The Common Garter Snake usually emerges from hiberation about the beginning of April in Southeast Michigan. I saw the first one in Eliza Howell Park this year a little early, on March 23.
It isn’t always easy to get a good look at these snakes. Often, they move so quickly through the grasses that there is no opportunity to see much more than the disappearing body. Perhaps it is because they are just “waking up,” but this seems to be the best time of the year for more extensive observation.
As I watch, I find myself focused on the tongue, especially when the snake is looking at me. It flicks the tongue in and out repeatedly, a red tongue with a forked black tip.
The tongue is used to sense what is around it. According to herpetologists, the tongue collects chemicals from the environment and delivers them to organs in the mouth that are able to give a directional perspective on the chemical traces.
So it is observing the world around it when flicking the forked tongue.
The garter snake is the only species of snake that I encouter with any regularity at all in Eliza Howell Park. And, as I gradually get to know these reptiles a little better, I am finding them more and more amazing — especially that long tongue.