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The distribution of the Wandering Gartersnake extends from Canada into Washington, Idaho, and Montana south into California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. In Wyoming this reptile enjoys the status of being the most common and widespread species of snake in the state, residing in all counties at elevations below 10,000 feet. It inhabits the prairie, desert, foothills, and montane life zones. This snake is found in a wide variety of habitats, but it is most abundant along the rocky shorelines of streams and lakes. It is usually found near water but may overwinter in dens that are far from water and shared with racers, bullsnakes, rattlesnakes, and other species of garter snakes.
Depending on elevation, these diurnal snakes are active from April into October, foraging on small fish, amphibians, small mammals, and invertebrates such as earthworms, leaches, and slugs. When handled, they rarely bite but almost always wriggle and thrash aboutóempting the contents of their cloaca and smearing a most unpleasant and foul smelling secretion. They are easily recognized as garter snakes in Wyoming because the only other species of snake in the state with dull or bland longitudinal stripes is the Black Hills Red-bellied Snake. They are distinguished from the Plains Gartersnake by the lower position of the lateral stripes and by lacking the black bars on the labial scales along the upper jaw. They differ from the Valley Gartersnake and Red-sided Gartersnake by lacking the red and black checkerboard pattern between the midline and lateral stripes.
They are small to medium sized snakes with typical lengths in the range of 20-30 inches; females are larger than males. The oval shaped dorsal scales are keeled and overlapping and the anal plate is entire. The background is gray or brown but may be olive-green on specimens that have recently shed their skin. They have a dorsal midline stripe running the length of the body with a pair of longitudinal lateral stripes lying on the 2nd and 3rd row of scales up from the belly. These stripes are cream or pale yellow but are sometimes faded and indistinct. Lying between the midline and lateral stripes is a series of black spots that appear as fragmented bands or a zigzag pattern. The belly is a pale gray to light blue with a wash of black and yellow along the margins of the ventral plates.
Mating occurs in the vicinity of the den in early spring. Males are released from the winterís hibernacula first and lie-in-wait to breed with females as they emerge. Litter size is generally in the range of 6-16 offspring and the young are born alive (viviparous), hatching from the eggs retained inside the femaleís body. The young of the year begin appearing in July and August. Sexual maturity is reached in the 2nd or 3rd year.