Do Garter Snakes Bite? 4 Signs That A Garter Snake Is About to Bite

Garter snakes, with their slender bodies and vibrant patterns, are a common sight in many parts of the world. Despite their harmless appearance, there has long been speculation about their potential danger.

So, do garter snakes bite? And if so, how dangerous are their bites?

Garter snakes do bite, but their bites are generally harmless to humans. They primarily bite as a defensive response when they feel threatened. If you get bitten by a garter snake, make sure to wash the area with soap and water and keep an eye out for any signs of infection

Keep reading to learn more about garter snake bites and what to do if a garter snake bites you.

Do Garter Snakes Bite?

Garter snakes do bite; however, they do not bite out of aggression or with the intention to harm. When they feel threatened or cornered, garter snakes may resort to biting as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from potential harm. 

Some of the factors that can trigger a garter snake to bite include being grasped tightly, sudden movements, or attempting to handle them without proper caution.

Are Garter Snakes Normally Aggressive?

Garter snakes are not typically aggressive. They are known for their docile nature and will typically try to escape or hide when they feel threatened rather than exhibiting aggressive behavior.

However, like any wild animal, they may bite if they feel cornered, mishandled, or perceive a significant threat to their safety. So, it’s important to approach garter snakes with caution and respect their boundaries to minimize any potential defensive reactions.

Signs That A Garter Snake Is Going to Bite

While garter snakes are generally non-aggressive and prefer to avoid confrontation, there are a few signs that may indicate a garter snake is feeling threatened and may resort to biting.

These signs include:

  • Defensive posture: When a garter snake feels threatened, it may adopt a defensive posture by coiling its body, flattening its head, or raising its tail. These defensive behaviors indicate that the snake is preparing to defend itself if necessary.
  • Hissing or vibrating tail: In some instances, garter snakes may hiss or vibrate their tail rapidly as a warning sign. This behavior is meant to intimidate potential threats and serves as a precursor to biting.
  • Open mouth and visible fangs: If a garter snake opens its mouth and exposes its fangs, it is a clear indication that it feels threatened and may bite if the perceived threat persists.
  • Striking motion: A garter snake may exhibit a striking motion, lunging forward with its mouth open in an attempt to bite if it feels cornered or believes it has no other means of defense.

It’s important to remember that garter snakes generally prefer to flee rather than bite, and they will exhibit these defensive behaviors as a last resort. 

Are Garter Snake Bites Dangerous?

Garter snake bites are generally not dangerous to humans, as they are non-venomous. Their bites result in minor injuries and may cause minimal pain, redness, or slight bleeding.

However, it’s important to note that individual reactions to bites can vary, as some people may be more sensitive or have allergic reactions to the snake’s saliva, resulting in localized swelling or discomfort. Additionally, in rare cases, secondary infections may occur if the wound is not properly cleaned and cared for.

Are Garter Snake Bites Painful?

Garter snake bites are generally not considered painful. Their bites are typically described as minor, causing minimal discomfort similar to a scratch or small puncture wound. Most people may only feel a slight pinch or sting at the moment of the bite.

The pain experienced from a garter snake bite can vary depending on factors such as the individual’s pain tolerance, the location and depth of the bite, and the specific circumstances surrounding the bite. However, in general, garter snake bites are not known to cause intense or severe pain.

How to Avoid Garter Snake Bites?

a photo of a garter snake to show do garter snakes bite

To avoid garter snake bites, it’s important to understand their behavior and take appropriate precautions. Here are some tips to help you avoid garter snake bites:

  • Give them space: Garter snakes prefer to avoid confrontation, so give them their necessary space. Do not attempt to handle or disturb them unnecessarily.
  • Watch your step: When walking outdoors in areas known to have garter snakes, be mindful of your surroundings. Keep an eye out for any snakes on or near the ground, particularly in grassy or wooded areas.
  • Avoid sudden movements: Quick and abrupt movements can startle a garter snake, leading to defensive reactions. Move slowly and steadily when in close proximity to snakes.
  • Do not corner or trap them: Garter snakes may feel threatened if they are cornered or trapped. Allow them an escape route and a chance to retreat.
  • Wear appropriate footwear: When hiking or exploring areas where garter snakes may be present, wear closed-toe shoes or boots to protect your feet.
  • Use caution when lifting objects: Garter snakes may seek shelter under rocks, logs, or debris. Exercise caution when lifting or moving such objects to avoid surprising or accidentally handling a snake.

Remember, garter snakes are generally non-aggressive and prefer to avoid interactions with humans. By being aware of their presence and taking precautions, you can minimize the chances of a garter snake bite and peacefully coexist with them.

What to Do If A Garter Snake Bites You?

If you are bitten by a garter snake, here are the steps to follow:

  • Stay calm: It’s important to remain calm and avoid panicking. Garter snake bites are generally harmless, and staying calm can help you think clearly and take appropriate actions.
  • Remove yourself from the snake: Move away from the snake to prevent further bites or potential injuries. Ensure your safety by creating distance between yourself and the snake.
  • Wash the bite area: Clean the bite wound thoroughly with mild soap and water. Gently wash around the area to remove any bacteria or debris that may have been transferred during the bite.
  • Apply first aid: Once the wound is clean, apply an antiseptic or disinfectant to help prevent infection. You can use over-the-counter topical antiseptics like hydrogen peroxide or povidone-iodine. Follow the instructions on the product label.
  • Monitor for signs of infection: Keep an eye on the bite wound for any signs of infection, such as increasing pain, redness, swelling, warmth, or the presence of pus. If you notice any concerning symptoms, seek medical attention.
  • Seek medical help if necessary: While garter snake bites are generally harmless, there may be instances where medical attention is needed. Consult a healthcare professional if you experience severe pain, allergic reactions, or if the wound shows signs of infection or doesn’t heal properly.

Remember, it is important to handle all wildlife encounters with caution and respect. Even non-venomous snake bites can lead to secondary infections or complications in rare cases, so proper wound care and medical attention, if needed, are essential for a swift recovery.


In conclusion, while garter snakes do bite, their bites are generally harmless and rarely pose a significant threat to humans. 

Respecting their boundaries and observing them from a safe distance is the best approach to appreciating these fascinating reptiles without any unnecessary incidents.

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