In Utah, out of 31 different species of snakes, only seven are poisonous. These include the sidewinder (horned rattlesnake), speckled rattlesnake, Mojave rattlesnake, Great Basin (Western) rattlesnake, Hopi rattlesnake, Midget faded rattlesnake, and the green prairie rattlesnake.
Utah’s most common non-venomous snakes include species of garter snakes, such as the rubber boa and the gopher or bull snake. Although Utah has no true water snakes, the garter snake is often referred to as a water snake since it is frequently found near water.
When in doubt, however, there are distinct differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes. Poisonous snakes have oval-shaped pupils and a single row of scales on the tail’s underside. Non-poisonous snakes have round pupils and two rows of scales on the underside of their tail.
Pit vipers are venomous and have a heat-sensitive, pit organ located between their nostrils and eyes. This heat sensing system helps these snakes “see” the heat radiating from its prey in the dark, which allows an accurate strike. Non-venomous snakes, like the garter snake pictured, does not have a pit organ. It is harmless to humans and pets and is beneficial to gardens by controlling local insects and rodent populations.
Keep in mind that even though garter snakes are harmless and can be kept as pets, they are still protected under the state of Utah and classified as non-game animals. Before capturing a live wild snake, you must first receive a certificate of registration from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Addie T. Lindsay, 16, is an accomplished writer and photographer of wildlife creatures big and small. She can be contacted at CritterChatter@live.com.