The narrow-headed gartersnake (Thamnophis rufipunctatus) is a non-venomous, semi-aquatic snake that is distinguished from other gartersnakes of its genus by the lack of stripes along its body and its elongated, triangular head. The narrow-headed gartersnake’s color ranges from olive to brown with dark spots along its body. Adults can reach a maximum length of four feet, with females larger than males. Narrow-headed gartersnakes spend the majority of their time in or around water and primarily eat fusiform (torpedo-shaped) fish such as trout and dace, salamanders and tadpoles. The species brumates during colder months of the year. Brumation in snakes is similar to hibernation, but animals may move on warmer days during the brumation period, whereas hibernating animals typically sleep.

Narrow-headed gartersnakes are found in central Arizona east into western New Mexico, typically at elevations of 2,000-8,000 feet along rocky creeks and streams. The species is listed as Threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. Population numbers have declined significantly across the snake’s range. Invasive non-native species such as bullfrogs, crayfish, and sportfish have contributed greatly to the disappearance of narrow-headed gartersnakes and continue to be a major threat. In some places, the snakes’ habitat has also been lost or fragmented as a result of human activities and development. People have also needlessly killed or collected narrow-headed gartersnakes.

Narrow-headed gartersnakes
Photo By Jana Maravi


habitat loss/


invasive species

how we help

at the zoo

Narrow-headed gartersnakeAt the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Conservation Center, we are working to breed narrow-headed gartersnakes for release to the wild, in partnership with wildlife agencies. The goal of these efforts is to strengthen existing populations and develop new populations within the snakes’ historic range.

Currently our work focuses on understanding how to reliably breed the snakes and produce offspring. This work has been generously supported by an Arizona Game and Fish Commission Heritage Fund grant.

Additionally, we are working with our conservation partners to test new methods for tracking gartersnakes in the field.



More than 40 narrow-headed gartersnakes raised at the Phoenix Zoo have been released to the wild in Arizona, in collaboration with our conservation partners.

This includes the largest-ever release to the wild for this species in 2022, with 25 individuals released.

Phoenix Zoo staff members participate in releases and monitoring of narrow-headed gartersnake populations

conservation partners