Burke Museum Home

Reptiles of Washington

Desert nightsnake
(Hypsiglena chlorophaea)


What they look like

  • Small smooth-scaled snakes ranging from 12 to 26 inches in length.
  • Their underside is white and their upper side is light gray, light brown, or beige with many repeating blotches of dark gray, brown, or black.
  • Two dark blotches running from each of their eyes to their neck are especially large.
  • Their head is triangular and rather flat. 
  • Females tend to be larger and longer than males.

Where they live

  • Can be found in southern British Columbia, western United States, Texas, and some parts of Mexico.
  • They can adapt to many environments, including rocky grassland areas, chaparral, woodlands, desert scrub, thorn scrub, and moist mountain meadows.
  • They often hide under plant debris or rocks.

What they eat

  • Lizards and frogs are the majority of the desert nightsnake’s diet.
  • Salamanders, small snakes, and small mice can also be eaten.
  • Like their name suggests, desert nightsnakes hunt during the night.
  • They use their mild venom to help subdue prey.


  • Sometime between April and July, females search for rock crevices or abandoned mammal burrows to lay their eggs.
  • They lay 3 to 9 eggs, which will hatch about 7 to 8 weeks later.

Cool Biology Facts

  • Desert nightsnakes are often mistaken for looking like rattlesnakes. However, unlike rattlesnakes, desert nightsnakes do not have a rattle on the end of their tail and their venom is harmless to humans.
  • A southwestern Idaho study found that female desert nightsnakes are 50% longer than males and have triple the body mass!


Distribution Map


Desert nightsnakes are considered “least concern” because they have large and stable populations in the vast majority of their range.