Snakes tend to scare most people. Some may panic and run away; others may react by killing the snake for fear that it is poisonous. This action can pose a problem for non-venomous snakes that pose no threat to humans.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, Parks and the Montana Department of Agriculture have identified ten species of snakes native of the state. Identifying these snakes is relatively easy by determining whether their pattern is solid, striped, or banded. Some of the same species of snakes come in different colors, so a good rule of thumb is to find the pattern first and determine the coloring second.
Of Montana’s ten native snakes, only one is venomous: the prairie rattlesnake, a member of the viper family. These types of snakes have dark to black spots along their back extending to their tail and then turning into rings. Prairie rattlesnakes live below 6,400 feet in Montana, generally east of the Rocky Mountains. If a rattlesnake bites a human, it feels threatened. They usually respond to threats by standing still or moving away if possible. Otherwise, prairie rattlesnakes coil their bodies, wag their tails, and strike the threat.
There are several ways to identify a snake as venomous or non-venomous. Poisonous snakes have a triangular head, while non-venomous snakes have a more rounded head. Non-venomous snakes also have round pupils with a nostril hole. Poisonous snakes have elliptical pupils, like a cat’s, with a hole called a pit between the eyes and nostrils. The pit helps to feel the heat of their prey when hunting in the dark. Snakes can be misidentified because some snakes have similar tail patterns and bands. If you can’t safely identify them, just leave them alone or take a photo from a safe distance.
Here is a list of non-venomous snakes native to Montana:
- Plains Hog-nosed Snake
- smooth green snake
- North American racer
- Common, Terrestrial, and Plains Garter Snake
- gopher snake
- rubber boa
If a poisonous snake bites someone, never try to cut the wound or suck the venom out with your mouth. Keep others a safe distance from the snake and do not try to capture it. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible if a poisonous snake has bitten you. The faster you get help, the faster it is to recover.