What is a Night Snake?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2019
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A night snake, scientific name Hypsiglena torquata, is a relatively small nocturnal snake with blotchy markings. The snake's fangs are located towards the back of the jaw instead of the front, and it is sometimes mistaken for a young rattlesnake. The night snake is native to the western part of North America and can be found in a range of habitats. It is carnivorous and tends to reproduce in the early summer.

Typically an adult night snake grows to a length of about 12 to 26 inches (30 to 66 cm), with a narrow body and a flat, triangular shaped head. The snake's color is usually a lighter shade of brown, tan, or grey, and the body is covered with darker colored blotches. This color scheme sometimes causes the night snake to be mistaken for a more dangerous rattlesnake, and it also helps the snake camouflage, or blend in, with its surroundings. There are often two or three large dark blotches on its neck just behind the head, and a dark short stripe from the eyes to the jaw. The underside is a light whitish or yellowish color, and the tail narrows to a point.


The night snake is venomous, but it's not considered dangerous to humans. The fangs are located near the back of the jaw rather than the front, and the venom is primarily used to assist the snake in immobilizing prey. A snake with this fang placement is also known as a rear-fanged snake. It will seldom try to bite humans and is reputed to be safe to handle. If it feels threatened, its main response is to raise and flatten its head, hissing and waving back and forth.

The native area of the night snake is in western North America, ranging from British Columbia in Canada, to the western U.S. and parts of Mexico. It can be found in a variety of habitats with plentiful ground cover such as prairies, brushland, meadows, woodlands, and desert. A warm, dry climate is ideal for these cold-blooded reptiles.

The night snake is mainly nocturnal, as its name implies, although it is sometimes active at dusk and dawn as well. It's rarely seen during daylight hours, spending most of the day under rocks or other available cover. It is frequently spotted crossing roads at night, and it does its hunting after dark as well. Prey usually consists of smaller snakes, lizards, frogs, salamanders, and mice.

Little is known about the breeding habits of the night snake. The female usually lays three to nine eggs in late spring to early summer. The nesting area is often a rocky crevice or an abandoned burrow. The eggs hatch after about two months and the newly hatched snakes are usually about 7 inches (18 cm) long.


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