Northwestern Gartersnake

August 29, 2016
Leonard Jones
Northwestern Gartersnake

Northwestern Gartersnake

Photo: Burke Museum

Name: Northwestern Gartersnake (Thamnophis ordinoides)
Order: Snakes (Squamata)
Family: Common Snakes (Colubridae)

What they look like

  • Northwestern Gartersnakes are the smallest of the three Gartersnake species in Washington, rarely exceeding 38 inches. 
  • These snakes exhibit incredible variation within single populations—generally these snakes are brown or black with three stripes (one dorsal and one lateral on each side) along the length of the body. Stripe colors can be red, white, orange, yellow, blue, or entirely absent, and are occasionally broken up by small variably colored spots. Because of the prevalence of red stripes in their populations, they are often referred to as “red racers” despite their distant relationship to Western Racers (Coluber constrictor) found in Eastern WA.

Where they live

  •  Northwestern Gartersnakes have a coastal distribution spanning British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Del Norte County in California.


  • Between late summer and early fall, females gather in open grassy areas to give live birth.
  • Average litter size in Washington is eight snakes, but is slightly higher in Oregon and lower in British Columbia. 

 Cool biology facts

  • Researchers have found stripe pattern to be highly correlated with escape behavior—striped snakes tend to crawl away in a straight line, while spotted or pattern-less individuals tend to dart in one direction and pause, relying on camouflage to evade potential predators.
Distribution Map

Map of Northwestern Gartersnake distribution in Washington state. Learn more on the NatureMapping Foundation website.

Explore more of the Amphibians & Reptiles of Washington or check out All About Amphibians.

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