Sharp-tailed Snake

October 26, 2015
Heidi Rockney and Karen Wu
sharp-tailed snake in dried grass

Sharp-tailed snake.
Photo: Heidi Rockney

sharp-tailed snake in grass

Photo: Heidi Rockney

Sharp-tailed snake showing striped underbelly

Photo: Heidi Rockney

sharp-tailed snake

Photo: Heidi Rockney

Name: Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis)
Order: Snakes (Squamata)
Family: Common Snakes (Colubridae)

Sharp-tailed Snake from Heidi Rockney on Vimeo.

What they look like

  • Sharp-tailed snakes are small snakes with an average length of 8 to 12 inches. They have smooth shiny scales that are gray or reddish-brown above and bars of black, pale green, gray, or cream underneath. Some individuals also have a yellow or red line along their upper sides. Their tail ends in a long sharp scale, hence their name.

Where they live

  • View a map of where they live.
  • Sharp-tailed snakes can be found from central California to southern Vancouver Island and British Columbia. They can live in a wide variety of habitats, although they are most commonly found burrowed amidst the wetter soils and debris of woodlands, forests, and grasslands, oftentimes near streams or water.

What they eat

  • Slugs are the majority of their diet, although they can also eat slug eggs and slender salamanders.


  • In June or July, females search for a nest site 3 to 6 inches deep inside soil, grass roots, or rock outcrops. There they lay 3 to 8 eggs that will hatch in mid-autumn.

Cool Biology Facts

  • Some scientists believe that sharp-tailed snakes may use their sharp tails to help stabilize slugs for capture. 


  • Since they have such large populations, a wide distribution, and can adapt to a wide variety of habitats, sharp-tailed snakes are listed as “least concern."
  • View their status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Sharp-tailed Snake distribution in Washington state

Map of Sharp-tailed Snake 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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