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Are There Water Snakes in Utah?

There are no true water snakes from the Genus Nerodia living in the state of Utah. However, there are other common semi-aquatic garter snakes in this Beehive State, such as the Black-Necked Garter Snake, Valley Garter Snake, and the Western Terrestrial Garter Snake. These snakes live near water sources and may be confused for true water snakes, but they are not.

What is a water snake?

Actual water snakes are any one of about 10 species of aquatic colubrid snakes living in North America. Some of the most common species are the common water snake, which has several widespread subspecies, the diamondback water snake, the plain-belly water snake, and several others.

These water snakes are most common in the eastern half of the country, but are quite common in all types of freshwater habitats within their range. They are generally peaceful and just want to be left alone, they can become aggressive though if they are harassed.

As mentioned above, there are no native water snakes occurring in the state of Utah. There are however several other aquatic snakes, which we’re about to take a look at.

Semi-aquatic Snakes in Utah

In this article, we will explore the types of semi-aquatic snakes that live in Utah, their habitats, and other interesting facts about these reptiles that you may want to know. We’ll also cover Frequently Asked Questions about snakes in Utah and what to do if you encounter them.

So without further ado, let’s delve into the fascinating world of semi-aquatic snakes in Utah:

Let’s take a closer look at the three most common semi-aquatic snakes in Utah: the Black-Necked Garter Snake, Valley Garter Snake, and Western Terrestrial Garter Snake.

1. Black-Necked Garter Snake

Black-necked garter snake
Black-necked garter snake | image by ALAN SCHMIERER via Flickr
  • Scientific Name: Thamnophis cyrtopsis
  • Adult Size: Can grow up to 20 inches
  • Lifespan: 4 years
  • Diet: Eats toads, frogs, salamanders, lizards, invertebrates, and other small snakes.
  • Habitat: Lives near water in chaparral, desert scrub, woodland, and grassland environments.

The Black-necked Garter Snake is a fascinating reptile species known for its distinctive coloring and impressive swimming abilities. This elusive snake has a really gorgeous pattern, comprising of a gray base color with darker gray blotches and beautiful tan lines running across its entire body. On its’ neck area, the black-necked garter snake has two huge dark spots, which gave it its name.

Black-necked Garter Snakes can be found in various habitats throughout Utah, including mountain streams, desert rivers, and wetland areas. They prefer to live in areas with abundant vegetation and plenty of places to hide, such as rocky crevices and fallen logs.

In Utah, Black-necked Garter Snakes are most commonly found in the northern and eastern parts of the state. This includes areas such as the Uinta Mountains, the Logan River, and the Bear River. However, they have also been spotted in other parts of the state, including the St. George area in the south.

If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of a Black-necked Garter Snake in Utah, the best time to do so is during the summer when they are most active. You can often find them basking in the sun on rocks or logs near the water’s edge or even swimming through the water in search of prey.

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2. Valley Garter Snakes

Valley garter snake
A valley garter snake | image by LassenNPS via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
  • Adult Size: Measures between 18 to 55 inches long
  • Lifespan: 4-5 years
  • Diet: Small animals, amphibians such as salamanders, frogs, and toads, small fish, nestling birds, insects, and earthworms.
  • Habitat: It’s often found near water bodies, with habitats ranging from forests, prairies, and fields to wetlands, streams, marshes, ponds, and meadows.

Valley Garter Snakes, also known as Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi, are a subspecies of the Common Garter Snake found in Utah. These snakes are known for their striking coloration, which typically consists of a dark green or brownish-black background with three bright yellow stripes running down their body. These stripes are outlined by thinner black lines, creating a visually stunning and easily recognizable pattern.

Valley Garter Snakes are primarily found in riparian habitats, including streams, rivers, and wetlands. They prefer areas with plenty of vegetation, such as tall grasses or shrubs, which provide cover for hunting and protection from predators. In Utah, Valley Garter Snakes are commonly found in the valleys and foothills of the central and northern parts of the state, including areas such as the Salt Lake Valley, Cache Valley, and the Wasatch Front.

One of the most interesting things about Valley Garter Snakes is their adaptability to a variety of habitats. They can be found in both urban and rural areas, from backyards to parks and wilderness areas. They are active during the day and can often be seen basking in the sun on rocks or logs near the water.

While these snakes are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans, they play an important role in their ecosystems as both predator and prey. They feed on a variety of small animals, including fish, frogs, and insects, and are themselves hunted by larger predators such as birds of prey and larger snakes.

When disturbed, these magnificent reptiles will often try to escape into the water and swim away. But if you capture them, they release a funky-smelling musk and may even poop on your hands. And if they feel extremely threatened, they may also strike, though they will not bite.

3. Western Terrestrial Garter Snake

western terrestrial garter snake
Western terrestrial garter snake | image by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Thamnophis elegans
  • Adult Size: They range from 18 to 41 inches
  • Lifespan: Upto 12 years
  • Diet:  Eats worms, slugs, leeches, snails, frogs, tadpoles, fish, mice, and even small birds sometimes.
  • Habitat: They occupy a variety of habitats, including forests and grasslands

The Terrestrial Garter Snake is a species of snake native to Western North America and can often be difficult for even trained herpetologists to identify due to its variable coloration. These snakes are medium size, typically measuring between 18 and 41 inches in length, with most displaying three yellow, light orange, or white stripes – one down their back and two down their sides. While some individuals may be brownish or greenish, others may have red and black spots between the stripes, and all-black specimens are occasionally observed.

Terrestrial Garter Snakes can inhabit grasslands, forests, and mountainous areas up to 13,000 feet above sea level. While these snakes are primarily found on land, they are also good swimmers.

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Interestingly, this is the only species of garters snake in Utah with a tendency to constrict its prey – most simply grab their prey quickly and just swallow it, rubbing it against the ground if necessary.

Although generally non-aggressive or dangerous, Terrestrial Garter Snakes possess mildly venomous saliva. The venom from their saliva can result in muscle infection or even kill some muscle tissue if you are bitten. However, in most cases, the bite from a terrestrial garter snake is usually just painful, causing some swelling instead.

Frequently Asked Questions About Water Snakes in Utah

Why are there no true water snakes in Utah?

Water snakes are not native to Utah, and there are no established populations in the state. The region also has no invasive species of water snakes due to its dry and arid climate. As a result, Utah does not have any true water snakes.

Are there any other types of aquatic snakes in Utah?

Yes! There are several species of aquatic snakes found in Utah. Some of the most common include the Black-Necked Garter Snake, Valley Garter Snake, and Western Terrestrial Garter Snake.

Are garter snakes dangerous?

Garter snakes are generally non-aggressive and shy away from humans. While they may bite if they feel threatened, the bites are usually not dangerous and only cause some localized swelling or pain. If you encounter a garter snake, it is best to leave it alone.

Is garter snakes’ saliva venomous?

While garter snakes have mildly venomous saliva, the venom is usually not potent enough to cause any serious harm. The venom from their saliva can cause muscle infection or even kill some muscle tissue in some cases. However, if a garter snake bites you, it is best to seek immediate medical attention.

What should you do if you encounter a snake in Utah?

If you encounter a snake in Utah, it is best to leave it alone and not attempt to handle or capture it. Snakes can be defensive if they feel threatened, so it is important to maintain a safe distance and respect their space. You should also call the appropriate authorities or wildlife experts if you suspect you’ve encountered an exotic or invasive snake species in the area.