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Reptiles of Washington

Coluber taeniatus, Striped whipsnake

Description. This is a long, slender snake. It is dark grey on the back, with several thin light and dark stripes along the sides. The head is also long and slender with large eyes. The belly is yellowish in the front half of the body, and bright pink under the back half of the body and tail.

Distribution. (GAP Analysis map)  The striped whipsnake occurs in the dry, southern central region of Washington, mainly in and around the Columbia River basin. Outside Washington, the striped whipsnake ranges widely through southern Idaho, eastern Oregon, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, northern Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas.

Habitat. These snakes live in dry habitats, including desert and dry forests. In Washington, they occur in dry valleys and plateaus, but farther south they occur in mountains.

Cool Biology Facts. Striped whipsnakes are fast, active daytime hunters. They eat lizards, small rodents, and birds (including eggs and nestlings). While hunting, they often raise the head off the ground and move it from side to side. This is called triangulation, and helps them get better depth perception. Their genus name, Masticophis, refers to the slender and often braided whip-like appearance of many whipsnakes (though not this one); the second part of the name, taeniatus means "striped."

Conservation status. The striped whipsnake is rare and protected in Washington. It is more common in much of its range outside of Washington. Loss of habitat to agriculture is probably the main threat to these snakes; some are also killed as they cross roads.

Coluber taeniatus, Striped whipsnake
Coluber taeniatus, Striped whipsnake
Photo by Brad Moon