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Young Common Gartersnakes Appearing

8-3-18 garter snake 081Seventy percent of the world’s snakes lay eggs (oviparous). The rest give birth to live young (viviparous). Oviparous snakes tend to live in warmer climates, where the substrate they lay their eggs in is warm enough to incubate the eggs.  (Most egg-laying snakes deposit their eggs and then depart, relying on the substrate to incubate the eggs.)  Viviparous snakes tend to live in cooler regions, where the ground is too cold to provide incubation.

There is a distinction between egg-laying snakes.  The majority of snakes that lay eggs do so outside their body, in a protected area such as a rotting log.  These snakes are known as oviparous. There are also egg-laying snakes that retain their eggs inside their bodies until they’re ready to hatch. These snakes are called ovoviviparous. Ovoviviparous snakes, such as the Common Gartersnake, appear to give birth to live young, but they actually don’t. Unlike viviparous species, there is no placental connection, or transfer of fluids, between mothers and babies, because the developing young snakes feed on the substances contained in their individual eggs. The snakes emerge from the mother when they hatch from their eggs, giving them the appearance of “live” births. The gestation period for oviparous snakes is generally longer than those of ovoviviparous snakes and vary from a few weeks to a few months in length. (Photo: very young Common Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, consuming an earthworm)

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11 responses

  1. Very interesting distinctions. Thank you.

    August 13, 2018 at 9:10 am

  2. Alice Pratt

    Very interesting….does the Mom Garter snake then have an ‘afterbirth’ of eggshells, or does her body somehow re-absorb the shell matter? Or… when a Garter baby hatches, I wonder why the shell it leaves behind doesn’t block the birth canal for it’s siblings, or maybe the shell is birthed with the snake & it’s not a shell, but a membrane. (Thinking hard on Monday morning). I really like snakes…just don’t want to be “surprised” by one…Eastern Ringnecks are so pretty & docile.

    August 13, 2018 at 9:17 am

    • Alice, I’ve read that ovoviparous snakes give birth to snakes lacking any shell. I don’t know if they absorb the shells or get rid of them after all their young are born!

      August 14, 2018 at 11:39 am

  3. Ruth

    You wrote: “The gestation period for oviparous snakes is generally longer than those of ovoviviparous snakes”
    Is this backwards?
    And thank you for yet another informative post. Explains gruesome disaster I once found by my mailbox: squished garter snake mom with obviously almost functional babies, but signs of eggshell/covering. I wondered: Ovi? or Vivi? but didn’t know there was another choice.

    August 13, 2018 at 9:38 am

    • Hi Ruth,
      It certainly does seem backwards to me, as well. I am checking with a herpetologist, and will get back to you as soon as I hear from him. I thought my source was reliable when I wrote the post, but it does make more sense the other way around! Thanks for catching that.

      August 14, 2018 at 11:49 am

  4. Diane

    I mowed the head off a small garter snake. Never saw it. Made me sick.

    August 13, 2018 at 10:09 am

  5. margaret smith

    Was that picture really a garter snake? I thought they had stripes.

    On Mon, Aug 13, 2018, 9:06 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “Seventy percent of the world’s snakes lay eggs > (oviparous). The rest give birth to live young (viviparous). Oviparous > snakes tend to live in warmer climates, where the substrate they lay their > eggs in is warm enough to incubate the eggs. (Most egg-laying” >

    August 13, 2018 at 10:41 am

    • Yes. When they are very young, their markings are different!

      August 14, 2018 at 11:27 am

  6. Elizabeth

    Fascinating. I think “ovoviviparous” is my new favorite word!

    August 13, 2018 at 12:50 pm

  7. Anna Lambe

    Hi Mary,

    I love your posts! Living in a mixed woodland area in south-central Ontario I see almost the same flora and fauna that you show in your postings, within a few days of you. Recently I saw a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth feeding on my Monarda! Although you may have featured this amazing moth previously, you are certainly welcome to use these photos if you wish, as I didn’t know this moth existed until I saw my only other siting near the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. It’s a truly stunning creature, and a thrill to see!

    I have corrected the white balance on these photos and cropped them a bit, as they were taken from quite far away ( with my Sony 10 Mark III which makes my photography possible!

    If these photos are of use to you and you would like the original photos, without any changes, I’m happy to send those. You do give so many people pleasure, including me!

    Sorry, my older computer will only load one photo, if you are interested in more will send them later! (perhaps one at a time!)

    Sincerely, Anna Lambe Coboconk, Ontario

    On Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 9:05 AM, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “Seventy percent of the world’s snakes lay eggs > (oviparous). The rest give birth to live young (viviparous). Oviparous > snakes tend to live in warmer climates, where the substrate they lay their > eggs in is warm enough to incubate the eggs. (Most egg-laying” >

    August 13, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    • Hi Anna,
      Wordpress doesn’t publish photos sent in, I’m sorry to say. If you could send them to me at my own email address (mholland@vermontel.net) I should get them. I would love to see them. Thank you so much for your lovely offer. Mary

      August 14, 2018 at 7:54 pm

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