The ribbon snake, Thamnophis sauritus, is a common non-venomous garter snake species found in the Eastern United States. The snake is dark with three light yellow, green or blue longitudinal stripes along its back. It is mostly found in or near water and feeds almost exclusively on frogs. In the Central United States, its range overlaps with the closely-related and similar-looking western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus).
The ribbon snake is a slender snake and its head is often broader than its body. The ground color of the back ranges from brown to grey or black. A longitudinal stripe runs along the center of its back from the head to the tail. The stripe is usually yellow or orange-colored. The snake has two more longitudinal stripes along each side of the body. The color of these stripes can be the same as the central stripe or more greenish or blueish. The lower part of the mouth as well as the belly side is white or cream-colored. The similar-looking western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus) has two merged white spots on the top of its head. In Thamnophis sauritus, these spots are either missing or clearly separated.
Since its range overlaps with the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), which can also take on a wide variety of appearances with a central longitudinal stripe, the two species are often confused. Both species are harmless for humans. In its range in the Central United States, it can overlap and also be confused with the Butler’s garter snake. Usually, ribbon snakes are more slender than other garter snake species.
Ribbon snakes reach an average length of around 30 inches (75 cm). The largest found specimen was close to 40 inches (100 cm) long. As mentioned they are very slender snakes and therefore quite lightweigth for their length.
Hunting Behavior and Habitat
The ribbon snake is mostly found in or around water where it feeds mainly on frogs but also other amphibians. Its native habitats are marshes, streams, lakes and other wetlands as well as forests and mountainous regions close to water. Thamnophis sauritus is also a great climber has been discovered several feet above the ground in branches.
The ribbon snake is not a dangerous snake for humans. Even though garter snakes produce a mildly venomous saliva, the toxines are not strong enough to cause any significant medical effects on humans or larger pets. The natural instinct of the snake when a threat approaches is to flee and hide, rather than attack. In the few cases where a bite occurs, it may cause an itching or burning sensation without any serious or long-term effects.
Ribbon snake range in the USA
The ribbon snake is a common snake throughout the Eastern United States. It can be found in the following States: In Southeastern Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and southern Maine.
Subspecies of Thamnophis sauritus
Currently, four subspecies of the ribbon snake are recognized:
- Thamnophis sauritus sauritus – Eastern ribbon snake
- Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis – Northern ribbon snake
- Thamnophis sauritus nitae – Bluestripe ribbon snake
- Thamnophis sauritus sackenii – Southern ribbon snake
Scientific classification of Thamnophis sauritus
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Reptilia
- Order: Squamata
- Suborder: Serpentes
- Family: Colubridae
- Genus: Thamnophis
- Species: Thamnophis sauritus