Montana, a state known for its vast landscapes and diverse wildlife, is home to a myriad of snake species that contribute to its rich biodiversity. From the venomous Prairie Rattlesnake to the non-venomous Northern Rubber Boa, each one has its unique characteristics, habitats, and roles in the ecosystem.
While some of these serpents are easily recognizable by their distinctive patterns and colors, others blend seamlessly into their surroundings, making them harder to spot. As residents or visitors of Montana, understanding these species is not only fascinating but also essential for safety.
This guide provides an insight into ten notable snake species found in Montana, shedding light on their behaviors, diets, and habitats. Whether you’re an avid nature enthusiast or someone looking to learn more about the state’s wildlife, this overview will equip you with valuable knowledge about these remarkable reptiles.
10. Prairie Rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus viridis
The Prairie Rattlesnake stands out as Montana’s sole venomous snake, making it a creature of intrigue and caution. This snake, with its distinctive rattle at the end of its tail, has evolved to give clear warnings about potential threats. The rattle’s sound is unmistakable and serves as nature’s alarm bell.
Found across Montana, the Prairie Rattlesnake often frequents areas near popular fishing spots, blending into the natural landscape. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, birds, and occasionally amphibians. While their venom can be potent, these species generally prefer to avoid confrontation.
By understanding their behavior and habitats, residents and visitors can safely coexist with this remarkable species.
9. Common Garter Snake
Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis
The Common Garter Snake, with its vibrant and distinctive stripes, is a familiar sight in Montana. It is incredibly adaptable, making its home in a range of environments from the wet marshlands to the sunlit meadows.
Their diet is diverse, including worms, slugs, amphibians, and occasionally small fish. One of the fascinating aspects of the Common Garter Snake is its ability to release a musky odor when threatened, deterring potential predators.
Their widespread presence across Montana and their non-aggressive nature make them one of the most recognized and appreciated snake species in the state.
8. Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Scientific name: Thamnophis elegans
The Western Terrestrial Garter Snake, while bearing a resemblance to its cousin, the Common Garter Snake, has its unique characteristics. Predominantly found in the western regions, this snake prefers drier habitats, often seen basking in the sun on rocky terrains or sandy areas.
Their light-colored stripes contrast beautifully against their darker body, making them easily distinguishable. Their diet is varied, including insects, amphibians, and sometimes small mammals. Like other garter snakes, they have a defense mechanism of releasing a pungent odor when threatened.
Their presence in Montana adds to the state’s rich biodiversity, showcasing the variety of snake species that thrive in different habitats.
7. Plains Gartersnake
Scientific name: Thamnophis radix
The Plains Gartersnake, a relative of the more commonly known garter snakes, has carved out its niche predominantly to the east of the Rocky Mountains. While it might not boast the vibrant stripes of some of its cousins, its subdued coloration serves a purpose.
The muted browns and grays allow it to blend effortlessly into the grasslands, providing camouflage against predators. This adaptation is crucial for its survival in the open plains, where hiding spots can be scarce.
Their diet mainly consists of amphibians, earthworms, and occasionally small fish. The Plains Gartersnake, with its adaptive features and vital role in the ecosystem, is a testament to nature’s ability to evolve and thrive.
6. Plains Hog-nosed Snake
Scientific name: Heterodon nasicus
The Plains Hog-nosed Snake is a fascinating creature, instantly recognizable by its distinctive upturned snout. This unique feature aids in its burrowing habits, allowing it to dig into soft soils in search of prey or to create a hiding spot.
Found primarily to the east of the Rocky Mountains, its blotchy pattern, reminiscent of the landscape it inhabits, can sometimes lead to misidentification. While it might bear some resemblance to the gopher snake or even the rattlesnake, its upturned nose is a clear distinguishing feature.
Primarily feeding on amphibians and reptile eggs, this snake is known for its dramatic defensive display, often playing dead when threatened.
5. Gopher Snake or Bullsnake
Scientific name: Pituophis melanoleucus
The Gopher Snake, also known as the Bullsnake, is a familiar sight in Montana. As one of the state’s most common snakes, it’s known for its impressive size, with some individuals growing over five feet in length.
Its patterned body, with alternating blotches of brown and tan, can sometimes lead to confusion with the venomous rattlesnake. However, a closer look reveals the absence of a rattle at the end of its tail. The Gopher Snake plays a crucial role in controlling rodent populations, hence its name.
Their ability to mimic the hissing sound of a rattlesnake when threatened is a remarkable defense mechanism, often deterring potential predators.
4. Western Milk Snake
Scientific Name: Lampropeltis triangulum
The Western Milk Snake is a beautifully patterned species that often gets mistaken for the venomous Coral Snake due to its bands of red, black, and white or yellow. However, a simple rhyme, “Red touches black, you’re okay Jack; red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow,” can help differentiate the two.
This non-venomous snake is found in various habitats, from woodlands to grasslands. They are nocturnal and often hide under rocks or logs during the day. Their diet primarily consists of rodents, but they also consume birds, insects, and even other snakes.
The Western Milk Snake got its name from the myth that it would drink milk from cows’ udders, which is, of course, untrue. Instead, the name likely originated from seeing these snakes in barns, where they were hunting rodents.
3. North American Racer
Scientific Name: Coluber constrictor The North American Racer is a slender, fast-moving snake known for its agility and speed. They can be found throughout North America, with variations in color depending on the region.
In Montana, they are often referred to as the Yellow-bellied Racer due to their distinct yellow or cream-colored underside. Their dorsal side can range from blue-gray to olive green. These snakes are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, hunting for their prey which includes insects, amphibians, rodents, and even other snakes.
They have keen eyesight and often raise their heads above grass level to scout for potential prey or threats. While they are non-venomous, if threatened, they might strike or release a musky odor as a defense mechanism.
2. Smooth Greensnake
Scientific Name: Opheodrys vernalis The Smooth Greensnake, with its vibrant green hue, is a sight to behold against the backdrop of Montana’s grasslands. This small, non-venomous snake is perfectly adapted to its environment.
Its coloration not only provides camouflage against predators but also aids in its hunting endeavors. As an insectivore, the Smooth Greensnake plays a pivotal role in controlling insect populations, particularly grasshoppers and crickets.
Their diet helps maintain a balance in the ecosystem, ensuring that insect populations don’t explode and damage the vegetation. While they are non-aggressive and pose no threat to humans, their elusive nature means they are often hidden, blending seamlessly with the grassy terrains they inhabit.
1. Northern Rubber Boa
Scientific Name: Charina bottae
The Northern Rubber Boa is one of the more unique snake species found in Montana. Its name derives from its distinctive smooth, rubbery skin, which can sometimes give it the appearance of a toy rather than a living creature.
Restricted primarily to the western third of Montana, this snake prefers cooler, moist environments, often found in wooded areas, grasslands, or near water sources. They are nocturnal, coming out at night to hunt for their prey, which includes small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
One fascinating aspect of the Rubber Boa is its tail, which is blunt and can be mistaken for its head. This adaptation allows the snake to confuse predators, offering it a chance to escape when threatened.
Safety First: Avoiding Snakebites
Encountering a snake in the wild can be an exhilarating experience, but it’s essential to prioritize safety. In Montana, the likelihood of stumbling upon a venomous snake is low, but caution is always advised.
Being aware of your surroundings, especially in areas known for snake activity, can prevent unwanted confrontations. If you happen to come across a snake, it’s best to give it space and avoid any sudden movements.
Remember, snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them. In the unlikely event of a snakebite, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately. Refrain from using folk remedies or attempting to treat the bite yourself, as this can exacerbate the situation.
How can I identify a venomous snake in Montana?
The only venomous snake in Montana is the Prairie Rattlesnake. It can be identified by its triangular head, dark bands with lighter bands in between, and a rattle at the end of its tail.
What are some threats to snakes in Montana?
The main threats to snakes in Montana are habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and persecution.
What should I do if I see a snake in Montana?
If you see a snake, the best thing to do is to give it space and avoid any sudden movements. If the snake is in a dangerous location, such as near a trail or a campsite, you can gently shoo it away.
Montana’s diverse snake species contribute to its ecosystem’s balance and showcase its pristine environment. From the Prairie Rattlesnake’s distinct rattle to the Smooth Greensnake’s vibrant green color, these reptiles play crucial roles in maintaining habitat health and diversity.
Understanding and respecting these creatures fosters appreciation and coexistence. Remembering safety while exploring their habitats is essential, as snakes, like all wildlife, are vital to Montana’s natural treasure.