Talk About Stuffed…The Things I Find In My Garden

Garter Snake

Garter Snake

Disclaimer:  This article is not for the feint of heart.  I was a little grossed out myself.

It starts off pleasantly enough.  The new English Setter doggie “Elliot” is working out quite nicely.  We were walking around the lot after dinner and I saw the unmistakable Setter stance.  This dog is a little shy and as dogs go, he just failed Setters 101.  Setters usually dive in first and think later, often after something is either in their grasp or they are bitten.

English Setter "Elliot"

English Setter “Elliot”

Well, Elliot is a dog who apparently is going to listen. When I saw his intrigue and the approach and retreat of a timid dog, I called him away and he listen.  But he ran to me and ran back to the original spot and ran back to me again.  It’s that Lassie “Timmy’s in the well” thing that dogs do.

I approached and saw the tail end of one of the more beautiful snakes of Florida an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). Some, as this one did, have a coloration that gives them a common name of “Florida Blue”…not to be confused with the Blue Stripe Garter Snake of Florida’s gulf coast.

I snapped a picture or two and then I took Elliot and his friend Melo (a long term visiting dog) to the house and they went inside.  I don’t like the dogs to disturb the wildlife and despite having half an acre where the dogs don’t have access, the wildlife still wants to venture into the dogs’ domain, occasionally with dire consequences.

I went back and the snake was still in the same position. I needed to send it on its way since I wanted to let the one of my other Setters: “Great Reptile Hunter” out before it got dark.  I touch it gently with my foot and it didn’t move.

bluesnakeNov2013BAlarmed, I looked around for a stick to move it out where I could see what the problem was.  I placed the stick about midway the length of the 2.5-ft snake and gently eased the head out.  At first I thought it was DEAD as it looked like head had been chopped off, with goo coming out.  Then the tail swished and I saw what the tie-up was.

Cuban treefrog was reaching out for help?

Cuban treefrog was reaching out for help?

The snake looked like it had no head because its mouth was stuffed with one of the largest Cuban Treefrogs (CTF) I have ever seen.  CTFs are a major invasive species in Florida and can be anywhere from 1.5 to 3 in. with a maximum size of 5.5 inches. This one looked pretty massive.  CTFs don’t have many natural enemies in Florida, thus the reason they are so invasive.  This encounter is encouraging in that perhaps the local fauna is finally going to consume this problematic international cuisine.

bluesnakenov2013DAs I stood stunned I began to snap some photos and (this is the gross part), he suddenly started regurgitating the frog.  OH YUCK.  Gag me with a spoon.

And yet, I couldn’t turn away…it’s like watching an accident…you know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t help yourself.

oh YUCK!

oh YUCK!

These garter snakes have an average size of 20-28 inches, but can be as long as 4-foot. They eat frogs (obviously), toads, lizards, fish, salamanders and earthworms.  They are food for birds of prey and some mammals. You can encourage garter snakes to come and visit by providing habitat for them, in the form of woodpiles or leaving some taller grasses to provide adequate hiding spots.

Double yuck

For a reasonably thin snake, you sure have a big mouth

It appeared that the snake wasn’t going to be moving anytime soon so I opted to walk each dog individually on a lead to give fatso a chance to digest his meal.  In between each dog switch I went back to check the status and the snake seemed to just be lying there.

Double Yuck!

Double Yuck!

I finished up with the dogs and had my dinner and when it was time for the last trip out of the night, I took one of the dogs and a flashlight over to the area to see if the snake was still there.  Well, snaky was gone, but he left that gross frog.

I guess this frog isn't to its liking

I guess this frog isn’t to its liking

I headed back out with a plastic bag to clean up the mess.  If the garter snakes don’t like their food I do wish they would at least hide it in a napkin like I did with peas when I was a kid.

ok, I SAID at the beginning of the articlle that it wasn't for the feint of heart ;)

ok, I SAID at the beginning of the article that it wasn’t for the feint of heart ;)


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  1. says

    This is a good story in so many ways. Especially as a document about a native species trying out a new food. (It may have gone ok with a smaller frog?)

    The dog substories are interesting too. I commend Elliot for his prudence and caution, especially since he lives in alligator country (I’m assuming). And thank you for triggering ancient memories of hiding peas — one of my biggest mealtime challenges.

    • says

      Hi Ruth,

      Thanks, as always, for dropping by and adding to the conversation. I think that it may have gone ok even with this frog had I not disturbed the poor thing. I feel a certain guilt, but I would have felt guiltier if the woofs had interacted with the poor thing. Plenty of other things for snaky to go find and eat.

      Where there is water in Florida, there are sure to be gators. For the first time in the 7 years I live here I saw two different gators at the pond this past spring. Too small for me to worry about with my larger doggies, but still needing to be monitored. I worry more about the venomous snakes than the gators. The red setter just can’t keep her paws off the snakes.

      As for the peas, glad to see I am not alone. They are a vegetable that my mother insisted I HAD to eat, despite my complete aversion to the taste. To this day I won’t eat them and you’ll see the peas lined up along the side of my plate as I pick them from my Chinese food or whatever food dish crazy people add them to (in the mistaken theory that adding color makes a dish more enticing). :D
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Arnold surfs the windshield

  2. Susan says

    I one time saw a garter snake eating a toad in one of my flower beds. I was also a bit grossed out. I had to be working there so periodically I would check on the snake’s progress in eating the poor toad. At first I thought of rescuing the toad as it was alive (sigh…), but then I figured who am I to play goddess! It took a while but in this case the snake eventually swallowed the toad.

    • says

      Hi Carole!

      I’ve watched quite a few snakes eating toads, frogs, etc and they always seem to consume rear feet first. Even in a check of photos on the web the frogs all seem to be desparately trying to climb out the snake. Might not the frog tickle the innards of the snake with their tongues if they headed in the other way? hehehehe
      Loret recently posted..Longjawed Orbweavers Spider (Tetragnatha spp.)

  3. Suzanne Dingwell says

    You are right! Truly gross! But we were warned, after all. Welcome to the handsome Elliot; does he know how lucky he is? To be inducted into the advanced school of Loret’s Learning and Life Lessons? Hope he turns out to be a good peer tutor on snake safety for the other doggies!

    • says

      Hi Sue!

      Elliot seems to know we love him and he has really come out of his shell in the three short months he has lived here. He LOVES to romp around scouting the areas. He certainly has the nose of a scent hound. First trip out in the morning he is at the fence that separates the dog yard from the wildlife/pond area. The nose goes up in the air and he begins to longingly look through the fence for the rabbits that are sure to be grazing in the backyard.

      Oh, from your mouth to God’s ears on the peer tutor. If only the other setters would listen. After acting this way for 11 years, I’m not holding my breath. They seem rather inclined to ignore the newcomer. On a good note, they have slowed down some and Tanner’s cataracts seem to limit his ability to zero in on the racing rabbits and they safely slip under the house before he gets a bead on them.
      Loret recently posted..Longjawed Orbweavers Spider (Tetragnatha spp.)

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