North American Natricine Species

Garter snakes’ closest relatives include the water snakes, brown snakes and queen snakes, among others. Together, these snakes make up a group called the natricines (or Natricinae). Natricines, in turn, belong to the colubrid family (Colubridae), which is the largest family of snakes in the world. Colubrids include most of the world’s harmless species (plus a few rear-fanged venomous species) and the overwhelming majority of pet snakes that aren’t boas or pythons, such as corn snakes and kingsnakes. (Some researchers consider the natricines their own family, completely separate from the colubrids: then they would be called the Natricidae or natricids. We’ll use the older name here, because we have to pick one.)

While there are egg-laying natricines in Eurasia, for example the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), almost all the natricines in North America give birth to live young.

This is a list of all the natricine snakes found in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. If there are natricines found in Central America but not in Mexico, I haven’t yet found a source that lists them.

Living Species

Mountain Meadow Snakes (Adelophis)

Two poorly understood Mexican species that may be at considerable risk of extinction.

Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis)

A small, single-species genus from the American Midwest.

Water Snakes (Nerodia)

Water snakes are a common sight in eastern North America. Larger, more aquatic and to some extent more aggressive than garter snakes (though that reputation is somewhat exaggerated), water snakes occupy the same ecological niche as several western garter snake species. They are closely related to garter snakes; some research indicates that some water snake species are more closely related to garter snakes than they are to other water snakes.

Crayfish and Queen Snakes (Regina)

Aquatic snakes that specialize in eating crayfish; queen snakes go one step further, eating only freshly moulted crayfish. Incredibly difficult to keep in captivity.

Swamp Snakes (Seminatrix)

Aquatic snakes that spend their time in cypress swamps. Also difficult captives.

Brown and Red-bellied Snakes (Storeria)

A common sight throughout their range, these tiny, gentle and terribly cute snakes almost never bite. They generally feed on soft-bodied invertebrates, especially slugs.

Garter Snakes (Thamnophis)

The most common, least specialized and most adaptable genus of natricine in North America, garter snakes occupy a middle ground between the small, invertebrate-eating species (Clonophis, Storeria, Tropidoclonion and Virginia) and the larger, more aquatic species (Nerodia, Regina, Seminatrix). Garter snakes are found in nearly every ecological niche and in nearly every Canadian province and U.S. and Mexican state.

See the main species page for a list of garter snake species.

Lined Snakes (Tropidoclonion)

Earth Snakes (Virginia)

Extinct Prehistoric Species

Holman (2000) lists the following species of natricine identified in the fossil record:


Collins, Joseph T. and Travis W. Taggart. 2002. Standard Common and Current Scientific Names for North American Amphibians, Turtles, Reptiles and Crocodilians, 5th ed.

Gibbons, J. Whitfield and Michael E. Dorcas. 2004. North American Watersnakes: A Natural History. Norman OK: Oklahoma University Press.

Holman, J. Alan 2000. Fossil Snakes of North America: Origin, Evolution, Distribution, Paleoecology. Bloomington and Indiapolis: Indiana University Press.

Liner, Ernest A. 1994. Scientific and Common Names for the Amphibians and Reptiles of Mexico in English and Spanish. SSAR Herpetological Circular No. 23.

Rossman, Douglas A., Neil B. Ford and Richard A. Seigel. 1996. The Garter Snakes: Evolution and Ecology. Norman OK: Oklahoma University Press.

SSAR Committee on Standard English and Scientific Names. 2000. Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico, with Comments Regarding Confidence in Our Understanding. SSAR Herpetological Circular No. 29.

If you found this website helpful, please consider making a donation toward my web hosting costs.