Thamnophis elegans vagrans - Wandering Gartersnake
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.
Thamnophis elegans measures 18 - 43 inches in length (46 - 109 cm).
A medium-sized slender snake with a head barely wider than the neck and keeled dorsal scales. Ground color is gray, brown, or geenish and there are typically light dorsal and lateral stripes. The dorsal stripe is yellow, brown, or orangish, but black markings on the edges may make it appear irregular or a series of dark and light dots. The dorsal stripes also fades on the tail. The sides are checkered with black markings. Occasionally these markings will fill in most of the sides between stripes. The underside is light with scattered black markings, often concentrated in the center. The underside may also be black except on the throat and tail.
There is a melanistic phase of this snake in the Puget Sound area and in British Columbia. Look here to see a brick red phase from the Sedona area of Arizona.
Active in daylight. Chiefly terrestrial - not as dependant on water as other gartersnake species, but more likely to be found near water. When frightened, this species will sometimes seek refuge in vegetation or ground cover, but it will also crawl quickly into water and swim away from trouble. If frightened when picked up, this snake will often strike repeatedly and release cloacal contents and musk.
This snake eats a wide range of prey (among the widest of any snake species), including amphibians and their larvae, fish, birds, mice, lizards, snakes, worms, leeches, slugs, and snails.
T. elegans breeds primarily in spring, with young born live July - Sepember. High altitude populations of this subspecies in California might breed later.
In California, this subspecies, Thamnophis elegans vagrans - Wandering Gartersnake, is found east of the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Intergrades occur in the far northeast corner of the state in Modoc and estern Siskiyou counties.
Overall, this subspecies has a very large range, occuring from Canada south into Arizona and New Mexico, and including parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon.
The species Thamnophis elegans - Western Terrestrial Gartersnake, ranges widely from the California coast north into Canada and east to NewMexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota, with an isolated population in Baja California Norte, Mexico.
Occurs in a wide variety of habitats. In California, this snake occurs in coniferous forest, sagebrush, grassy meadows, often in the vicinity of water.
The species Thamnophis elegans - Western Terrestrial Gartersnake, occurs from sea level to 13,100 ft. (3,990 m) in elevation in Colorado. (Stebbins, 2003)
T. e. vagrans intergrades with T. e. elegans in northeast California in Modoc and eastern Siskiyou counties and in south central Oregon (this snake was formerly classified as the subspecies Thamnophis elegans biscutatus - Klamath Gartersnake. Intergrades with T. e. elegans also occur along the southern and southeastern edge of the Sierras.
Three subspecies of Thamnophis elegans are found in California - T. e. vagrans - Wandering Gartersnake, T. e. e.egans - Mountain Gartersnake, and T. e. terrestris - Coast Gartersnake.
Rossman, Ford, and Seigel (1996) emphasize that a detailed study of geographic variation throughout the range of Thamnophis elegans is badly needed.
Bronikowski and Arnold (2001, Copeia 2001:508-513) found several clades within T. elegans that do not always follow the subspecies boundaries.
Hammerson (1999, Amphibians and Reptiles of Colorado. 2nd ed. Univ. of Colorado Press) synonymized T. e. arizonae and T. e. vascotanneri but retained three subspecies, T. e. vagrans, T. e. elegans, and T. e. terrestris.
Conservation Issues (Conservation Status)
This species is not known to be threatened, but gartersnakes have been negatively impacted by competition with introduced bullfrogs and non-native fish in some areas.