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Common Sharp-tailed Snake

Contia tenuis

Family: Colubridae

COSEWIC status:
  • Endangered (Coast Mountains population)
  • Threatened (Pacific Coast population)
SARA status:
  • Endangered (Coast Mountains population)
  • Endangered (Pacific Coast population)
IUCN status:
  • Least Concern


The Common Sharp-tailed Snake is reddish brown to gray in colour and there may be yellow to red lateral (side) stripes with rows of black spots below. The belly is white, grey or yellow with distinctive dark crossbars. The tail ends in a small sharp point. The pupil of the eye is round. The Sharp-tailed Snake is a small snake and rarely grows beyond 40 cm in total length.

Similar Species

Two other snakes in B.C. that lack dorsal patterning and may be confused with the Common Sharp-tailed Snake are the Western Yellow-bellied Racer and the Rubber Boa. The Western Yellow-bellied Racer is greenish to brown with a bright yellow belly. Juvenile racers, which are closer in size to Sharp-tailed Snakes, often have considerable dorsal patterning. The Rubber Boa is much larger than a Sharp-tailed Snake, has an obviously blunt, rounded tail and lacks the black crossbar patterning on the belly.


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In Canada, the Sharp-tailed Snake was primarily known to occur only in a few small and fragmented populations on extreme southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. In 2011, a mainland population in the B.C. coast/Interior transition zone was discovered some 200 km distant from this area, suggesting a broader distribution. In the U.S., this species’ range extends south through the Pacific coastal states into southern California. 


This snake inhabits cool moist forested habitat, and is most commonly found in open woodlands, forest clearings and forest edge. South-facing rocky slopes and cover objects, such as logs and rocks, are important microhabitat features.


In the early summer, Sharp-tailed Snakes lay between two and five eggs under rotting logs or clumps of vegetation or in rock crevices. The eggs hatch in late summer and the young are approximately 10 cm long at hatching. This species primarily eats slugs, but earthworms, insects and salamanders may also be consumed. When the soil dries out this species will often retreat underground. Little is known about the reproductive biology of this species or its longevity.


Habitat loss due to urban development is a significant threat to this species, especially since it inhabits coastal habitats that are often under high development pressure. At present (2014), the habitat of the only known mainland populations is at risk of being destroyed by a large urban development.

Additional Information About This Species In Canada