Yesterday's warm, sunny afternoon seemed to be a good time to start the spring yard work. Near some old timbers on the south side of the house, my wife noticed a garter snake; within a few minutes, several more appeared, winding through the leaf litter and among the shrubs.
Garter snakes winter in groups of a hundred or more, usually choosing a cave or den with a south exposure. Come April, they begin to emerge on warm days, retreating to the den at night. Males are generally the first to wander from the winter retreat and are primarily concerned with locating females; early-mid spring is their mating season and they are more active and conspicuous now than they will be for the rest of the year. Yesterday's gang was in constant motion, scouring the area but showing no signs of hunting behavior.
Once the mating season is over, garter snakes become rather solitary and much less active. They are usually discovered while sunning themselves in mid morning and spend much of the day patiently stalking insects, worms, amphibians and small mammals. Fertilization is delayed and the female will give birth to anywhere from 10 to 60 live offspring in late summer; these young snakes are self sufficient from birth and will feast on worms and insects before the mass hibernation begins.