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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Northwestern Gartersnake - Thamnophis ordinoides

(Baird and Girard, 1852)
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Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
  Adult, Del Norte County  
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Adult, Del Norte County,
with head flattened defensively
Red-striped adult, Del Norte County Adult, Del Norte County
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
  Brown adult, Del Norte County  
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Red adult, Del Norte County
© William Flaxington
Red-striped adult, Del Norte County © Alan Barron
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Nearly patternless adult,
Del Norte County © Alan Barron
Nearly patternless adult,
Del Norte County © Alan Barron
Striped Adult, Del Norte County
© Alan Barron
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Adult, Del Norte County © Steven Krause
Adult, Del Norte County © Steven Krause Adult, Del Norte County
  Puget Sound Gartersnake  
  Comparing the top of the heads can help to identify these sympatric species on the north coast:
Left: T. sirtalis (Puget Sound Gartersnake)
Right: T. ordinoides - Northwestern Gartersnake
© Filip Tkaczyk
 
     
Northwestern Gartersnake
Adult, Thurston County, Washington

More pictures of this snake and its natural habitat outside
of California are available on our Northwest Herps page.

Habitat
Northwestern Gartersnake Habitat Northwestern Gartersnake Habitat Northwestern Gartersnake Habitat
Habitat, Del Norte County

Habitat, Humboldt County Habitat, Del Norte County
Short Video
  Northwestern Gartersnake  
  A Northwestern Gartersnake
on the move.
 
Description

Not Dangerous to 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.
Size
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).
Appearance
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.

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.
Key to Identifying California Gartersnake Species
Behavior
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
Mostly slugs and earthworms, occasionally snails, and amphibians, possibly fish.
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.)
Reproduction
Mating apparently occurs both in early spring, and early fall. Live young are born from July to September.
Range
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.
Habitat
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.
Taxonomic Notes
No subspecies are recognized, though there are geographic populations where one color morph is dominant.
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
There are no known threats to this species.

Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Thamnophis North American Gartersnakes Fitzinger, 1843
Species


ordinoides Northwestern Gartersnake (Baird and Girard, 1852)
Original Description
Thamnophis ordinoides - (Baird and Girard, 1852) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 176

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Thamnophis - Greek - thamnos - shrub or bush, and ophis - snake, serpent
ordinoides
- similar to T. ordinatus - Baird and Girard compared this to a species now called T. sirtalis

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
None

Other California Gartersnakes
T. a. atratus - Santa Cruz Gartersnake
T. a. hydrophilus - Oregon Gartersnake
T. a. zaxanthus - Diablo Range Gartersnake
T. couchii - Sierra Gartersnake
T. gigas - Giant Gartersnake
T. e. elegans - Mountain Gartersnake
T. e. terrestris - Coast Gartersnake
T. e. vagrans - Wandering Gartersnake
T. hammondii - Two-striped Gartersnake
T. m. marcianus - Marcy's Checkered Gartersnake
T. s. fitchi - Valley Gartersnake
T. s. infernalis - California Red-sided Gartersnake
T. s. tetrataenia - San Francisco Gartersnake

More Information and References

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

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.

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.

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.


Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.
Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None

 

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