Slithering Through Colorado: A Guide to Identifying the State's Sneakiest Snakes

Colorado, the land of towering mountains and breathtaking landscapes, is also home to a variety of slithering creatures. While some might make your heart skip a beat, others are just harmless neighbors who prefer to keep to themselves. This guide will help you identify these sneaky residents and perhaps even appreciate their unique charm. So, buckle up and get ready to embark on a serpentine journey through the Centennial State!

Understanding Colorado's Snake Population

Colorado is home to a diverse array of snake species, each with its unique characteristics and behaviors. From the venomous rattlesnake to the harmless garter snake, the state's snake population is as varied as its landscapes. But don't worry, not all of them are out to get you. In fact, most of them would rather slither away than have a face-to-face encounter with a human.

Snakes play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance. They control the population of rodents and other pests, and in turn, serve as a food source for larger predators. So, while they might not be everyone's favorite creatures, they certainly deserve our respect and understanding.

The Venomous Vs. The Non-Venomous

Among the 30 or so snake species found in Colorado, only three are venomous - the Prairie Rattlesnake, the Massasauga, and the Midget Faded Rattlesnake. These snakes are equipped with venomous bites as a defense mechanism and to immobilize their prey. However, they generally avoid human interaction and only strike when threatened or cornered.

The rest of the snake species in Colorado are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans. Some of these, like the Bullsnake and the Garter snake, are often mistaken for their venomous counterparts due to similar color patterns. But remember, looks can be deceiving!

Identifying Common Colorado Snakes

Now that we've covered the basics, let's dive into the details. Here's a closer look at some of the most common snake species you might encounter in Colorado.

Prairie Rattlesnake

The Prairie Rattlesnake is the most common venomous snake in Colorado. It is easily identifiable by its triangular head, thin neck, and the distinctive rattle at the end of its tail. The body color varies from greenish-gray to brown, with darker oval blotches along the back.

These snakes are usually found in prairies, grasslands, and rocky hillsides. They are most active during the day in spring and fall, and at dawn and dusk during the hot summer months. If you hear a rattling sound while hiking, it's best to back away slowly and give the snake some space.

Garter Snake

Often mistaken for a rattlesnake due to its similar color pattern, the Garter snake is actually harmless. It has a long, slender body with three longitudinal stripes running down its back. The body color can range from green to brown, with the stripes being yellow, blue, or white.

Garter snakes are found in a variety of habitats, including meadows, marshes, and woodlands. They are excellent swimmers and are often found near water bodies. So, the next time you see a striped snake near a pond, don't panic, it's probably just a Garter snake going for a swim.


What should I do if I encounter a snake?

Firstly, don't panic. Most snakes are more scared of you than you are of them. Maintain a safe distance and allow the snake to move away. Never try to handle or provoke a snake.

What should I do if I get bitten by a snake?

Seek immediate medical attention. Try to remember the color and shape of the snake to help identify the species, but don't attempt to capture it. Keep the bitten area lower than the heart and try to stay calm.

Are all snakes in Colorado protected by law?

Yes, all snakes in Colorado, including the venomous ones, are protected by law. It is illegal to kill, capture, or harass them without a permit.


Snakes, despite their reputation, are fascinating creatures that play a vital role in our ecosystem. Understanding and respecting them is the first step towards peaceful coexistence. So, the next time you spot a snake in Colorado, take a moment to appreciate its beauty and uniqueness, and remember, it's just as much a part of Colorado's rich biodiversity as the majestic Rocky Mountains or the stunning wildflowers.

Happy snake spotting!

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