Are you wondering what reptiles you can find in Alberta?
This is a great question! Although these reptiles are widespread, they can be difficult to find. Most reptiles, including snakes, turtles, and lizards, are secretive and shy. But observing and finding reptiles is a really fun experience!
Below you will find a list of the most common and interesting reptiles that live in Alberta. In addition, you will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
6 COMMON Reptiles in Alberta:
#1. Prairie Rattlesnake
- Crotalus viridis
- Adults typically range between 1 and 1.5 meters in length.
- Coloration is highly variable and can be greenish-gray, olive green, greenish-brown, light brown, or yellow. All variations have dark blotches on the body that turn into rings near the tail.
- They have a broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.
Prairie Rattlesnakes have a more varied habitat than many reptiles in southern Alberta. These venomous snakes can be found in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments. They can even be found at elevations up to 2890 meters!
The Prairie Rattlesnake hibernates during the winter, often in communal dens. These dens are typically rock crevices, caves, or old mammal burrows. Individual snakes return to the same den each winter and migrate up to seven miles to their hunting grounds in the spring.
When they feel threatened Prairie Rattlesnakes may also quietly crawl away to cover. If approached, they coil and rattle their tail as a warning before striking. Their potent venom has both hemotoxic and neurotoxic properties and, although rare, can be fatal to an adult human.
#2. Terrestrial Garter Snake
- Thamnophis elegans
- Adults range from 45-105 cm in length.
- Most adults have three yellow, light orange, or white stripes; one down their back and two down their sides.
- Coloration is widely variable. Individuals may be brownish or greenish. Some have red and black spots between the stripes, and occasionally all black individuals are found.
Although they’re common in southern Alberta, these reptiles can be difficult to identify!
Even trained herpetologists have issues! Its coloration varies widely, and there are believed to be six subspecies, although scientists still debate this.
Terrestrial Garter Snakes occupy various habitats, including both grasslands and forests. They can even be found in mountainous areas up to 3962 meters above sea level. As the name suggests, they’re primarily found on land. But interestingly, these reptiles are great swimmers!
This species is the only garter snake with a tendency to constrict prey! Most garter snakes grab their prey quickly and just swallow, rubbing their prey against the ground if necessary.
Terrestrial Garter Snakes aren’t aggressive or dangerous, but they possess mildly venomous saliva! It can cause a muscle infection or even kill some muscle tissue. Most bites on humans just cause pain and some swelling.
#3. Plains Garter Snake
- Thamnophis radix
- Adults average 91.5 cm in length.
- The coloration is gray-green with a distinctive orange stripe down the back and a greenish-yellow stripe down each side.
- Distinct light yellow spots on the very top of the head!
Plains Garter Snakes live near freshwater sources. They have a fairly large population and adapt well to human-modified landscapes. You may spot them near abandoned buildings, trash heaps, or vacant lots.
This species is considered one of the most cold-tolerant of all reptiles! They will even come out of hibernation on warmer winter days.
Plains Garter Snakes feed primarily on earthworms, slugs, and small amphibians. However, they have also been observed preying on small mammals and birds.
- Pituophis catenifer sayi
- Adults are large and typically range from 1.2 to 1.8 meters in length.
- Coloration is yellow, beige, or light brown with large brown, black, or reddish blotching on the back and three sets of small blotches on the sides.
- Blotches may appear like bands near the end of the tail, and the underside is yellowish with black spots.
Bullsnakes are often seen in areas with high rodent populations.
So they’re common in places like prairie dog towns. But you can also find them in fields, grasslands, forest edges, savannas, and brushlands with sandy soils.
Despite being nonvenomous, these snakes act aggressively toward any threats. They often lift the front half of their body, hiss, and lunge at their attacker. This body language is reminiscent of other reptiles in Alberta, like prairie lizards!
Interestingly, their hissing can sound like a rattle! (see below!)
To accomplish this, the snake forces air through an extension of the windpipe, which has a piece of cartilage called an epiglottis that flaps back and forth, sounding very similar to a rattlesnake.
#5. Greater Short-Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma hernandesi
- 4.5 to 12 cm long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is beige, tan, or reddish, speckled with white. There are large brown blotches on the neck and sides.
- Horns are short and stubby, located on the back of the head and each side.
Greater Short-horned Lizards prefer to live in shortgrass prairies and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Their habitat is semi-arid, with long dry spells and infrequent rain.
Greater Short-horned Lizard Range Map:
Ants are a primary food source for Greater Short-horned Lizards, but they have a varied diet.
They are one of the few reptiles in Alberta that gives birth to live young!
And you may not believe this, but they can produce up to 48 babies in one birth!
#6. Painted Turtle
- Chrysemys picta
- 6.25 to 25.5 cm long.
- The carapace is low to the ground and generally dark brown or black.
- As the name suggests, they have distinctive yellow, green, and red striping on the carapace, head, and limbs.
The Painted Turtle is one of the most recognizable reptiles in Alberta!
Look for its beautiful coloring of bright reds and yellow greens on its shell, limbs, and head. Painted Turtles live near calm, shallow water. They are attracted to areas with plenty of aquatic plants, their primary food source.
Painted Turtle Rangemap:
It’s almost impossible to accurately assess the population of Painted Turtles in Alberta. Many people keep them as pets and then release them into the wild, causing an ever-expanding range and unstable reproduction rates. These released reptiles can also put pressure on natural populations.
In the wild, Painted Turtles can hold their breath for up to 30 hours!
They also can remain dormant in near-freezing water for up to 4 months. This ability is essential when temperatures often go below freezing.
What types of reptiles in Alberta have you seen?
Let us know in the comments!
And if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of specific reptiles like snakes, lizards, or turtles, check out our ID guides to these fascinating creatures!