Albino Garter Snake Living at LNC

Lakeside Nature Center admits dozens of snakes each year into our wildlife rehabilitation hospital; one of the most common species is the Eastern Garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).  You can imagine our surprise when a very young albino Garter snake, injured by a weed eater, was brought to us.  The staff administered medications and the snake soon began to thrive.  Because of the low survival rate in albino snakes (or any albino animal), the decision was made to permanently house the animal at Lakeside where it will be used for education programs and a future exhibit.

Melanin is the substance in our skin that gives it the dark color, and snakes that lack this dark pigment are said to be amelaninistic.  It is a recessive genetic trait passed down from parents that are normally heterozygous (they have the gene but they look normal).  If both parents had the hidden gene, the odds are that out of a group of four babies; one would be an amelanistic, two would have the gene but look normal, and one would look normal and not have the gene.  The occurrence of amelanism is rare in the wild as the odds of compatible pair meeting, mating, successfully reproducing and the off-spring surviving is low.  In captivity this gene is more often expressed and that is how there can be many different variations of the same species.

Garter snakes are one of the most common species found in the United States.  Adults reach about 2 feet in length and feed on amphibians, invertebrates and, sometimes, other snakes.  They are most often found near bodies of water; however they will venture into other habitats as long as food and shelter are available.  Breeding occurs in the spring with the babies being born alive in the late summer or early fall. The average litter size is 12 but as many as 103 have been produced from one mother.

Article by LNC Naturalist Richard Kupronis;
Photo by FOLNC Volunteer Deborah Barker