Use this page to tell what kind of snake is in your yard and to learn more about our scaly neighbors!
Although Utah is home to 31 distinct species of snakes, the 8 snakes on this page are those most often encountered by hikers and homeowners along the western slopes and valleys of the Wasatch Front.
In Utah, if a snake IS NOT a rattlesnake, it is harmless to humans! Rattlesnakes are easily identified by their stout bodies, broad heads, and of course, the distinctive rattle structure on the tail.
Utah’s snakes, including rattlesnakes, are vital members of a healthy biotic community, and are protected by state law. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, “Persons who have information regarding the illegal collection or sale of snakes are encouraged to…. call the Division of Wildlife’s “Help Stop Poaching” hotline at 1-800-662-3337. In Utah it is also illegal for a person to disturb a den, or to harass, kill or capture any reptile within 100 yards of a den.”
Snake are amazing creatures that deserve our respect. View them from a distance and leave them be. They are performing an important service by keeping us safe from rodent-borne diseases and the pests that devour our gardens and food crops.
GREAT BASIN RATTLESNAKE (Crotalus oreganus lutosus) (Venomous)
The Great Basin rattlesnake is the only venomous snake along the Wasatch Front. As one of seven rattlesnake species in Utah, it is the only species found statewide and in a variety of habitats from desert valleys to timberline elevations as high as 8,500 feet above sea level.
Seldom exceeding four feet in length, Great Basin rattlesnakes often find their way into hillside neighborhoods that have encroached into their domain. Like all of Utah’s snakes, they are protected by state law from wanton killing. Females give birth to 6 to 12 live young in late summer.
Great Basin rattlesnakes are quite benign in both temperament and toxicity. Like most snakes, they are shy and reclusive and will usually retreat if given the chance. They are reluctant to strike unless provoked, and human fatalities are extremely rare. People are most often bitten while trying to kill, capture or taunt one of these gentle serpents.
Studies show that rattlesnakes have familiar home ranges and maintain social interaction with related snakes in recognized communities, and that rattlesnake mothers often provide some form of maternal care to their offspring—a unusual trait among snakes.
Coloration in this species is highly variable, even in the same locale. Specimens may be predominantly tan, brown, gray, pink, green, or yellow.
GREAT BASIN GOPHER SNAKE (Pituophis catenifer deserticola) (Harmless)
The Great Basin gopher snake ranges state-wide in a variety of habitats and elevations. This is northern Utah’s largest snake species, sometimes reaching 6 feet in length, but averaging 4 to 4 ½ feet generally. They are constrictors.
Gopher snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes due to their propensity to vibrate their tails when agitated. Although they are completely harmless and extremely beneficial, this tendency sometimes results in their destruction by people who don’t know the difference.
In Utah, gopher snakes are often referred to as ‘blow snakes” because of their tendency to inflate their bodies and expel air, resulting in a loud hiss. As a defensive mechanism, this behavior can be quite intimidating, and although it is usually a bluff, they may bite if provoked.
While primarily diurnal, gopher snakes will hunt at night during hot weather. They consume a variety of rodents, which they prefer over cold-blooded prey such as lizards. They do not eat other snakes, although urban legend insists that they eat rattlers, or at least scare them away. This is probably the result of people mistaking them for king snakes.
WANDERING GARTER SNAKE (Thamnophis elegans vagrans) (Harmless)
The Wandering garter snake is found virtually statewide, and is Utah’s most common snake species. Garter snakes are characterized by three longitudinal stripes that run the length of the body, one dorsally and one on either side. These stripes are typically yellow, white or gray, and may be solid or broken, brilliant or dull. Their name derives from the garters that women once wore to hold up their stockings.
As a highly adaptable species, garter snakes are equally at home in a forest glade or a city park, and they manage to survive quite well in suburbia. They are among the first snake species to emerge from hibernation in the spring, and the last to retreat from the threat of impending winter, often in communal dens where hundreds of snakes may congregate.
Garter snakes prefer moist habitats where they feed on small mammals, fish, amphibians, earthworms, insects, spiders and snails, making them very beneficial in suburban gardens. They lack the ability to constrict their prey and are non-venomous, although new research indicates that they have mildly toxic saliva. This may help them subdue prey that is alive and kicking while being swallowed and could account for the redness and itching some people experience when bitten.
Adults rarely exceed 30 inches. Breeding occurs in early spring and females give birth to 20 to 40 live young in mid-summer, making them a highly prolific species. As a defensive measure, garters often expel a pungent, musky slime from the cloaca which is an effective deterrent to most predators.
RUBBER BOA (Charina bottae) (Harmless)
If you tell people that there are boas in Utah, most of them will look at you like you’re crazy—but it’s true! Rubber boas are actual boas just like their South American relatives, only smaller, averaging less than 24 inches in length.
Charina is Latin for “graceful” or “delightful,” and these little boas are slow and deliberate in their movements. Rubber boas are extremely docile and almost never bite. Defensively, they use their short, blunted tails to fool their enemies while their heads remain safely tucked within a ball of coils. Scales are smooth and tiny; pupils are vertically elliptical.
Most often found in the deciduous and coniferous forests and alpine elevations of Northern and Central Utah, rubber boas are unusually cold-tolerant, and have been seen basking on or near snow fields as early as February. They are active mostly at dusk and dawn (crepuscular) and on cold, cloudy or rainy days when other species would typically take cover.
Like all boas, rubber boas are ovoviviparous, giving birth to live young in an amniotic membrane. Babies are pink at birth, gradually morphing as they mature into a solid olive green or brown coloration with a pale yellow venter. Like all boas, they are constrictors.
Rubber boas are secretive snakes, but while they are seldom seen, they are probably more prevalent than we realize. They fare poorly in captivity, so if you are fortunate enough to see one in the wild, enjoy the experience and leave him where he belongs.
MORMON RACER (WESTERN YELLOW-BELLIED RACER) (Coluber constrictor mormon) (Harmless)
Known locally as the Mormon racer, the Yellow-bellied racer gets its scientific name from the Mormon pioneers who were the first white people to see them.
Juvenile racers have a pattern of blotches and can be easily mistaken for young gopher snakes. As they reach adulthood, the dorsal pattern fades to a solid olive green with a bright white or yellow venter. Some individuals are reddish-brown or copper-colored.
Racers have large eyes with excellent depth perception. They like to patrol grassy areas with their necks and heads in the air like periscopes. This enables them to see from side to side in search of prey. Racers are extremely agile and alert, making them hard to see and even harder to capture. If you do succeed in capturing one, expect to be bitten!
These snakes are common throughout most of northern and central Utah, in both mountain and desert terrain, where they hunt for lizards and rodents. Young racers also eat insects. Food is usually engulfed without being constricted, although it may be pinned to the ground with a loop of the snake’s body while being ingested.
Mormon racers seldom exceed three feet in length.
SMOOTH GREEN SNAKE (Opheodrys vernalis) (Harmless)
One of Utah’s seldom-seen serpents is the small and highly camouflaged smooth green snake. Bright green with no pattern and a pale yellow or white venter, these slender snakes blend easily into grasslands and marshlands where they feed on insects, spiders, caterpillars, worms, slugs and snails.
Juveniles may be colored differently than adults, but they attain the typical bright green coloration after a shedding or two. They have large, round eyes, and the tongue is red with black tips. They are sometimes called grass snakes. This species seldom gets longer than 24 inches.
Although primarily terrestrial, green snakes are agile climbers and can easily ascend bushes and shrubs. Camouflage and the ability to flee rapidly are their best self-preservation tactics, but they are also capable of anointing a predator with a foul-smelling musk from an anal gland.
The use of pesticides has taken a huge toll on this species throughout most of its range, along with the draining of wetlands, livestock grazing, ATV use, and other types of human-caused environmental degradation.
NIGHT SNAKE (Hypsiglena torquata) (Rear-fanged venomous but harmless to humans)
One of Utah’s little-known and seldom seen serpents is the night snake. This secretive snake is small, and a two-foot specimen would be considered large for this species. As their name implies, they are nocturnal and have elliptical pupils.
As one of two rear fanged venomous snakes in Utah, night snakes have fixed (not folding) fangs at the back of the upper jaw and a primarily neurotoxic venom that they chew into their prey as they swallow. Due to their small size and docile disposition, they rarely bite and are not a danger to humans, but they may coil and vibrate their tails when disturbed.
Their diet consists almost exclusively of lizards, although young night snakes also eat lizard eggs, small arthropods and various larvae. Adults are known to eat frogs, toads and other snakes, including young rattlesnakes.
UTAH MILK SNAKE (Lampropeltis triangulum taylori) (Harmless)
There are no coral snakes in Utah, so if you see a snake brightly-banded with red, white and black, rest assured that it is harmless.
The Utah milk snake and the closely-related Utah mountain king snake (Lampropeltis pyromelana infralabialis) have alternating bands of black, red/orange, and white/yellow, which, to the uninitiated, may resemble a coral snake, except that the banding sequence is different.
In coral snakes, the red and yellow bands touch, whereas in milk snakes, the red and yellow bands are separated by black bands. Hence the mnemonic rhyme: “Red touch yellow can kill a fellow; red touch black, good for Jack.”
Shy and elusive, milk snakes are found in pocketed populations, and much of their former habitat in the foothills along the Wasatch Front has been destroyed for housing.
King snakes and milk snakes are constrictors that will eat other snakes (ophiophagy), including rattlesnakes, as well as lizards, rodents, and occasionally birds.
Adult milk snakes average 2 to 3 feet long. They have a black snout which helps to differentiate them from the Utah mountain king snake.
The state of Utah includes these snakes on the “Utah Sensitive Species List,” and it is illegal to possess one without obtaining a Certificate of Registration from the Division of Wildlife Resources. Killing one can result in a substantial fine. Due to their restricted status and declining population numbers, specimens should never be removed from the wild.
Wasatch Snake Removal is indebted to Snake Buddies for graciously allowing the use of their amazing images on this page. Enjoy more incredible snake photos and articles at https://snakebuddies.net/.