Snakes, Pacific Northwest
Snakes are a large group of animals belonging to the reptile class. Their closest living relatives are the lizards. Together, lizards and snakes form the order Squamata.
They began to appear about 90 million years ago. Scientists believe that snakes are descendants of burrowing lizards that lost their limbs and adapted their vision.
They can normally be characterized by a scaly skin, forked tongue and the ability to swallow prey much larger than their own head by unlocking their jaw. All snakes are carnivorous, although their prey varies.
Garters are one of the most common of snakes found in the Pacific Northwest. They can be found in a variety of habitats. Living up to 10 years in age, they do not grow to any great size, reaching about 1 meter in length. Although throughout the years, l have seen a few big ones.
Garters, due to their small size, are quick to heat up and cool down. Like most reptiles, garters warm up by laying in the sun.
Many of the garters must hibernate during the winter due to the severe drop in temperatures. This period of dormancy stimulates mating behaviors in the spring. Garters hibernate in groups that can contain hundreds, even thousands of snakes, spending the winter together helps keep them warm and provides accessible to each other for spring breeding.
When spring weather arrives, the snakes slowly come awake, some making short forays outside the den, returning for the night to avoid the still cold spring night temperatures above ground.
There is a much rarer snake found on Vancouver Island, the Sharp Tailed Snake. The Sharp tailed Snake has a sharp scale on the top of its tail. It is the smallest snake on Vancouver Island, averaging 30 cm in length but can reach lengths of 48 cm. It is reddish brown to grey. The sharp tailed snake lays its eggs in the summer and they hatch in the fall. The snake is most active during the rainy months but tends to stay under rocks and other ground cover.