The 27 Types of SNAKES That Live in New Mexico! (ID Guide)

There are A LOT of snakes in New Mexico!

Common Snakes in New Mexico

 

And what’s interesting is that they are all incredibly unique and have adapted to fill many habitats and niches.

 

You’ll see that the snakes that live in New Mexico are very different from each other.

 

For example, some species are venomous, while others use constriction to immobilize their prey. Or the fact that certain snakes are rarely seen because they spend most of their time underground, but others are comfortable living EXTREMELY close to humans.

 

Today, you’re going to learn about the 27 types of snakes in New Mexico!

 

Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other New Mexico guides!

 


#1. Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake

  • Crotalus atrox

Types of Snakes found in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically grow to about 4 feet in length.
  • Coloration ranges from brown, gray, brick red, pinkish, and chalky white. Look for the darker diamond-shaped blotches down its back, outlined by white scales.
  • Broad, spade-shaped head with a black mask over the eyes. Elliptical pupils and pits between eyes and nostrils.
  • A rattle on the tail alternates between black and white-colored bands.

 

This famous VENOMOUS snake has a wide range of habitats in New Mexico!

 

You might spot them in deserts, grassy plains, forested areas, rocky hillsides, and river bottoms. But your best chance to see one might be on a rural road in the evening because of the heat the pavement retains.

Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake Range Map

western diamondback rattlesnake

The Western Diamond-backed feeds on small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, prairie dogs, rabbits, mice, and rats. They also consume birds that fly within reach. Like other pit vipers, they ambush their prey and track them while the venom takes effect.

 

When threatened, these snakes typically stand their ground. They rattle and coil, lifting themselves off the ground to prepare to strike.

 

If you hear their characteristic rattle, make sure to leave the area slowly! Due to their specialized fangs and large venom glands, these snakes can deliver a lot of venom in a single bite! Untreated bites have a 10 – 20% mortality rate, so make sure to get to the hospital quickly if struck!

 


#2. Prairie Rattlesnake

  • Crotalus viridis

Snakes species that live in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range between 3.3 and 5 feet 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.
  • Broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.

 

These venomous snakes can be found in New Mexico in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments. They can even be found at elevations up to 9500 feet!

Prairie Rattlesnake Range Mapprairie rattlesnake range map

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, these snakes freeze to use their camouflage to avoid detection. They may also quietly crawl away to cover. If approached, they may 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.

 

Prairie Rattlesnakes are listed on the ICUN Red List as a species of least concern. However, they are considered threatened and declining in parts of their range. In addition, they have faced pressure from habitat fragmentation and hunting.

 


#3. Western Massasauga

  • Sistrurus tergeminus

Common Snakes species in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 14 to 36 inches in length.
  • Coloration is gray to light brown with dark brown blotches on the back.
  • Thick body, large triangular head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils.
  • Being rattlesnakes, look for the rattle at the end of their tail.

 

The Western Massasauga is a rattlesnake and one of the smallest venomous snakes in the country! They primarily inhabit grassland habitats but can also be found in open sagebrush prairie, rocky hillsides, prairie hillsides, open wetlands, and grassy wetlands.

Western Massasauga Range Map

western massasauga range map

These snakes are secretive and not often seen in New Mexico.

 

When detected, they often freeze rather than rattle. However, when they do rattle, Western Massasaugas make a distinctive sound. Their rattle is significantly higher pitched than larger rattlesnakes and has earned this small snake the nickname “buzz tail.”

 

Though their venom is highly potent, the small quantity they deliver makes their bites much less likely to be fatal in humans compared to larger venomous snakes. However, you still need to respect them as their venom is hemotoxic and will cause localized swelling, extreme pain, and necrosis. Medical attention should be sought immediately if bitten!

 


#4. Plain-bellied Watersnake

  • Nerodia erythrogaster

New Mexico Snakes species


Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have thick bodies and range from 24 to 40 inches in length.
  • Solid coloration of gray, brown, olive, or black.
  • As the name suggests, they have a plain unmarked underside varying from red to yellow.
  • Also called Redbelly, Yellowbelly, Copperbelly, or Blotched Watersnake.

 

The Plain-bellied Watersnake can be found near various water sources, including rivers, floodplains, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. This species is only found in a small area in southwest New Mexico. During hot, humid weather, they can be found in woodlands quite far from a water source.

 

Plain-bellied Watersnake Range Map

plain bellied watersnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

They feed on BOTH aquatic and terrestrial prey, including crayfish, fish, salamanders, frogs, and other amphibians. Another unusual feature of this species is that they will sit and wait to ambush their prey, especially on land. Almost all other water snakes actively hunt and chase their victims!

 

If captured, they release a foul-smelling musk and are not afraid to bite! Plain-bellied Watersnakes are eaten by largemouth bass, egrets, hawks, and sometimes other larger snakes.

 


#5. Western Ribbon Snake

  • Thamnophis proximus

western ribbon snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 17 to 50 inches in length. A slender snake with a long tail!
  • Coloration is blackish, brown, or olive with three light-colored stripes; one down the back and one down each side.
  • The sides and top of the head are dark, and the upper lip is whitish.

 

Did you see a slender snake in eastern New Mexico with a long tail?

 

If so, it was probably a Western Ribbon Snake! This semi-aquatic species is rarely found far from a water source. They typically occupy brush-heavy areas around streams, lakes, ponds, and other water bodies. You may also spot them basking on rocks, flat vegetation, and dry sandy areas near water.

 

western ribbon snake range map

 

The Western Ribbon Snake has an incredible, unique hunting technique. As they move over land, they make quick, light thrusts of their head and upper body in different directions in sequences of three. It’s similar to a strike, but with their mouth closed. This action disturbs resting frogs, which alerts the garter snake to their location. From there, this snake uses its superior speed to catch its prey.

 

When they feel threatened, they flee into the water or hide in thick brush. Their coloration provides superb camouflage in dense, brushier areas. If grabbed, Western Ribbon Snakes rarely bite but will thrash around, defecate, and release musk from their anal glands. This species can also shed its tail to escape, but unfortunately, it doesn’t regenerate like some lizard species.

 


#6. Terrestrial Garter Snake

  • Thamnophis elegans

wandering western terrestrial gartersnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

 

This snake can be difficult to identify in New Mexico!

 

Even trained herpetologists have issues! Its coloration varies widely, and there are believed to be 6 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 garter snakes are great swimmers!

terrestrial garter range map

 

This species is the only garter snake in New Mexico 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 do 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.

 


#7. Plains Garter Snake

  • Thamnophis radix

plains garter snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults average 36 inches in length.
  • 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 are almost always found in northeast New Mexico in prairies and grasslands 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.

plains garter snake range map

 

This species is one of the most cold-tolerant snakes in New Mexico!

 

In fact, 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, including the Eastern Meadowlark and Bank Swallow.

 


#8. Black-necked Garter Snake

  • Thamnophis cyrtopsis

black necked garter snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Western Black-necked Garter Snakes are dark olive with an orange-yellow stripe down the back and a yellow to white stripe down each side. It can be up to 42 inches long.
  • Eastern Black-necked Garter Snakes are smaller and only grow up to 20 inches in length. They have a checkered pattern of black and yellow on their body, between their three stripes.
  • Both subspecies have a gray head, contrasting strongly with the body. In addition, there is a dark blotch on each side of the neck.

 

This species is found in many habitats, including desert scrub, plains, arid grasslands, and pine-oak woodlands. They’re almost always associated with water sources such as streams, ciénegas, and cattle tanks.

black necked garter snake range map

There are two subspecies of this snake: the Western AND Eastern. They look different (see photo above), but they also behave uniquely. The Western subspecies (Thamnophis cyrtopsis cyrtopsis) are water snakes and most often found in the water. The Eastern (Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus) subspecies prefers to live on DRY LAND very close to water.

 

The Black-necked Garter Snake’s preferred prey is frogs, toads, and tadpoles, including poisonous species like the Sonoran Desert Toad. However, they have been known to feed on a wide range of other prey, including earthworms, skinks, salamanders, crustaceans, and birds.

 


#9. Speckled Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis holbrooki

speckled kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are typically 36 to 48 inches in length.
  • Coloration is shiny black with small yellow, yellowish-green, or white specks, one in the center of almost every dorsal scale though the pattern of the speckles varies by individual.
  • The underside is white or yellow with clusters of black checkers and is sometimes more black than white.

 

The Speckled Kingsnake’s unique appearance resulted in the nickname “salt and pepper snake.” Look for them in fields along the forest’s edge, prairies, grasslands, stream valleys, pastures, and roadside ditches.

Speckled Kingsnake Range Map

speckled kingsnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

These snakes are rather secretive and hard to find in New Mexico!

 

First, they have a limited range in the eastern part of the state. In addition, they’re primarily nocturnal. As a result, they’re most frequently spotted crossing roadways in the morning or evening.

 

Like other kingsnakes, this species is a constrictor, which means they use their coils to asphyxiate their prey before consuming it. They feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, birds, bird eggs, reptiles, reptile eggs, frogs, and other snakes, including venomous species. SEE THE VIDEO BELOW! 🙂

 

Speckled Kingsnakes are generally quite docile and are often kept as pets. However, if disturbed, they may shake their tail, release a foul-smelling musk, and strike if grabbed. Sadly this species is considered threatened in parts of their range.

 


#10. Western Milksnake

  • Lampropeltis gentilis

 

western milksnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 15 to 34 inches in length.
  • Coloration is whitish, black, and reddish or orange bands, with the reddish-orange bands being bordered by black.
  • The snout is blackish and sometimes features white flecking, and the underside may have extensions of the bands or be more whitish.

 

Western Milksnakes are found in New Mexico in open sagebrush, grasslands and are occasionally seen in suburban areas. They’re a secretive species frequently found under objects like rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.

Western Milksnake Range Map

western milksnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

Because of their coloration, they are often confused with venomous coral snakes. But luckily, there’s an easy way to tell the difference. Just remember this rhyme:

 

“If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; if red touches black, you’re all right, Jack.”

coral snake vs western milksnake

 

These snakes aren’t picky about food and feed on small mammals, birds, bird eggs, other snakes, lizards, reptile eggs, and occasionally, worms and insects. They actively hunt down their prey and use their coils to constrict the life out of them.

 

Though they’re usually docile when handled, Western Milksnakes do exhibit strong defensive behaviors when disturbed. You can expect them to vibrate their tail (like a rattlesnake), and they may even rear up and strike!

 


#11. Arizona Coral Snake

  • Micruroides euryxanthus

the most common venomous snakes in Arizona

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are typically between 11 and 24 inches long.
  • Smooth scales with bands of red and black, which are divided by narrower bands of light yellow or white.
  • The head is black, and the red bands are typically absent from the tail.

 

Arizona Coral Snakes, which are also called Sonoran Coral Snakes, can be found in desert scrublands, semi-desert grasslands, rocky canyons, and oak woodlands. Due to their secretive nature and the fact they are nocturnal, these venomous snakes are not often seen.

 

These snakes rarely harm people in New Mexico, despite being highly venomous.

 

They are generally considered non-aggressive and have small, fixed fangs that make it difficult for them to deliver venom to larger animals. However, they should still be treated with care if found!

 

Coral snakes use their toxic venom to immobilize and kill prey. Interestingly, this species feeds primarily on other snakes, with Thread snakes being their most favorite victims. However, they also consume various types of lizards.

 


#12. California Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis californiae

california kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 36 to 48 inches in length.
  • Most individuals are black or brown, with whitish bands running down their bodies.

 

These snakes are widespread in New Mexico across many types of habitats.

 

Look for them in woodlands, grasslands, deserts, marshes, and even suburban areas! Most of the year, these California Kingsnakes are found out during the day, except during cold weather when they retreat underground to enter a hibernation-like state called brumation.

California Kingsnake Range Map

california kingsnake range map

Do you know how kingsnakes got the name “king?”

 

It refers to their ability to hunt down and eat other snakes! Incredibly, California Kingsnakes will even go after venomous rattlesnakes.

 

This species has the incredible adaptation to constrict its prey. In fact, California Kingsnakes have the strongest squeeze when compared to the size of their body! It’s thought they evolved this trait since their main diet consists of other reptiles, which don’t require as much oxygen as mammals.

 


#13. Great Plains Ratsnake

  • Pantherophis emoryi

great plains rat snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 36 to 60 inches long.
  • Coloration is light gray or tan with dark gray, brown, or green-gray blotching down its back.
  • A spear-shaped mark on the head and stripes on the sides of the head that meet to form a point between the eyes.
  • Also sometimes called Emory’s Ratsnake, Brown Ratsnake, or Chicken Snake.

 

Great Plains Ratsnakes are found in New Mexico in open woodlands, rocky, wooded hillsides, semi-arid regions, and agricultural areas. Being nocturnal, they are hard to find and spend most of their days in old mammal burrows or under rocks, logs, boards, and other cover objects.

great plains rat snake range map

This species prefers to prey on rodents but may also consume small birds, lizards, and frogs. They are also known to eat bats and are sometimes found near caves hunting them! Like other rat snakes, they’re constrictors and use their strong coils to suffocate prey before eating it.

 

When disturbed, the Great Plains Ratsnake curls up and vibrate its tail which sounds remarkably like a rattlesnake when done in dry leaf litter. Though they’re considered non-aggressive and docile, they may strike if grabbed.

 


#14. Smooth Greensnake

  • Opheodrys vernalis

smooth green snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are SLENDER and typically range from 14 to 20 inches in length.
  • Coloration is uniformly light green with a yellow or white underside and a red tongue with a black tip.
  • Juveniles may be olive-green, blue-gray, or even brown until they shed their skin for the first time.

 

This species is hard to confuse with any other snake in New Mexico!

 

Also called Grass Snakes, these bright green snakes can be found in marshes, meadows, pastures, savannas, open woods, and along stream and lake edges. They prefer moist areas near permanent water sources.

Smooth Greensnake Range Map

smooth green snake range map

They prey almost exclusively on insects and spiders and don’t use constriction; instead quickly striking and swallowing their prey alive.

 

Smooth Greensnakes hibernate during cool weather in New Mexico, seeking shelter in old mammal burrows and abandoned anthills.

 

Smooth Greensnakes rely on their EXCELLENT camouflage to avoid predators. They’re also agile and can flee quickly if they must.

 


#15. Bullsnake

  • Pituophis catenifer sayi

bull snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are large and typically range from 4 to 6 feet 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 eastern New Mexico 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.

bullsnake range map

Bullsnakes are fast and can actively pursue prey in loose soil. They even use their prominent rostral (nose scale) to dig! Once they’ve captured their prey, they use their strong body to coil around and constrict their prey.

 

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 until they feel they can retreat.

 

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.

 


#16. Plains Hog-nosed Snake

  • Heterodon nasicus

plains hog nosed snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 15 to 39 inches in length.
  • Coloration is varying shades of brown with darker brown blotches on the back, two alternating rows of smaller dark spots down the sides, and large longitudinal blotches on the sides of the neck.
  • Enlarged rostral (nose) scale.

 

The Plains Hog-nosed Snake strongly prefers open sandy or gravelly habitats in New Mexico. They’re excellent burrowers and also use old animal burrows for hibernation and protection from hot temperatures.

plains hog nosed snake range map

These snakes are best-known for their impressive displays when disturbed!

 

When initially confronted, Plains Hog-nosed Snakes typically remain motionless or hide their head under their coils. They may also try to bury themselves or escape into a burrow.

 

However, if they’re further disturbed, they’ll spread their jaws and neck like a cobra and puff up their bodies. They may also hiss loudly and deliver false strikes with a closed mouth.

 

If these intimidating displays fail, the Plains Hog-nosed Snake will then twist as though they’re in pain, roll over on their back and play dead. They’ll be limp, open mouthed, and will remain this way even if picked up. They may also bleed from the mouth and cloaca, expel musk and fecal matter, and regurgitate recently eaten food.

 

If I saw one of these snakes do this display, I’d definitely leave it alone! But, unfortunately, they’re sometimes killed by people who are frightened by their cobra-like posture.

 


#17. Rock Rattlesnake

  • Crotalus lepidus

rock rattlesnake - species of venomous snakes in Arizona

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults rarely exceed 32 inches in length.
  • Robust snake with a tail rattle, elliptical pupils, and a heat-sensing pit between the eyes and nostrils.
  • Coloration reflects the local environment and is typically gray to green with dark brown or black banding. There may be dark speckles between the bands.

 

These small venomous snakes inhabit arid habitats in southern New Mexico, including grasslands and mountainous areas up to 9,600 feet of elevation. They’re often spotted in rocky outcrops and rocky man-made roads. They will shelter in animal burrows, under rocks, and in or under rotting stumps and logs.

Rock Rattlesnake Range Maprock rattlesnake range map

Rock Rattlesnakes are a diurnal species, which means you’re most likely to see them out during daylight hours. However, they’re somewhat secretive and hard to spot due to their excellent camouflage.

 

Rock Rattlesnakes primarily feed on lizards but will also consume centipedes, small mammals, birds, and other snakes when available. Like other rattlesnakes, they use their venom to subdue their prey before consuming it. The venom can cause swelling, bleeding, extreme pain, and local necrosis in humans.

 

Unfortunately, these venomous snakes are often seen in the exotic animal trade for their beauty and relatively docile nature. Rock Rattlesnakes are known to be declining and are considered threatened in some parts of their range. Additionally, they are listed as a species of least concern on the ICUN Red List.

 


#18. Black-tailed Rattlesnake

  • Crotalus molossus

black-tailed rattlesnake - common venomous snakes in Arizona

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 32 to 40 inches in length.
  • Coloration is mixtures of yellow, olive green, brown, or black with darker blotches, diamonds, or bands with light edges.
  • Elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between eye and nostril, and distinctive uniform black or dark gray tail with a rattle.

 

Black-tailed Rattlesnakes inhabit deserts, grasslands, and rocky mountainous areas. They prefer warm and rocky areas like the sides of canyons and caves where they can easily find shelter. They hibernate in animal burrows or rock crevices during the winter.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake Range Mapblack tailed rattlesnake range map

In the spring and fall in New Mexico, these venomous snakes are more likely to be seen during the day. As the weather gets hotter in summer, they become more nocturnal to avoid the heat.

 

They are generally considered docile venomous snakes, and bites to humans are very rare. They’re believed to be less toxic than other species like the Western Diamondback. However, a bite should still be treated at a hospital!

 


#19. Mojave Rattlesnake

  • Crotalus scutulatus

mojave rattlesnake - types of venomous snakes in Arizona

  • Adults range from 2 to 4 feet in length.
  • Coloration is green, gray, brown, tan, or yellow with darker diamond or diamond-like markings down the back.
  • Heavy-bodied, triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the nostrils and eyes, and a black and white banded rattle at the end of the tail.

 

Sometimes called the Mojave Green, these venomous snakes are generally found in arid habitats. They prefer desert flatland with sparse vegetation, high desert, mountain slopes, grassy plains, Joshua tree woodlands, and scrub brush areas.

Mojave Rattlesnake Range Map

The Mojave Rattlesnake is one of the most venomous snakes in New Mexico!

 

Their venom contains both neurotoxins that attack the nervous system and hemotoxins that attack the blood. These snakes are ambush predators and use their camouflage to wait unseen for unsuspecting lizards, rodents, toads, and snakes. Their potent venom means that you should give them distance and respect. If someone is bitten, chances of survival are good so long as medical attention is sought immediately.

 

Interestingly they are sometimes confronted by California Ground Squirrels. These ground squirrels are resistant to snake venom and adept at dodging strikes. They will defend their pups from the Mojave Rattlesnake with vigor!

 


#20. Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake

  • Crotalus willardi

ridge nosed rattlesnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are only 12 to 24 inches in length.
  • Coloration is typically reddish-brown to yellowish gray and matches the color of leaf litter in its habitat. White or pale horizontal striping on its body.
  • Look for two white streaks beneath the eyes, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils, and tail rattle.

 

These reclusive venomous snakes are typically found in the southernmost part of New Mexico at mid to high elevations in pine, oak, and juniper woodlands. Their limited mountainous habitat and small size means that sightings are rare.

Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake Range Mapridge nosed rattlesnake range map

Ridge-nosed Rattlesnakes are threatened across most of their habitat. Fires, mining, habitat loss from cattle farming, and deforestation are all challenges. In addition, these small snakes have to deal with getting killed and collected by humans.

 


#21. Checkered Garter Snake

  • Thamnophis marcianus
checkered garter snake

Attribution © Greg Lasley (iNaturalist.org)

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are typically 18 to 24 inches in length.
  • Coloration is typically greenish. They have three yellow or orange stripes; one down the center of the back and one down each side.
  • Look for a distinctive black checkerboard pattern on its back.
  • Cream or yellow crescent marks on each side of the head are followed by a dark blotch on the neck.

 

The Checkered Gartersnake is most commonly found in New Mexico in desert and grassland habitats. Look for them near water sources, such as rivers, lakes, wetlands, cattle tanks, canals, and ditches. Living in arid conditions, these garter snakes are incredibly good at finding water sources.

checkered garter snake range map

Checkered Gartersnakes are opportunistic predators who feed on a wide variety of prey. They typically consume frogs, salamanders, toads, earthworms, small fish, lizards, snakes, slugs, and crayfish. However, they’ve also been reported to eat mice, raw horse meat, and other snakes of their own species in captivity!

 

Their populations are not currently threatened. Luckily, they tolerate human development relatively well, although draining wetlands and other water sources harm their population. These garter snakes are also able to co-exist with introduced species like the American Bullfrog.

 


#22. Mexican Garter Snake

  • Thamnophis eques

mexican gartersnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults may grow up to 44 inches in length. Coloration is black, brown, olive, tan, or rust.
  • Three creamy yellow stripes, one down the back and one down each side, may have dark blotches on each side of the neck.
  • Noticeably large head compared to other garter snakes, black outlined scales on the lower face.

 

This secretive snake is hard to find in New Mexico! Their preferred habitats are near water sources with DENSE vegetation.

mexican garter snake range map

The best time to find Mexican Garter Snakes is in the morning, when they’re often active or basking in the sun, or in the early evening. They are highly aquatic and primarily feed on frogs and fish. Try walking close to a water’s edge, where you may see one fleeing into the water!

 

Sadly, this snake has been listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 2014. Their decline was believed to have been caused by habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native species.

 


#23. Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis pyromelana

sonoran mountain kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults reach up to 36 inches in length.
  • Coloration is red, black, and yellow, white, or cream bands with the black bands bordering the red.
  • The head is white with a black band over the eyes.

 

These snakes are primarily found in mountainous areas in New Mexico, with elevations between 3000 and 9000 feet above sea level. They occupy chaparral, conifer forests, juniper woodlands, and rocky areas and are frequently spotted along streams or near springs.

sonoran mountain kingsnake range map

Sonoran Mountain Kingsnakes are very secretive and often spend their days under rocks, logs, or in dense clumps of vegetation. They hunt at night, and like other kingsnakes, this species is a powerful constrictor. Lizards, birds, rodents, and other small snakes make up the majority of their diet.

 

Despite their mimicry of coral snakes, Sonoran Mountain Kingsnakes are NOT venomous!

 

So how do you tell the difference between a dangerous coral snake and a harmless Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake in New Mexico?

sonoran mountain king vs coral snake

Just remember this rhyme and you’ll never have to worry! “If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; if red touches black, you’re all right, Jack.”

 


#24. Desert Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis splendida

desert kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 36 to 48 inches.
  • Coloration is glossy black or very dark brown.
  • Off-white or yellow speckles form dimly defined narrow cross bands with rectangles of black in between.

 

Despite its name, Desert Kingsnakes are almost always found in New Mexico near WATER. Look for them in riparian corridors and near stock tanks in arid areas.

Desert Kingsnake Range Map

desert kingsnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

Like other kingsnakes, this species is a powerful constrictor. They’ll feed on rodents, lizards, and other snakes, including rattlesnakes. In addition, their incredible sense of smell enables them to locate and consume reptile eggs below the surface.

 

This snake is non-venomous and generally very docile. Interestingly, If confronted, they frequently flip over and play dead!

 


#25. Gray-banded Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis alterna

gray banded kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Most adults range from 24 to 36 inches in length.
  • Coloration is typically gray with narrow orange/red banding (Alterna morph) or wide orange/red banding (Blairi morph). However, some individuals lack banding entirely.
  • Both morphs feature a relatively large head and large eyes with round pupils.

 

Gray-banded Kingsnakes inhabit desert hillsides and mountain slopes. They’ve been found at elevations from 1,500 to 7000 feet above sea level.

 

This beautiful snake is secretive and hard to find in New Mexico.

 

gray banded kingsnake range map

Your best chance of spotting one is crossing a road after dark. In addition, much of their population is located in hard-to-reach mountainous areas, and they are primarily nocturnal.

 

Gray-banded Kingsnakes are commonly kept as pets due to their small size, interesting color patterns, and calm nature. In addition, they are non-venomous and rarely bite.

 

Interestingly, they’re immune to rattlesnake venom!

 


#26. Trans-Pecos Rat Snake

  • Bogertophis subocularis

trans pecos rat snakes - species of rat snakes in New Mexico

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 36 to 54 inches in length.
  • Coloration is yellow or tan with black or dark-brown H-shaped markings down the back.
  • Large, light-colored round eyes with black pupils and pink tongue.

 

This highly nocturnal species is rarely spotted during the day in southern New Mexico. They occupy desert flats, brushy slopes, and rocky outcrops and prefer areas with deep rock crevices to shelter and hibernate.

trans pecos rat snake range map

Trans-Pecos Ratsnakes primarily feed on rodents but will also consume birds and lizards. In addition, individuals have been reported to eat bats occasionally.

 

These snakes are incredibly docile, non-aggressive, and easy to handle. Because of these features, they’re often raised in captivity.

 


#27. Green Rat Snake

  • Senticolis triaspis

green rat snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults may grow up to 72 inches in length.
  • Coloration is green to olive green.
  • Slender body, elongated head, and light yellow underside.

 

Green Ratsnakes are primarily terrestrial even though they are excellent at climbing trees. Look for them in oak woodlands, savannas, mesquite semi-desert grasslands, Sonoran desert scrubs, and rocky canyons in southwestern New Mexico. They prefer areas with rocky, east-facing slopes and spend much of their time under the talus.

green rat snake range map

These snakes are most active in the morning and late afternoon but are occasionally spotted on roadways in the evening. Their diet includes small mammals, birds, bird eggs, lizards, and bats.

 

When disturbed, these snakes will typically freeze in an attempt to avoid detection. They’re considered to be non-aggressive.

 


Do you need additional help identifying snakes in New Mexico?

 

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in New Mexico?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

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