. A male and femal combo works best I find.

  10. I just had to read this post even though I knew I may regret it….curiosity got the best of me. I really could have gone on without the thought of mating balls o snakes….sheeesh! ;)
    Still, very intersting. :) Glad to hear Lily girl is feeling better!

  11. We have lots of garter snakes outside, too. Our dog (border collie/black lab, age ten) warns me where they are. If she’s not with me I stomp my feet. I don’t mind them outside, though I’m careful reaching into the pot for parsley since they seem to like that for napping. What I really do not like is snakes in the house. We have garter snakes and milk snakes in the cellar. When we tore the house apart in 2001/02 to remodel there were snake skins in the walls. Lots of them. I told the architect I wanted a snakeproof house and he replied that if we had mice we would have snakes. The snakes are at least a lot cleaner. And quieter. But still…

  12. Oh, I am indeed very happy that Lily is up on all fours again. Way to go Lily!
    As for the snakes, you can have them….especially that very long one. I had a cat that would bring them into the house for me through the open window over the kitchen sink. It didn’t take me long to close the window.

  13. Great pic of Lily!
    Might I say “eeeewww”. I have them. I don’t like them so much. They strike at you as you walk by-always looking for a fight. I did see the hawk fly away with one earlier this year, hopefully he came back for more :)

  14. Your comment above reminded me – garter snakes get acclimated to people very easily. You’ll literally have to drive them off if you don’t want them. But they also won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. And you might “get lucky” and lose some of the smaller fish, ’cause they will hunt in water.

    We had a female that lived in the window well of our basement for years. It made mowing the grass for about a week in the spring a pain ’cause of all the baby snakes she produced. But she never bothered us and loved sunning herself on my dad’s mulch piles. If he was turning them when she was there, she would coil herself up when he came to her and he would gently pick her up and move her to one of the turned piles where she would then stretch back out sunning herself and watching him work. Kind of a pet without the actual work. :)

  15. I have toads in my garden/yard from time to time, and the occasional garter snake. The other day I noticed a garter snake slither by me with a toad in it’s mouth, just the back legs were visible and they were kicking away.
    I stomped my feet hoping the snake would give up the toad…..but it was too late.

    Nature can be cruel.

  16. BTW: I have seen those mating balls, my neighbor had a wood pile, and I told her what was going on. She didn’t believe me, until I took a picture and showed her.

  17. I wish all we had were garter snakes. This place has always had lots of Copperheads. They have bitten many of my dogs, especially the nosey Beagles, and one of my horses. My other horse was bitten by a rattler. He was really sick, poor guy. They all survived the bites. I had a Mountain Feist that kept me safe a few times. He wouldn’t get near the snakes, but would jump straight up and backward when he smelled or saw a Copperhead. I used to send him in the hay barn before I went in and if he went in with no problem I knew it was safe, if he stopped and sniffed the air before he went in, or jumped back, I knew there was a snake in there. I really miss him, he died of old age several years ago.

  18. My German Shepherd is 13 and she killed her first snake this summer. It was a king snake.coming to eat my chickens eggs. Since she is aging I got another German Shepherd – Roxie and she is a year old. she stood & watched Greta kill the snake so I hope if given the chance that Roxie will model Greta’s behavior. I did recently find a snake skin in my hen house. I haven’t seen a snake but they are there. Every now and then I have a conversation with God. I don’t mind snakes & I know they are there but please don’t let them cross my path or let I see them.

  19. It was great to hear good news about Lily’s health. My 13 year old German Shepherd has really slowed down but is still pushing on. She looks in good shape for 12 years.

  20. A little late in replying,but this post reminded me of when I worked on drilling rigs. There were a couple of brothers and their cousin from Buffalo, NY who worked on the rig and one evening shift I was filling in for the driller, their boss. When we started the shift, I told them the things they had to do, telling one to take the trash out to the burn pit. About ten minutes later he came back saying in his machine gun-like NY accent. “Youse gotta come see deese liddle woims!” “What?” I replied.(and to be fair, my Texas accent makes “what” into about three syllables “Whu-u-ut?”) I followed him down to the pit while he went on about using the “liddle woims” for fishing in the “pond”. (the reserve pit,where the excess fluid was stored until the well was done….full of all sorts of chemicals and I doubt the most hardy of microbes could live in it)

    Long story short, he had uncovered a nest of baby rattlesnakes. As he prodded at them with the tip of his (thankfully) steel-toed boot, they struck at him, their tiny rattle-less tails shaking furiously. “Look ad ’em,” he exclaimed. ‘Dere waggin’ dey tails like a dog!” I told him those liddle woims….uh, “little worms” were poisonous and to leave them alone.