There are A LOT of snakes in Utah!
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 Utah 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 11 types of snakes in Utah!
#1. Hopi Rattlesnake
- Crotalus viridis nuntius
- Adults typically range between 3.3 and 5 feet in length.
- Coloration is pink, red, or reddish-brown. Darker blotches along the back and sides.
- Broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.
The Hopi Rattlesnake is actually a subspecies of the Prairie Rattlesnake and is also called the Arizona Prairie Rattlesnake. They get their name from the Native American Hopi tribe, which also inhabits the region.
These venomous snakes can be found only in far southeastern Utah in desert plateaus. They can even be found at elevations up to 9500 feet!
The Prairie Rattlesnake hibernates during the winter, often in communal dens. These dens are typically rock crevices, caves, or old mammal burrows. Individual snakes will 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 will freeze, trying 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. They have faced pressure from habitat fragmentation and hunting.
#2. 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.
This snake can be difficult to identify in Utah!
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!
This species is the only garter snake in Utah 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.
#3. Valley Garter Snake
- Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
- Adults range from 18 to 55 inches in length.
- Coloration is brown to black with three yellow stripes: one down the back and one down each side.
- Pronounced red bars between the yellow stripes. Yellowish chin, jaw, and belly, and a black head, which often has red sides.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
Valley Garter Snakes are found in various habitats, including forests, wetlands, scrublands, fields, shorelines, and rocky areas. They’re also well adapted to humans and are often found in urban areas.
Look for these snakes in northern Utah under rocks, logs, and other objects, which they use for cover and thermoregulation. During the winter, they hibernate, often communally, below the frost line. They will use a variety of underground cavities, including mammal and crayfish burrows, rock crevices, ant mounds, and manmade spaces such as foundations and cisterns.
When disturbed, Valley Garter Snakes try to escape into the water and are excellent swimmers. If captured, be prepared for them to release musk and feces onto your hands! They may also strike, but only if they feel extremely threatened.
The Valley Garter Snake is considered a species of low risk. They are quite common and adapt well to human-modified habitats. However, they are frequently killed on roadways and are sometimes killed out of fear.
#4. Black-necked Garter Snake
- 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 southeast Utah 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.
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.
#5. California Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis californiae
- 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 across many types of habitats in southern Utah.
Look for them in woodlands, grasslands, deserts, 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
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.
#6. Great Plains Ratsnake
- Pantherophis emoryi
- 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 eastern Utah 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.
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.
#7. Smooth Greensnake
- Opheodrys vernalis
- 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.
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
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 the winter in Utah, seeking shelter in old mammal burrows and abandoned anthills. They often hibernate communally with other small snakes. They emerge in the spring, typically in April, and are active until October.
Smooth Greensnakes rely on their EXCELLENT camouflage to avoid predators. They’re also agile and can flee quickly if they must.
#8. Speckled Rattlesnake
- Crotalus mitchellii
- Adults typically don’t exceed 39 inches in length.
- Coloration is a faded tan or light brown. The end of the tail has white coloration with narrow black rings that end in a rattle.
- Large triangular head and heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils.
Look for this venomous snake in southwest Utah inhabiting rocky, arid country, including canyons, rocky hillsides, and rock ledges. Their color usually matches the color of the rocks and soil in their habitat.
Speckled Rattlesnakes spend most of the daytime in the shelter of rocks and burrows to avoid the heat of the desert during the day. They’re mostly nocturnal and spend their nights hunting small mammals, though they’ll also consume birds and lizards.
Like other rattlesnakes, this species gives birth to live young. Mating occurs in the spring, and in late summer, the females give birth to litters of up to 12 young.
- Crotalus cerastes
- Adults are small and range from 17 to 30 inches in length.
- Coloration may be cream, buff, gray, yellowish-brown, or pink with dark blotches down the middle of the back and smaller dark blotches down the sides.
- They have distinctive supraocular scales, which look like horns over the eyes. Also commonly called Horned Rattlesnakes.
These venomous snakes are most active in southwestern Utah at dawn and dusk.
Sidewinders have a habit of submerging themselves in the sand with a practice called “cratering.” They shift their body from side to side to bury themselves. If you see “J” shaped tracks leading to a depression in the sand, be careful as there may be a dangerous snake buried underneath!
While buried in the sand, the Sidewinder waits to ambush unsuspecting prey. They feed on small mammals, lizards, and birds. Juvenile snakes may use caudal luring with their tail tips, mimicking the movements of moths. The young snakes feed primarily on lizards, while mature snakes feed more on desert rodents.
Sidewinders get their name from their unique form of locomotion, where it appears they are slithering sideways! This adaptation allows them to travel quickly over loose sand (up to 18 mph) and also helps them stay cool in the desert heat. This movement leaves a characteristic “J” shape in the sand.
Sidewinder Rattlesnakes have moderately toxic venom and a relatively low venom yield compared to other rattlesnakes. Symptoms of a bite include pain, dizziness, necrosis, weakness, and discoloration. However, fatalities have occurred, and these venomous snakes are known to be somewhat aggressive. They should be treated with caution, and bites should be handled as a medical emergency.
#10. Western Rattlesnake
- Crotalus oreganus
- Adult size varies widely over their range, with the largest individuals being 6 feet in length.
- Triangular head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, dark stripe with white borders that runs from the eye towards the jaw.
- Two different subspecies live in Utah – Great Basin and Midget Faded.
You can find two different subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake in Utah, and they look different. The Great Basin variety is typically pale yellow, light gray, or tan, with brown and blackish blotches and found in the western half of the state. Midget Faded Rattlesnakes are more yellowish and tan with darker oval blotches and found in eastern Utah.
This venomous species occupies a wide range of habitats. They can be found in mountainous areas, woodlands, and grasslands. They also often occur in close proximity to humans.
These snakes may be active during the day or night and are often curled, waiting to ambush a variety of prey. They’ll feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They may also eat bird eggs, and young snakes often feed on insects.
Like other rattlesnakes, this species gives birth to live young. Healthy, sexually mature females can give birth to litters of up to 25 babies!
#11. Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis pyromelana
- 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 Utah, 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 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 Utah?
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.”
Do you need additional help identifying snakes in Utah?
Try this field guide!
Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in Utah?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other Utah guides!