Are you wondering what reptiles you can find in Washington?
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 Washington. In addition, you will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
6 COMMON Reptiles in Washington:
#1. Terrestrial Garter Snake
- Thamnophis elegans
- Adults range from 18 to 41 inches 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 Washington, 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 13,000 feet 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.
#2. Common Sagebrush Lizard
- Sceloporus graciosus
- 1.9 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is gray or brown with a light stripe on each side, a black bar at the shoulder, and blue patches on the belly.
- They have unusually long, almost spidery back claws.
As the name suggests, look for this common reptile in sagebrush in Washington.
Common Sagebrush Lizard Range Map:
Common Sagebrush Lizards eat a wide variety of insects and even scorpions! They hibernate during winter when temperatures drop, and food becomes scarce.
The easiest way to tell if you’ve found a Common Sagebrush Lizard is to look at its belly. The brilliant blue spots on its throat and abdomen are a dead giveaway!
#3. Western Fence Lizard
- Sceloporus occidentalis
- 2.25 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Black, gray, or dark brown coloring with uneven lighter blotches.
- The sides of the belly are blue, and the backs of the limbs are orange or yellow.
If you see a dark lizard on the ground or a fence, chances are you’ve found a Western Fence Lizard.
They’re the most commonly seen reptile within their range! They aren’t picky about their habitat and live in most ecosystems except the desert.
Western Fence Lizard Range Map:
A fascinating talent of Western Fence Lizards is that they can help lower YOUR risk of Lyme disease.
This spiny lizard’s blood can kill the Lyme Bacteria that many ticks carry! So once an infected tick feeds on the lizard’s blood, they’re cured!
#4. Common Side-Blotched Lizard
- Uta stansburiana
- 1.5 to 2.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is brownish, occasionally blue-gray, with a blue to black blotch on either side of the chest.
- This species often has white speckles dotting its back in the light color phase.
Common Side-blotched Lizards are comfortable in many different habitats. They’re abundant in their range and easy to find by concentrating on the ground where they spend most of their time.
There are three separate morphs of the male Side-Blotched Lizard, and interestingly, this plays a huge role in the mating habits of this species.
They employ a Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanism, with one morph being dominant over the second (like paper over rock) but not over the third (like scissors cutting paper). This unique mechanism causes a “rotation” of the most common morph each breeding season! The three morphs are pictured below:
#5. Western Pond Turtle
- Actinemus marmorata
- 3.5 to 8.5 inches long.
- Their limbs have prominent scales, and the head is spotted or webbed with black.
- Carapace coloring is black or dark green to brown with some yellowish spots. Usually, a pattern of dots or lines radiates from the center of each shell plate.
These reptiles can be found in ponds, lakes, rivers, and even irrigation ditches. They prefer habitats that give them access to plenty of aquatic plants like watercress, water lilies, and cattails.
Western Pond Turtle Rangemap:
The Western Pond Turtle is one of the most endangered reptiles in Washington.
Over-hunting for food and the pet trade has put pressure on their population. For example, Western Pond Turtles were once the main food source for hogs bred on Hog Island in California! The hogs learned to dive for the reptiles in the lake’s shallow water. They got so good at hunting and eating the turtles that, unfortunately, the population there is now extinct.
#6. Painted Turtle
- Chrysemys picta
- 2.5 to 10 inches 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 Washington!
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 Washington. 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 Washington 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!