While most people don’t think “snakes” when they think “Colorado wildlife,” the Centennial State has it’s fair share of serpentes. Remember, a lot of Colorado has a dry, desert climate – an ecosystem where many snakes are known to thrive. Here are a few of the snakes you’ll find around the state.
Note: Many species of snakes have many subspecies and related species, often found in similar regions. In these instances, we tried to find an image of a certain snake most similar to the variety you’re most likely to encounter in Colorado.
1. Yellow-Bellied Racer
With two different types of this snake found in two different parts of the state, the East and West, yellow-bellied racers are harmless. They’re known for their smooth scales and bluish-grey upper body with, you guessed it, a yellow or cream belly. With a diet of insects, frogs, and lizards, these snakes can grow to a whooping 55 inches long. Keep an eye out for them in open grasslands.
We’ve all heard of a rattlesnake, but did you know there are three different types of this venomous snake in Colorado. The largest is the Prairie Rattlesnake, capable of growing to more than 4 1/2 feet long. The other two varieties, the Massasauga and the Midget Faded Rattlesnake, will grow to around 30 inches. Each complete with deadly fangs, these snakes feed on mammals and toads, with larger snakes even dine on animals as large as a prairie dog. If you’re on the trails in Colorado, always be on the look-out, as these snakes can kill humans. They tend to like rocky canyons, sandy areas, and open plains with ample prey the most.
3. Ground Snake
Easily identifiable thanks to it’s alternating red and black stripes, the Ground Snake is totally harmless to humans. Reaching a size of just longer than a foot, you’ll find this snake in the south-east grasslands, particularly in spots where the soil is loose.
4. Great Plains Rat Snake
Rarely found above an elevation of 6,000 feet in Colorado, the Great Plains Rat Snake is a dark grey, lined with brown blotches. They’re a constrictor snake (which means they squeeze their prey) with a diet that consists mostly of rodents. They can grow to nearly 50 inches in length, but aren’t a threat to humans.
5. Ringneck Snake
Grey with yellow markings on the stomach and a brightly colored (often red) tail, the Ringneck Snake is another venomous snake found in Colorado. Just 16.5 inches long, they tend to prey on smaller animals like worms, slugs, and lizards. While their proportionally large rear teeth do deliver a venomous bite, there’s not much of a threat for mammals as large as humans. You’re also unlikely to find the Ringneck Snake unless you’re looking, as this species is nocturnal. If you think you’ve spotted one, look for a single ring around its neck.
6. Great Basin Gopher Snake
This large 4 1/2 foot snake tends to be found along Colorado’s western slope across a variety of habitats. The Great Basin Gopher Snake is a great climber and swimmer, which makes it versatile in what it eats and how it defends itself. If they fear attack, they’ll actually inflate their body and mimic the sound of a rattlesnake to ward off would-be predators.
With some reports stating that this species can reach a maximum length of 88 inches, the Bullsnake is the largest snake on this list. It’s also one of the most common serpents to encounter in Colorado. Due to their size, they prey on a wide variety of animals ranging in size by using constriction to kill, including mammals, birds, and eggs. Despite their size, they tend to show little aggression towards humans when handled with care. That being said, don’t go grabbing wild Bullsnakes you may encounter. Just let them be.
Another big Colorado snake, the Coachwhip can reach 70 inches in length, often preying on flying creatures like birds and bats. They’re known for their extreme agility, but are harmless to humans.
9. Western Hognose
The Western Hognose uses toxic saliva to subdue its prey and venom to kill. It’s not discriminatory in its food choice, either willing to dine on nearly anything it can manage to swallow. It’s name comes from it’s hog-like snout, which is used to burrow through the ground in search of its favorite snack – toads.
But Wait…There’s More
There are many other snakes in Colorado (around 30), including several Garter Snakes, the Northern Water Snake, and the colorful Central Plains Milksnake, along with several others. While there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a snake here if you spend much time in nature, especially during warm summer days, know that most Colorado snakes are harmless to humans. That being said, it’s always best to let wildlife live naturally. If you spot a snake in its natural habitat, distance yourself and avoid contact. For additional information about snakes in Colorado, check out ColoradoHerping.com.