Two Garter Snake Species Get Endangered Species Act Protection

July 8, 2014

The narrow-headed garter snake (Thamnophis rufipunctatus) and northern Mexican garter snake (Thamnophis eques megalops) have just been given Endangered Species Act protections by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Garter Snakes

The snakes are threatened by the introduction of non-native species such as sunfish, bass and crayfish as well as the degradation of their river and streamside habitats due to livestock grazing, agricultural and urban sprawl and the removal of water from their aquatic habitats. Protections for these snakes will go into effect August 7, 2014.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 83 percent of the populations of the northern Mexican garter snake and 76 percent of the narrow-headed garter snake populations is at extreme low densities or are gone from their native habitats.


narrow headed garter snake

(c) Pierson Hill

The narrow-headed garter snake is threatened by non native species, agricultural and urban sprawl and livestock grazing.

The USFWS was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity in the 2000s, and the service listed the snakes as candidates for Endangered Species Act protection in 2008. A status report was submitted to USFWS by the center and a 2011 settlement with the USFWS put the two snakes on the proposed list for protections.

The narrow-headed garter snake is greenish brown, blue grey, or olive grey in coloration with brown, orange or black spots on its back. It grows to 34 inches in length and spends most of its time in bodies of water searching for prey items such as small trout and other fish. It is found in high elevation streams in northern and eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.


northern Mexican garter snake


Northern Mexican garter snake.

The larger northern Mexican garter snake grows to 44 inches in length and can be found in 13 counties in Arizona and four counties in New Mexico. It is also found in 16 states in Mexico. Its coloration ranges from olive-brown to olive-gray and has three stripes that run down the length of its back. It is also found in and near bodies of water such as wetlands and riparian river systems and streams and in tall grassy areas. It feeds on amphibians, fish, and lizards.


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