A Quick Q&A with Phillip Elden: Snakes

Phillip EldenPhillip Elden has spent a lifetime studying local wildlife in his native Oregon and has always held a cautious fascination with snakes. Here, the conservationist answers a few common questions pertaining to these slithery serpents.

Q: What are the most common species of snake in Oregon?

Phillip Elden: There are more than a dozen of poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes throughout the state. The black racer is perhaps one of the most abundant and is found in a variety of habitats from meadows to sagebrush flats. Racers typically avoid high mountain tops and forests in favor of rocky slopes and dense low-lying shrubbery.

Q: What do snakes eat?

Phillip Elden: The majority of snakes eat insects, amphibians, and even small mammals. The ringneck snake, which thrives in moist microhabitats in both woodland and rocky areas, makes its primary diet out of earthworms, frogs, small lizards, and salamanders. Larger varieties, such as the common king snake, may also dine on birds and turtles. Some of the more aggressive serpents will go after gophers, scorpions, and rabbits. Snakes are not only predators; they are prey for mid-sized mammals such as foxes, coyotes, and badgers.

Q: Is Oregon home to aquatic snakes?

Phillip Elden: Yes, though snakes that favor water are not as common as those that prefer dry land. The Pacific Coast aqua garter, a medium-sized snake characterized by a thick yellow band down its back, makes its home in ponds, lakes, and rivers. It can be found hiding in riparian vegetation or basking along flat, sunny banks.

Q: Are Western rattlesnakes a concern?

Phillip Elden: Western rattlesnakes is the only snake in the state (out of 15 native species) that have poison that can hurt a human. They are found in downed logs or entwined in large rock piles. Throughout winter, Western rattlesnakes survived in hillside dens. They are easily identified by their diamondback pattern, large triangular head, and keeled scales.