Serpentine Residents: Unveiling Montana’s 10 Native Snakes!

Montana is home to a diverse array of snake species, each with unique characteristics, habitats, and behaviors. Among them, only one is venomous, the Prairie Rattlesnake.

Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis):

Montana’s sole venomous snake, recognizable by its rattle. It prefers areas near fishing spots and primarily feeds on small mammals, birds, and amphibians. Their venom is potent, but they generally avoid confrontation​​.

Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis):

Known for its vibrant stripes, this snake is adaptable and found in various environments. Its diet includes worms, slugs, amphibians, and small fish. They release a musky odor when threatened​​.

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans):

Similar to the Common Garter Snake but with its own distinct features. Found in western Montana, it prefers drier habitats and has a varied diet including insects, amphibians, and small mammals​​.

Plains Gartersnake (Thamnophis radix):

Found to the east of the Rocky Mountains, this snake has muted browns and grays for camouflage in grasslands. Its diet mainly consists of amphibians, earthworms, and small fish​​.

Plains Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus):

Recognizable by its upturned snout, used for burrowing. It feeds primarily on amphibians and reptile eggs, and is known for playing dead when threatened​​.

Gopher Snake or Bullsnake (Pituophis melanoleucus):

One of Montana’s most common snakes, known for its size and patterned body. It controls rodent populations and can mimic the sound of a rattlesnake when threatened​​.

Western Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum):

A beautifully patterned snake, often mistaken for the venomous Coral Snake. Found in various habitats, it primarily feeds on rodents, birds, insects, and sometimes other snakes​​.

North American Racer (Coluber constrictor):

A slender, fast-moving snake, active during the day. Known as the Yellow-bellied Racer in Montana, it has a varied diet including insects, amphibians, and rodents​​.

Smooth Greensnake (Opheodrys vernalis):

A small, non-venomous snake with a vibrant green hue, providing camouflage in grasslands. It feeds on insects, playing a role in controlling insect populations​​.

Northern Rubber Boa (Charina bottae):

Unique for its smooth, rubbery skin. Prefers cooler, moist environments and is nocturnal. Its diet includes small mammals, birds, and reptiles, and it has a blunt tail that can be mistaken for its head​​.

Each of these species contributes to Montana’s rich biodiversity, showcasing the variety of life adapted to the region’s varied landscapes.

When encountering snakes in Montana, it’s important to follow safety tips to ensure both your safety and the well-being of the native snake species:

  • Learn to Identify Snakes: Familiarize yourself with the local snake species, especially the venomous Prairie Rattlesnake.
  • Keep a Safe Distance: Always maintain a respectful distance from any snake you encounter.
  • Do Not Disturb: Avoid handling or disturbing snakes. Most snake bites occur when people try to handle or kill them.
  • Watch Your Step: Be cautious when walking through tall grass, underbrush, or rocky areas where snakes might be hidden.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: In snake-prone areas, wear long pants, thick socks, and sturdy shoes or boots.
  • Stay on Trails: Stick to well-used paths and trails, as snakes are less likely to be found in these areas.
  • Check Your Surroundings: Before sitting down or setting up camp, check the area for snakes.
  • Educate Children: Teach children to recognize snakes and to understand the importance of keeping their distance.
  • Snake-proof Your Campsite: Keep your camping area tidy and free of food scraps that might attract small animals, which in turn attract snakes.
  • Know First-Aid Procedures: Understand the basic first-aid steps for snake bites and know the location of the nearest medical facility.

By following these guidelines, you can safely enjoy Montana’s natural beauty while coexisting peacefully with its native snake species.