Terrestrial Gartersnake

October 27, 2015
Heidi Rockney and Karen Wu
Terrestrial Gartersnake

Terrestrial Gartersnake. 
Photo: Heidi Rockney

Terrestrial Gartersnake

Terrestrial Gartersnake. 
Photo: Heidi Rockney

Name: Terrestrial Gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans)
Order: Snakes (Squamata)
Family: Common Snakes (Colubridae)

What they look like

  • Terrestrial gartersnakes are medium-sized snakes with an average length of 38 inches (for the Washington subspecies).
  • They are highly variable in pattern and coloration, so not all individuals will match the following descriptions.
  • Most of these snakes are grey to brown and have three long stripes along the length of their body that are either yellow or cream in color. Small dark spots form along these stripes. Their underside is mostly grey. 

Where they live

  • View a map of where they live.
  • Terrestrial gartersnakes are found in southwestern Canada and western United States.
  • Despite the “terrestrial” part of their name, these snakes spend most of their time living near the water’s edge along ponds, lakes, wetlands, streams, rivers, and irrigation canals.
  • Can also be found in other habitats ranging from coniferous forests to desert riparian areas.

What they eat

  • Terrestrial gartersnakes can eat a very wide range of animals, including slugs, worms, snails, leeches, tadpoles, frogs, mice, fish, lizards, small birds, and even others of their own species.


  • Between late July and early August, females give live birth to 8 to 12 young.

Cool Biology Facts

  • To help defend themselves, terrestrial gartersnakes will secrete and smear substances from their scent glands all over themselves and their predator.
  • Terrestrial gartersnakes are so variable in color that even all black specimens have been seen!


  • Terrestrial gartersnakes are considered “least concern” due to their wide-spread range, no known major threats, large population sizes, and abundant populations.
  • View their status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Distribution Map.

Map of Terrestrial 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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