CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Northwestern Gartersnake - Thamnophis ordinoides

(Baird and Girard, 1852)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Northwestern Gartersnake California Range Map
observation link





Northwestern Gartersnake
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
  Adult, Del Norte County   Adult, Del Norte County,
with head flattened defensively
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Red-striped adult, Del Norte County Adult, Del Norte County Adult, Del Norte County Red adult, Del Norte County
© William Flaxington
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
  Brown adult, Del Norte County   Striped Adult, Del Norte County
© Alan Barron
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Nearly patternless adult,
Del Norte County © Alan Barron
Red-striped adult, Del Norte County © Alan Barron Nearly patternless adult,
Del Norte County © Alan Barron
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Adult, Del Norte County
© Steven Krause
Adult, Del Norte County
© Steven Krause
Adult, Del Norte County
© Luke Talltree
Adult, Del Norte County
© Luke Talltree
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake    
Adult, Del Norte County © Luke Talltree Juvenile from Korbel, Humboldt County © Bradrord R. Norman    
       
Northwestern Gartersnakes From Outside of California
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Adult, Thurston County, Washington
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Melanistic blue-striped adult from King County, Washington © Filip Tkaczyk Red-striped adult,
Hood River County, Oregon
Single-striped adult,
Multnomah County, Oregon
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Single-striped sub-adult,
Multnomah County, Oregon
Sub-adult, Thurston County, Washington Adult with gold stripe,
King County, Washington
Adult, Kittitas County, Washington.
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake    
This adult from Pierce County, Washington, is colored with red all over, including the underside. © H. Stern    
More pictures of this snake and its natural habitat outside
of California are available on our Northwest Herps page.
       
Identification Tip
  Puget Sound Gartersnake    
  Looking at the top of the heads can help to identify these sympatric species on the north coast:

T. sirtalis - Common Gartersnake (Left) has a larger longer head with bigger eyes than T. ordinoides - Northwestern Gartersnake (Right.)

© Filip Tkaczyk

California Gartersnakes Identification Key
   
       
Habitat
Northwestern Gartersnake Habitat Northwestern Gartersnake Habitat Northwestern Gartersnake Habitat Del Norte Salamander Habitat
Habitat, Del Norte County Habitat, Humboldt County Habitat, Del Norte County Habitat, Del Norte County
       
Short Video
  Northwestern Gartersnake    
  A Northwestern Gartersnake
on the move.
   
     
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  - Garter snakes produce a mild venom which can be deadly to small prey but is not considered dangerous to most 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.

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.
Key to Identifying California Gartersnake Species

Life History and Behavior

Activity
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.
Defense
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.)
Reproduction
Mating apparently occurs both in early spring, and early fall.
Females are ovoviviparous - they carry the eggs internally until the young are born live from July to September.

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.

Geographical Range
Ranges from Vancouver Island and southwest British Columbia south along the coast, chiefly west of the Cascade Mountains, through Washington and Oregon, south to northern Humboldt County, California.

Range in California

Found only along the extreme northwest coast of California 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. Stebbins (1972) also states that the species occurs north of Mad River, Humboldt County.

I have also been told that this species has been seen on the Humboldt State University Campus in Arcata and a few miles east of there, at Bluff Creek in the Six Rivers National Forest and nearby in the extreme northerneast part of Humboldt County, above Weithipec, Humboldt County, and near Somes Bar and Ti Bar Creek in Siskiyou County.


Full Species Range Map
Taxonomic Notes
No subspecies are recognized, though there are geographic populations where one color morph is dominant.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Thamnophis ordinoides - Northwestern Gartersnake (Stebbins 1961, 1985, 2003, Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)

Thamnophis ordinoides ordinoides - Pacific Coast Garter Snake (Tropidonotus ordinoides; Eutaenia leptocephala; Eutaenia infernalis vidua; Eutainia atrata; Eutaenia elegans, part; Eutaenia infernalis, part; Eutaenia elegans ordinoides; Tropidonotus leptocephalus; Eutaenia sirtalis leptocephala; Eutaenia ordinoides; Thamnophis infernalis, part; Eutainia sirtalis elegans; Thamnophis leptocephala. Puget Garter Snake; Narrow-headed Garter Snake; Black Garter Snake; Boyd's Garter Snake, part) (Grinnell and Camp 1917)

Red-striped garter snake
Cooper's garter snake
Small-headed striped snake
Western garter snake

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
There are no known serious 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

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.

Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.

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. 2nd Edition - Revised & Updated. Lone Pine Publishing, 2021.



Joseph Grinnell and Charles Lewis Camp. A Distributional List of the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. University of California Publications in Zoology Vol. 17, No. 10, pp. 127-208. July 11, 1917.


Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the July 2022 State of California "Special Animals List" and the July 2022 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and can be downloaded here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals.
You can check this link to see if there are more current lists.

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found on the
Special Animals List. For quick reference, I have copied some of them on my Special Status Information page.

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.
Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
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
IUCN

 

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