Burke Museum Home

Reptiles of Washington

Contia tenuis, Sharp-tailed snake

Description. This is a small, slender snake. It is coppery or reddish on the back, with darker sides. The belly is whitish with a half-moon shaped crossbar on each scale. The tail is tipped with a small spine.

Distribution. (GAP Analysis map) In Washington, the sharp-tailed snake occurs along the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains, in the Columbia River Gorge, and perhaps in the central Puget Sound lowlands. It was last collected in the Puget Sound region in the 1940s. Outside Washington, the sharp-tailed snake ranges along the west coast from southern British Columbia islands through central California.

Habitat. These snakes live in a variety of habitats that are moist during the spring and may be dry through the summer. Habitats include rocky slopes and open pine and oak woodland.

Cool Biology Facts. Sharp-tailed snakes are rare in Washington, and seem to occur in widely scattered populations. They are most active on the surface in early spring and again in late fall. They eat primarily small slugs, and have special long teeth for biting them.

Conservation status. The sharp-tailed snake is rare and protected in Washington. It is more common in the southern parts its range in Oregon and California. In the Puget Sound region of Washington, they may have gone extinct due to habitat loss by housing development. Elsewhere in Washington, some populations are in areas that appear not to be in immediate danger of destruction. One potential threat to sharp-tailed snakes may be gravel mining on the rocky slopes the snakes seem to prefer.

Contia tenuis, Sharp-tailed snake
Contia tenuis, Sharp-tailed snake
Photograph by Brad Moon.