Exploring the Earth and Sky of the West

A Serpentine Spectacle

I’ve had some fascinating wildlife encounters the past few months. I’ve seen a mule deer give birth, encountered a herd of mountain goats at 14,000 feet, had some interesting run-ins with cows while camping (okay, cows aren’t technically WILD but still…), and even seen my first two porcupines. But the undisputed winner took place about five feet outside my bedroom door. The hill outside my door is covered in tall grass and shrubs. Anytime I have the door open, I hear the constant rustling of squirrels, chipmunks, cottontail rabbits, and the occasional coyote making their way through the grass. One day though, the rustling turned out to be this:

A Garter Snake consumes a Smooth Green Snake

Just to be clear, that’s a garter snake (likely either Thamnophis elegans or Thamnophis marcianus…any snake people out there?) going NOM NOM NOM on a smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis). Now that’s not something you see every day.

I was fortunate enough to observe this spectacle in its near entirety, which in this case was almost two whole hours. The garter snake moved little; it was so focused on its meal that it seemed not even to notice me or the handful of other people watching the blatant act of serpentine cannibalism unfolding before our eyes. Every 30 seconds or so, the garter snake would open its mouth wide and constrict its jaw muscles slightly, entombing a few more millimeters of the green snake into its gullet. The green snake, which was consumed head-first, remained alive as it was being swallowed, as if being subjected to some diabolical form of medieval torture. Every few minutes it would engage in some futile thrashing for a few moments before the garter snake would wrestle it back into submission. At one point, a second green snake arrived on the scene and made a few jabs at the garter snake before retreating back into the grass.

A Garter Snake consumes a Smooth Green Snake

Things got really wild in the final minutes. In what appeared to be a last ditch effort to avoid being completely ingested, or perhaps just a metaphorical middle finger to the garter snake, the green snake managed to tie the remaining few inches of its tail into an enormous knot. This befuddled the garter snake for a short while; it was already struggling with its decision to swallow a snake equivalent in size to itself and the knot didn’t make things any easier. After a few minutes though, the garter snake managed to open its mouth even wider and down the remainder of its meal, knot and all. Shortly after, the garter snake sluggishly slithered away, likely with a bad case of the meat sweats, and I went back inside feeling glad that I’m not as low on the food chain as the green snake.

The Smooth Green Snake ties its remaining tail in a knot to make life difficult for the Garter Snake

Garter Snake wrestling with a Smooth Green Snake it has partially eaten

5 responses

  1. It’s a Thamnophis elegans vagrans that is eating the green smooth snake…Very great to see this.
    Is it ok I place this article (with a link to your blog of course) on the newspage of my site (www.thamnophis.eu)?
    Kind regards from the Netherlands, Fons Sleijpen

    September 28, 2013 at 2:37 am

    • Hi Fons,

      As long as you include photo credits, you are welcome to place it on your site.

      September 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      • Thanks Zach, of course all the credits will be on your name! I think it is important to show because there all kinds of stories about Thamnophis elegans that it would be cannibalistic, but as far as I know most cases happened in terrariums. So this is a nice contribution. Have a great day and thanks again…

        October 2, 2013 at 1:29 am

    • And thanks for the identification!

      September 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm

  2. Pingback: Top 10 Images from 2013 | Pyroclastic Pixels

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