Garden Gartersnake

[keeled scales]

Keeled scales! Finally, in real life and not just in pictures, I meet snake scales so up-close-and-personal, I not only see them, I feel them.

The snake let me touch, and then run a forefinger down the curving keyboard of scales.
Not smooth, not rough.
Warm from the sun. 

Keel. Like a boat bottom, you know? That ridge on a hull that runs the centerline underneath?
Same with a snake scale: a ridge that runs the centerline. 

Keels can be a clue to species: if keels are present, where they are, and how big.

But in real life, with a real snake in front of you, how often will you have time to ascertain these nice details?
In real life, you need quicker clues that tell who the snake is and if it is okay to play their scales like a piano.

My quick clue was the stripes, which said “Gartersnake.”
Named for . . . garters: those striped bands that held up gentlemen’s socks before someone figured out elastic.

Garters are the only snakes I usually see in my yard. 
Not venomous to humans, but deadly to slugs. 

Garters are a gardener’s best [reptile] friend.

You could say that Garters keep your garden on an even keel,
or keep your hostas from keeling over…

The only thing that scares me about garters in my yard, is that I am likely to step on them.
They are very good at camouflage.

[arrow points to the head. I know there was a head because the snake was alive…)

No, wait: even scarier is when I see Mosquito Joe spraying the (literal) life out of a neighbor’s yard. No spray—even “organic” ones—can target mosquitos without killing fireflies, ladybugs, butterflies, bees, etc. etc.; which then sickens the whole foodweb, including Garters; which sickens the whole watershed, including dogs, kids, and you.

To not kill Garters, do all the usual, sustainable lawn things like:
Skip pesticides, slow the weekly mow to every other week (on a high blade), skip the leafblower.

To encourage Garters, do all the above, and know what they need:
Logs, stones, brushpiles for cover / homes; sunny spots for basking; gardens for cover and food.



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Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.

She writes about everyday natural wonders amid everyday habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.