Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous) - This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.
Gartersnakes have toxins in their saliva which can be deadly to their prey and their bite might produce an unpleasant reaction in humans, but they are not considered dangerous to humans.
A fairly small gartersnake - 13 - 38 inches long ( 33 - 96 cm), averaging 12 - 24 inches (30 - 61 cm).
Neonates are about 6 inches (15 cm).
A medium-sized snake with a head barely wider than the neck and keeled dorsal scales.
The head is relatively small compared to other California gartersnakes.
Color and Pattern
Highly variable in color in pattern.
Typically there is a wide and distinct dorsal stripe, but sometimes the stripe is narrow, very dull in color, or absent.
The color of this stripe can be red, orange, gold, yellow, greenish, blue, white, or tan.
There are usually stripes along the lower sides, but these, too, may be absent on some individuals.
These stripes also vary in color from yellow, to tan, to whitish.
The ground color is blackish, olive, brownish, bluish, or gray, sometimes with a reddish tint, or reddish specks, and there are typically two rows of alternating dark spots, which may be partly obscured by a very dark ground color.
The underside is yellowish, brown, gray, or black, often with dark spots or red specks.
Completely red, unstriped snakes occur in the Siskiyou Mountains of extreme northwestern California [the county is not mentioned, but this is most likely Del Norte County]. (St. John, 2002.)
Melanistic individuals are sometimes found.
Active in the daytime.
Mostly terrestrial, escaping into vegetation not water when threatened, but capable of swimming.
When first handled, often releases cloacal contents and musk, but rarely bites. In most areas, activity begins in March and ends in October, but this snake can sometimes be seen basking on sunny days in winter.
Studies have shown that the escape behavior of this snake is determined by pattern: striped snakes will escape by crawling away, since the stripes make it difficult to determine the snake's speed, while spotted or plain snakes will crawl, suddenly change direction, then hold still, as their pattern tends to blend in with the background. (E. D. Brodie III)
Diet and Feeding
Mostly slugs and earthworms, occasionally snails, and amphibians, possibly fish.
Three Northwestern Gartersnakes in Oregon and Washington were documented preying on non-native African nightcrawlers, introduced for fish bait, which were almost as long as two of the snakes that ate them. (Herpetological Review 38(4), 2007)
An unusual water-feeding population near PeaVine Lake in Del Norte Co. has been verified as eating Pacific Treefrog tadpoles and in the water of a nearby seep there is a record of one eating a torrent salamander (Bradford Norman, Herp Review 33(4) 2002.)
Mating apparently occurs both in early spring, and early fall. Live young are born from July to September.
Occurs in California mostly in the northern coastal fog belt in damp areas with lots of vegetation and open sunny areas, such as lowland thickets, meadows and forest clearings. Can be common hear human dwellings. Often found beneath boards and other surface cover.
In California, this species is found only along the extreme northwest coast in Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
Museum records from McKinleyville and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County along with other sight records suggest that the species should be present all along the coast north of there. I have been told of records from the Humboldt State University Campus in Arcata, Bluff Creek in the Six Rivers National Forest and nearby in the extreme northerneast part of Humboldt County, and near Somes Bar in Siskiyou County.
Outside of California the species ranges to the north, east of the Cascades through Oregon and Washington to Vancouver Island and southwest British Columbia.
No subspecies are recognized, though there are geographic populations where one color morph is dominant.
Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.
Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.
Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.
Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.
Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.
Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.
Rossman, Douglas A., Neil B, Ford, & Richard A. Siegel. The Garter Snakes - Evolution and Ecology. University of Oklahoma press, 1996.
Brown et. al. Reptiles of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society,1995.
Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie Jr., and R. M. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Moscow,
Idaho: University Press of Idaho, 1983.
St. John, Alan D. Reptiles of the Northwest: Alaska to California; Rockies to the Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, 2002.
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.
This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.