The common name 'garter snake' refers to over a dozen species of the genus Thamnophis. Most species are classified as non-venomous. Garter snakes are not dangerous to humans and are often described as completely harmless. A few species have neurotoxin in their saliva that may cause swelling and itching if a person is bitten. An allergic reaction is possible, although it is very rare. Garter snakes are common pets. It is thought they were named for stripes that look like garters men used to hold up their socks at one time. However, it may also be a corrupted version of the German word for garden.
Garter snakes are small to medium-sized with about 23 to 30-inches in length. Occasionally a garter snake will grow up to five feet long. Their scales are keeled, which means there is a ridge down the center of each scale. Most species have three longitudinal stripes. The stripes are usually green or yellow, but othe colors may occur across species. Several species of Garter snakes have bi-colored tongues. There is usually a symmetrical split, so each color covers half the tongue.
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