Snakes in Alaska

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: June 3, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/yhelfman
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Key Points

  • Alaska is a snake-free state, though there are reported cases of snake remains being found.
  • Snakes and other reptiles are ectotherms, so they rely on the sun’s heat to warm their bodies. In Alaska there are parts of the year with few daylight hours of sunshine, making it difficult for snakes to survive.
  • Occasional snake sightings are attributed to relic snake populations, southern snakes that have migrated north of their territory, and pet snakes that have escaped or been set loose.

Just about everyone in the world can picture a snake; they’re long, legless, and cold-blooded. Many people fear them, though the vast majority of snakes are actually harmless to humans. They’ve been around for a very long time, around 200 million years to be exact. Today, there are about 4,000 species of snake living all over the world. But, there are a few places where, for one reason or another, snakes don’t live. These include the Hawaiian Islands, the islands of New Zealand, Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland. 

But, what about the northernmost state in the United States, Alaska? Are there snakes in Alaska? We’re here to answer that question and explore a little more about just why there may or may not be snakes in the Yukon. We’ll also take a look at one famous Alaskan case involving an escaped pet python. Then, we’ll go over all the places you can, and can’t, find snakes.

Are There Snakes in Alaska?

Alaska is home to many species of animal, including moose, grizzly bears, wolves, reindeer, beaver, and deer.

evenfh/Shutterstock.com

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The simple answer to whether or not there are snakes in Alaska is: no. Unlike other, more southern, states, Alaska has no confirmed, resident population of any species of snake. However, there have been various reports over past decades of snakes, or snake remains, found throughout the state. 

In general terms, Alaska is a snake-free state. However, there have been cases of pet snakes escaping, or people releasing snakes into the wild. There have also been several instances of snakes commonly found in the Pacific northwest and British Columbia showing up in southeastern Alaska. 

Let’s take a closer look at each possibility for snakes in Alaska.

Why Does Alaska Have No Snakes?

Alaska lacks reptiles because it’s too cold.

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Reptiles don’t thrive in Alaska for several reasons. First, it’s too cold, and second, for large parts of the year, there is no daylight. Snakes and other reptiles are ectotherms, and rely on the sun’s heat to warm their bodies. So, without sun or warm weather, you don’t have reptiles. 

Alaska is actually famous for its complete lack of reptiles; they don’t even have lizards. The closest thing to a native reptile that any Alaskan might see is a sea turtle. However, Alaska is home to several amphibians, including the wood frog. Wood frogs fit well into the cold Alaskan climate because they can actually withstand their bodies freezing solid, and still ‘come back’ to life.

Snake Sightings In Alaska

garter snake slithering on rocks
With its frigid weather and sunlight free winters, Alaska is one of the most inhospitable places on earth for snakes.

iStock.com/randimal

There has never been a verifiable population of snakes in Alaska, yet, people still find small snakes on occasion, particularly in the southeastern part of the state. Scientists believe that these rare sightings can be explained either as relic populations, southern snakes expanding their range, or simply as pet snakes that have escaped or been let go.

Most of the snake sightings in Alaska can be attributed to the common garter snake. Other cases involve small, deceased, snakes that may have been garter snakes, though decomposition made positive identifications impossible. Perhaps the most famous snake story to come from Alaska is that of Sam, the 17 foot escaped python, in 2017.  

Sam: The 17 Foot Alaskan Python

Burmese Python on white background
Alaska may not have native snakes, but native snakes, like the rattlesnake, copperhead, and cottonmouth, abound in the lower 48.

asawinimages/Shutterstock.com

In the early summer of 2017, a 17-foot long, 100-pound Burmese python named Sam was reported missing by his owner. The snake stayed out for two whole weeks, doing what? Well, no one knows. The owner believes that Sam did indeed venture outside, though how far he might have gone, no one knows. 

According to his owner, Sam had recently eaten a large rabbit, so he likely wasn’t out searching for food. After two weeks, Sam returned home, much to his owner’s shock and delight. However, his jaunt around the neighborhood potentially makes Sam the biggest snake to ever slither over Alaskan ground.

What Other Countries or States Have No Snakes?

The islands of Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, and Hawaii are famously snake free.

Kim Ries Jensen/Shutterstock.com

Snakes may live all over the world, but they don’t live on every continent. They’re entirely absent from places like Antarctica, Greenland, and Iceland. But, you may be surprised to learn that a couple of warmer places, like Hawaii and New Zealand, are also snake-free. In both cases, snakes never found their way to the isolated islands, and they never evolved independently on Hawaiian or New Zealand soil.

Ireland is also a snake-free island, despite the fact that England is home to four species of snake. The reason for this is that, like Hawaii and New Zealand, Ireland is isolated from the rest of the world. Since snakes never evolved there, and they’ve never made their way over from England, there are no snakes in Ireland. Plus, the weather’s just a tad too cold for snakes.

There are a scattering of some other small islands that are also snake-free, including: Cape Verde off the northwest coast of Africa; the Pacific island nations of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands.

Are There Snakes In Canada?

There may not be many snakes in Alaska, but southern Canada is home to at least 25 species of snake.

DMartin09/Shutterstock.com

Alaska may be a little too cold and a little too far north for snakes, but southern Canada isn’t. Canada is home to over 25 species of snake, some of which are venomous. These include the prairie rattlesnake in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the western rattlesnake in British Columbia, and the massasauga in Ontario, among others.

Summary of States, Countries, or Continents That are Snake-Free

Here’s a recap of the places in the world where you will not find snake populations:

RankPlaces That are Snake-Free
1Alaska
2Antarctica
3Cape Verde
4Greenland
5Hawaii
6Iceland
7Ireland
8Island of Kiribati
9Marshall Islands
10Island of Nauru
11New Zealand
12Island of Tuvalu

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