Masticophis taeniatus
(Striped Whipsnake)

Key Characteristics
Large eyes with round pupils
Long, slender body
Light stripes contrasting with a dark ground color
Rapid moving

General Description:
Striped Whipsnakes are long, slender snakes that have prominent eyes with round pupils.  Like Racers, Striped Whipsnakes rely on visual cues to aid them in locating prey, and they will elevate their head to gain a better view.  Striped Whipsnakes have smooth scales and charcoal to black dorsal ground color.  The ground color is broken by light-colored lateral stripes, and the head has both light and dark markings.  Striped Whipsnakes have a light ventral coloration (white to cream), that gains a pinkish hue posteriorly and on the tail.  These snakes are often seen fleetingly, due to their speed and the optical illusion created by their striped pattern.  The stripes mask the motion and speed of the snake until the tail disappears in the brush.  If captured, these snakes are aggressive and usually will not hesitate to bite.  Perhaps this behavior is the source of their generic name Masticophis, which means biting/chewing snake.

In our area, Striped Whipsnakes are one of the longest snake species, although not the largest, as Gopher Snakes are heavier and may reach up to 170 cm (Charles R. Peterson, pers. com. 1998).  Adult Striped Whipsnakes can reach lengths of over 1.5 m (5 ft.) (Storm and Leonard 1995).

Striped Whipsnakes mate in the spring and then lay 3-10 eggs, which hatch in late summer early fall (Storm and Leonard 1995).  Juvenile Striped Whipsnakes resemble adults.

Striped Whipsnakes are found in desert areas with brush (sage, greasewood, etc.) or grass, and I often find them in areas that have a rock component.

Idaho Distribution:
In Idaho, Striped Whipsnakes are restricted to the southwest and south-central portions of the state.  From Washington through Great Basin to New Mexico, Texas, and central Mexico.

Young eat mainly lizards. Adults eat mostly lizards and snakes, but may also eat small mammals, insects, and small birds.

Terrestrial and arboreal. HibernatesClick word for definition/aestivatesClick word for definition underground or in deep crevices during cold weather. Little information is available for the Northwest. Active from late March to October in Utah; hibernationClick word for definition begins in September or October. In Utah study, population density was determined to be about 0.1-0.3/ha (excluding snakes less than 1 yr old). Individuals hunt with heads held high off ground. Some individuals live 10-20 yr.

Mating occurs in April and May. Female lays clutch of 3-12 eggs, from June to July depending on range. Eggs hatch in 50-57 days (August or September). Females reach sexual maturity in 2-3 yr.



Unprotected nongame species

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Important State References:
Diller, L.V. and D.R. Johnson. 1982. Ecology of reptiles in the Snake River Birds of Prey Area. USDI Bur. Land Manage. Snake River Birds of Prey Research Project, Boise. 107pp.

Design optimization and revision by Ean Harker ©1999, 2000
Original images provided by Charles R. Peterson and John Cossel Jr. ©1998
Original work by John Cossel Jr. © 1998