Striped Whipsnake

Masticophis taeniatus

Striped whipsnake

The name "whipsnake" comes from the snake's resemblance to a leather whip. The family group, Colubrids, accounts for seventy eight percent of all snakes and seventy five percent of all North American species.


The whipsnake occurs from south central Washington south through eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, far eastern California, Nevada, Utah, eastern Colorado, north-central Arizona, western New Mexico, west Texas and parts of northern Mexico. Several subspecies are recognized.


Found in grasslands, sagebrush deserts, rocky canyons, pinyon-juniper woodlands, oak forests and up to ponderosa pine forests. Prefers perennial or intermittent streams, where it forages and seeks shelter in rocky outcrops, rodent burrows, and in shrubs and trees. These snakes occur from sea level up to nine thousand four hundred feet.




The snake is three feet to six feet long. Dark brown or black, sometimes gray above, and often with an olive or bluish cast. Cream or white colored lateral stripes on each side are bisected by dark blackish lines, which are nearly continuous along the dorsolateral stripe. Broad head, large eyes and a slender neck. The dorsal scales are smooth, not keeled, and have fifteen scale rows at the midsection. The belly is yellowish. On the face, there is one small scale, called the preocular, located in front of the eye and wedged between two other scales, called the upper labials. The scales on the top of the head are large, a feature that distinguishes this family of snakes. Snakes in the Masticophis genus have thirteen rows of scales at the rear of the body.

Striped whipsnake


Whipsnakes prey on lizards, snakes, frogs, insects, small birds and rodents. Occasionally, a small venomous snake may be taken.


Diurnal. Sleek and fast-moving. Striped whipsnakes hunt by crawling along with their heads held high, occasionally moving their heads from side to side, which may aid in their depth perception. The snakes may also hunt from a concealed perch in a tree or shrub where they quietly wait for prey to approach. With quick movements, the snake seizes prey with its mouth and may pin the prey beneath loops of the body, although it does not constrict prey. Good climbers, whipsnakes may escape predators by climbing into shrubs or trees.


Adults court in spring, depending upon temperatures. They utilize abandoned rodent burrows for nest sites. Females lay from three to twelve eggs (which makes this species oviparous, meaning that the eggs hatch after leaving the body of the female) from June to July. The young snakes are about fifteen inches long when they hatch in August. The males mature quicker than the females. The males begin breeding aged at one to two years of age, and the females, at three years of age.


Snakes are generally less tolerant of high temperatures than lizards. Striped whipsnakes seem to prefer temperatures from seventy five to ninety nine degrees Fahrenheit. Whipsnakes, along with many other reptiles, may die from overheating. In winter, all reptiles enter into a state of physiological dormancy called brumation, where their metabolic rate is reduced.

Many snakes have six rows of teeth, two on the top jaws, two on the bottom jaws and two on the roof of the mouth. The teeth are sharp and curve backwards, to better hold their prey.

For snakes, the tongue is a highly evolved organ for tasting and smelling. The two tips of the forked tongue emerge from a small opening in the front of the snake's mouth. The tongue collects odor molecules which are carried by the air. These molecules are transferred to a pair of cavities at the roof of the mouth called the Jacobson's organ. These cavities open into the nasal cavity; here these molecules are analyzed and information is passed to the brain.

Whipsnakes shed their skin as they grow. Young snakes shed their skin more often than full-grown adults

Class Reptilia - Reptiles
Suborder Serpentes - The Snakes
Family Colubridae - Colubrid, Colubrine or Advanced Snakes


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