West Kelowna  

Snake vs fish

A new Okanagan resident got more than she bargained for when she and a friend headed to Kalamoir Beach in West Kelowna on Monday.

"My girlfriend and I were just sitting at the beach, she's from Sicamous and I just moved here from there, we look over and there's this snake with a half-eaten fish in its mouth," Sarah Sutherland tells Castanet.

"My rottweiler stepped on it and the fish fell out of its mouth and then it slithered back in the lake, I didn't go swimming again after that."

Castanet reached out to biologist and snake expert, Mike Dunn to identify the type of snake in the picture, "likely western terrestrial garter snake 'Thamnophis elegans', fairly likely to be that snake."

Reptiles of British Columbia indicates the western territorial garter snake, commonly called the "wandering" garter snake which has "strongly keeled scutes (scales), giving it a dusty, dull appearance. The colour patterns vary throughout its range. In general, this snake has a grey body with a light stripe (usually yellow to orangish-red) down its back, and a matching stripe running down each side."

Sutherland says, I'm used to the wilderness but I'm not too sure about snakes in Kelowna so I was like, oh God!"

The wandering garter is relatively harmless but you're advised not to handle them. When picked up the snake can thrash its body about, spiralling over and over in an attempt to escape but it's best escape tactic is releasing a smelly mix of musk and feces. Wandering garters will bite if feeling threatened.

"I'm used to dealing with bears and cougars but that was my first snake experience," Sutherland tells Castanet.

The wandering garter can be found in most parts of southern B.C. they love the water and will eat almost anything. These snakes have the most varied diet of any snake in B.C. eating slugs, small mammals, and fish. 

According to Reptiles of BC these wandering garter snakes have one hunting trick that other snake species don’t share.

"When attacking large critters like adult rodents, this snake can coil its body around the prey as if constricting it, while simultaneously biting and chewing. Biologists discovered that these snakes have modified saliva glands that secrete a mild toxin (harmless to humans). By chewing on their prey with the enlarged teeth found in the back of their jaws, the snake injects the prey with toxin. Coiling around the prey subdues it and likely protects the snake from possible injury inflicted by its prey!"

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