The Red and Black Forked Tongue: Watching Garter Snakes

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.

20200323_174251The 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.

20200323_1744421The 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.



5 thoughts on “The Red and Black Forked Tongue: Watching Garter Snakes

  1. Hello – I hope the Webers are well – I must say I do appreciate snakes, especially when I saw a 4 foot king snake passing through my yard one day (my cat didn’t seem afraid of him). He is probably the reason that we never came upon any rattle snakes (because that is his favorite meal.) They are also known to eat small rodents that can pass diseases.
    Snakes play a part in the natural order and are needed as much as any other creature. We need to learn to love and respect snakes, reptiles and all of nature and not just our well manicured lawns and cut flowers. Hopefully if more people realize this they will be willing to do what it takes to save our environment and our world — and all beings that live within it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks. Nice photos of what is usually a fast moving reptile. Although I have temporarily captured some, I don’t recall noticing the two-tone tongue before.

    Liked by 1 person

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