Discover the Largest Sharp-tailed Snake Ever Recorded

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: August 2, 2022
Image Credit Michael Benard/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

The largest snakes in the world are the green anaconda (heaviest) and reticulated python (longest). The sharp-tailed snake is nowhere near the size of the largest snakes. In fact, they are so tiny that they can curl up in your hand. In comparison, a green anaconda can weigh around 550 pounds, and a reticulated python can be 23 feet long (or longer). So, just how big do sharp-tailed snakes get? Discover the largest sharp-tailed snake ever recorded below.

What is a Sharp-tailed Snake?

A Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis), near Lake Nacimiento, San Luis Obispo County, California
The tiny sharp-tailed snake can fit in the palm of your hand!

Sharp-tailed snakes are small, skinny snakes that are a little thicker than a pencil that burrow underground. Because they spend much of their time in burrows and under rocks, they are not commonly seen. They have smooth scales with a reddish-brown base color with a long narrow brownish stripe down each side. These snakes get their name from their “sharp tail,” which comes to a point and is used to help anchor the snake when it tries to catch prey. Because they are not aggressive, they are sometimes called gentle brown snakes.

How Large is an Average Sharp-tailed Snake?

The common sharp-tailed snake curled up in a bed of leaves.
The sharp-tailed snake normally measures around 12 inches long.

An average sharp-tailed snake is around 12 inches long, the same size as a ruler. They are skinny snakes, thinner than a garden hose but thicker than a pencil. Most weigh around 5 ounces (1/3 pound).

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What is the Largest Sharp-tailed Snake Ever Recorded?

According to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, the largest sharp-tailed snake ever recorded measured 19 inches (47.5 cm) long. Compared to a reticulated python, that may not seem very impressive, but when you look at an average sharp-tail, a 19-incher would be a third longer than average! If you apply that to humans, the average man in the U.S. is 5 feet 9 inches (according to the CDC). If there were a man a third taller, he would be 7 ½ feet tall!

Are there any Snakes Smaller than a Sharp-tailed Snake?

Smallest Snakes: Barbados Thread snake
The Barbados Thread snake is so tiny it fits on a U.S. quarter!

John Oldale / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

The tiny Barbados threadsnake is the smallest snake in the world. They only live in Barbados; the largest ones are 4 inches long! They are also very skinny, about the size of the cord to your computer. Their average weight is .6g (0.02 ounce).

Blindsnakes are another tiny snake, with most never reaching 12 inches. Around 90 different species of blind snakes get their name from their degenerate eyes, which they probably don’t make use of because they are also a burrowing snake.

bimini blind snake
Blindsnakes are tiny snakes that don’t get larger than a ruler.

Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

How Do We Know Sharp-tailed Snakes are Snakes and not Worms?

The sharp-tailed snake, Barbados threadsnake, and blind snakes all share some characteristics that make them snakes, not earthworms. These include:

  • Snakes are vertebrates (they have a backbone); worms are invertebrates.
  • Snakes have scales; worms do not.
  • Snakes have dry bodies; worms excrete mucus through their skin.
  • Snakes either lay eggs or give birth to live babies; worms create a cocoon full of worm embryos.
  • Snakes do not have segmented bodies; worms do.

Why Do We Rarely See Sharp-tailed Snakes?

One reason we don’t see very many sharp-tailed snakes is because they live a life underground and rarely come out of their burrows. They also are nocturnal and come out at night. Sometimes they are mistaken for worms because of their small size. Their habitat also includes heavily wooded areas that people usually don’t visit.

What Did Researchers Find in Oregon about the Population of Sharp-tailed Snakes?

Researchers Richard Hoyer, Ryan O’Donnell (Utah State University), and Robert T. Mason (Oregon State University) teamed up to study the number of sharp-tailed snakes in Oregon. The concern was that the snakes were listed as “Vulnerable” by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. However, the researchers believed there were more sharp-tails than they thought. And they were right!

They didn’t want extra resources to go into saving a species that is not vulnerable when those resources could be used to save a truly vulnerable species. In 1998, they took to the field, and from March 6 till December 30, they turned over rocks and looked in leaf piles and woody debris, looking for these little snakes. Can you believe they found 625 different snakes from 282 different locations? They created a system of tagging the snakes so the same ones wouldn’t keep getting counted over again. It turns out they are not as rare or endangered as believed!

How Did a 9-inch Sharp-tailed Snake End up on the San Juan Islands?

Close-up of the head of a sharp-tailed snake (Contia tenuis)
A 9-inch sharp-tail snake was found on Turtleback Mountain in the San Juan Islands of Washington.

Michael Benard/Shutterstock.com

The Journal of the Northwestern Naturalist reported that an unusual-looking snake was spotted on the San Juan Islands (an Archipelago in Washington State). One of the researchers found it on the south-facing slope of Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island. You would likely see golden eagles or turkey vultures in the Turtleback Mountain Preserve, but not a sharp-tailed snake.

They estimated the size to be between 20-25 cm (7.9 – 9.8 inches). So it was a little shorter than the average of 12 inches and about half as big as the largest sharp-tailed snake ever recorded, 19 inches. Still, it is unique to find a snake about the size of the width of a piece of paper on a vast mountainside! Definitely not the largest sharp-tailed snake ever recorded!

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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