Montana is often called Big Sky Country because it’s a vast state but has a small population that is largely concentrated in just a few cities. All but 10 of Montana’s counties are still considered to be “frontier” counties because they have fewer than 6 residents per square mile. Montana is home to lots of wildlife though!
From big animals like bears and elk to smaller animals like rabbits and snakes Montana is a wildlife haven thanks to its rugged land and many national parks. Glacier National Park is one of the biggest national parks in the country and if you’re hiking, fishing, or camping in Glacier National park or anywhere else in Montana you might come across some of the 10 types of snakes that live in Montana!
10 Snakes In Montana
There are only ten different varieties of snake that live in Montana and nine of them are non-venomous and harmless to humans. They are:
Common Garter Snake
Common garter snakes are just that – common. You can find these small snakes in woods, fields, and near the water all over the state of Montana. If you have brush piles near your home, or you have an outdoor workshop or outbuildings with overgrown bushes you may be surprised by a common garter snake. But you have nothing to fear from these snakes. The common garter snake is usually around three feet long but can get up to four feet long. It has a long thin body and three brightly colored stripes around the neck. Garter snakes aren’t aggressive and will most likely just want to get away from you as fast as possible.
Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
The western terrestrial garter snake is similar to the common garter snake. Like other garter snakes it has three rings around its neck. But the western terrestrial garter snake has a very light yellow or white stripe flanked on either side by two stripes of the same color. This snake also tends to be small, around three feet long. What makes the western terrestrial garter snake unique is that it constricts its prey. It’s the only type of garter snake that uses constriction to kill prey. Terrestrial garter snakes like wooded areas and grasslands but they also can live comfortably near water so you can see them throughout much of Montana.
Plains Garter Snake
The Plains Garter snake is known for having a bright orange or yellow strip that runs all along its body. It also has very unique black bars around the mouth. Plains garter snakes average between two and three feet long. It’s very unusual to find a Plains Garter snake that is longer than three feet. These snakes are unusual among Garter snakes because they prefer an aquatic environment. They are also the most resistant to cold and stay active longer in the year than other Garter snakes because the autumn cold doesn’t bother them as much as it bothers other varieties of snakes. A Plains Garter snake is no threat to humans so don’t worry if you come across this snake when you’re hiking, hunting, fishing, or doing other outdoor activities.
Northern Rubber Boa
Did you know there are only two types of boas in the continental U.S.? There are only two, and the northern rubber boa snake is one of them. northern rubber boas are smaller than you might think. Adults are only about 18 inches long, and the young snakes are so small they look like earthworms. They are gray and rubbery, which is how they got their name. Northern rubber boas are found in western Montana.
Plains Hognose Snake (Western Hognose)
The plains hognose snake has an unmistakable upturned nose, which is how you can identify it as a plains hognose. Plains hognose snakes usually are around three feet long and are almost never longer than four feet. There are many different color variations of this snake because it needs to blend in with many different types of habitats. Most of the time you will see plains hognose snakes anywhere that you can find sandy or gravelly loose soil. They tend to stick to prairies, dry riverbeds, and brushlands.
Gophers snakes are the largest snakes in Montana and can grow to a whopping six feet long. They have a very distinct brown and tan set of markings that resembles the markings of rattlesnake. This is for protection, but they don’t actually have a rattle and are not venomous. Gopher snakes constrict rabbits, squirrels, and other small prey. They tend to stay on the prairie and grasslands where their preferred prey of game mammals live. A surefire way to identify a gopher snake is by their prefrontal scales. Most snakes only have two prefrontals, but a Gopher snake has four.
North American Racer
North American racer snakes live all over the state of Montana but they tend to stick to open grassland, short grass prairies, or forests. They are known for their speed and they attack swiftly. They also can travel very quickly. If you see one on the path it could be gone before you even get a good look at it. Racers, in general, tend to avoid humans but beware because they can raise themselves up and look like they are going to strike if you surprise or threaten them.
Venomous (Poisonous) Snakes In Montana
While neighboring Idaho may have two venomous snakes (both rattlesnakes), there is a single species in Montana.
Prairie Rattlesnake (Western Rattlesnake)
The prairie rattlesnake is also called the western rattlesnake. Like other rattlesnakes its primary method of communication is a warning rattle. If you hear that rattle don’t wait to find out if it’s really a rattlesnake. Assume it is and back off slowly. It would be hard to miss a Prairie rattlesnake though. They average about four feet long and have naturally heavy bodies. Prairie rattlesnakes have a light brown body or reddish-brown body with dark brown markings. The coloration of the prairie rattlesnake is similar to the coloration of the western diamondback rattlesnake. The markings on the prairie rattlesnake are not diamond-shaped though, which makes it easy to tell the difference between them.
Like most rattlesnakes, the prairie rattlesnake is more defensive than aggressive. Most of the time if you leave it alone it will leave you alone. If you are unlucky enough to surprise a rattlesnake you should immediately freeze and make no sudden movements. The snake may raise up and rattle, but if you back up slowly and don’t make any fast or threatening moves you should be able to get out of the strike zone safely.
A Complete List Of Snakes In Montana
Since there is only one type of venomous snake in Montana, you should not be in any real danger (from snakes, at least!) when you are enjoying the rugged outdoors of the state. However, if you’re enjoying a hike or other outdoor activities in some of the warmer parts of the state like in the area of Madison River near Ennis, or in Gallatin Valley, or anywhere along the Paradise Valley that leads to Yellowstone National Park, you should be on the lookout for Prairie rattlesnakes.
If you see a Prairie rattlesnake stop moving. Then start to move backstepping carefully along the way that you came. If you back up and back off carefully so that the snake doesn’t see you as a threat you should be just fine.
The other types of snakes in Montana won’t hurt you but you might want to be on the lookout for them when you’re outdoors because they’re pretty cool. The complete list of snakes in Montana include:
- Praire Rattlesnake (Venomous)
- Common Garter Snake
- Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
- Plains Garter Snake
- Northern Rubber Boa
- Plains Hognose Snake
- Western Milk Snake
- Gopher Snake
- North American Racer
- Smooth Green Snake
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