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Lined Snake

Tropidoclonion lineatum

What do they look like?

Lined snakes are small and thin. They have small heads that are hardly wider than their body. Their bodies are olive-brown to gray-brown, and they have a light stripe down the middle of their back that is white to orange. There are two more stripes along the sides. The scales on the belly are white, with two rows of black, half moon-shaped scales down the center. Adults are 22 to 38 cm long. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011; "Tropidoclonion lineatum -- Lined Snake", 2009; Conant and Collins, 1991; Ramsey, 1953; Smith, 1965; "Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center", 2006)

Lined snakes look a lot like western ribbon snakes, and they live in some of the same areas. However, ribbon snakes don't have the same double row of black half-moon scales on their belly. Lined snakes also look similar to crayfish snakes, but those have ridges on their scales. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011; "Tropidoclonion lineatum -- Lined Snake", 2009; Conant and Collins, 1991; Ramsey, 1953; "Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center", 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    22 to 38 cm
    8.66 to 14.96 in

Where do they live?

Lined snakes live in the Great Plains of the United States, from southeastern South Dakota to Texas. Other groups of them live in New Mexico, eastern Colorado, southeast Iowa, and central Illinois. There are 4 subspecies of lined snakes, which are central lined snakes, northern lined snakes, Merten's lined snakes, and Texas lined snakes. (Conant and Collins, 1991; Ramsey, 1953)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Lined snakes live in open prairies, at the edges of open forests, in vacant lots, and places where humans live. In the winter, they hibernate in the crevices of rocky outcroppings. They usually hibernate in spots that are 6 to 8 inches deep. (Conant and Collins, 1991; LeClere, 2011; Ramsey, 1953; "Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center", 2006)

  • Range elevation
    1828 (high) m
    5997.38 (high) ft

How do they grow?

When the young are born, they look just like smaller versions of adults. Like most snakes, they never stop growing. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011)

How do they reproduce?

Scientists don't know many details about mating systems of lined snakes, but both males and females have multiple mates. Similar species recognize and attract each other using chemical signals called pheromones. (Garstka, 1981; Ross, 1978)

Female lined snakes are able to produce eggs inside their bodies when they are 2 years old. Lined snakes breed in the fall and eggs are fertilized in spring. Young snakes develop inside the mother until they are born in August. They are able to be independent right after they are born. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Lined snakes breed once yearly in the spring.
  • Breeding season
    Birth of live young occurs in late summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 12
  • Range gestation period
    3 to 5 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years

Female lined snakes provide nutrients and protection to her young as they grow inside her body. The young are born fully independent, and parents don't care for the young after they are born. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

Scientists don't know the average lifespan of lined snakes, but closely related garter snakes live 3 to 10 years. Lined snakes die on busy roads, and are threatened by habitat loss from farming and building buildings. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011; Garstka, 1981)

How do they behave?

Lined snakes are active from March to November. The spend the winter in cracks and crevices in rock or animal burrows that below the frost line. They come out of hibernation in March or April. They are most likely to be found at the surface in cooler spring months, especially after heavy rains. In the hot summer, they spend more time in the holes they live in underground. They are mostly active at night, but will lay outside in the sun in early spring and fall. Usually they are alone, but it's not uncommon to find a few of them together. If bothered by humans, they thrash around and give off a perfume. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011; "Tropidoclonion lineatum -- Lined Snake", 2009; Force, 1931)

  • Range territory size
    1,500 to 3,400 m^2

Home Range

Scientists don't know much about the home ranges of lined snakes. Their close relatives garter snakes live and hunt within an area of 1,500 sq m in the summer, and 3,400 sq m in the winter. On the other hand, lined snakes don't live in California like those garter snakes do. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011; Zeiner, 1990)

How do they communicate with each other?

The most important senses in snakes are sight, feeling ground vibrations, taste, and smell. Female snakes release chemicals called pheromones which males respond to by courting them. (Garstka, 1981; Ross, 1978; Zeiner, 1990)

What do they eat?

Lined snakes eat mostly earthworms. They search for food at night or after a rainstorm, when the worms are most active. They also eat sow bugs, snails, slugs, and insects with soft bodies. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011; LeClere, 2011)

  • Animal Foods
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Lined snakes are eaten by different kinds of mammals and birds. Their colors are camougladed and they spend a lot of time hiding to avoid predators. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Lined snakes are both predators and prey in their ecosystems. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011)

Do they cause problems?

Lined snakes have ended up in residential and commercial areas in some places. They might bite humans, but aren't poisonous. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

How do they interact with us?

Lined snakes are part of the pet trade, but not valuable like garter snakes are. (Kaplan, 2009)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pet trade

Are they endangered?

Lined snakes are not threatened or endangered. ("MN Department of Natural Resources", 2011)


Keri O'Keefe (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.


2011. "MN Department of Natural Resources" (On-line). Tropidoclonion lineatum. Accessed April 03, 2011 at

United States Geological Survey. 2006. "Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center" (On-line). Fragile legacy: Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Animals of South Dakota. Accessed April 03, 2011 at

Illinois Natural History Survey. Tropidoclonion lineatum -- Lined Snake. 2009. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois. 2009. Accessed April 03, 2011 at

Conant, R., J. Collins. 1991. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Force, E. 1931. Habits and Birth of Young of the Lined Snake, Tropidoclonion lineatum. Copeia, 2: 51-53.

Garstka, W. 1981. Female sex pheromone in the skin and circulation of garter snake. Science, 214: 681-683.

Kaplan, M. 2009. "HerpCare Collection" (On-line). Garter Snakes: an overview of their natural history and care in captivity. Accessed April 26, 2011 at

LeClere, J. 2011. "Amphibians and Reptiles of Minnesota" (On-line). Lined Snake-Tropidoclonion lineatum. Accessed April 04, 2011 at

MacRae, M. 2008. "Canadian Wildlife Federation" (On-line). Common Garter Snake. Accessed April 26, 2011 at

Ramsey, L. 1953. The Lined Snake, Tropidoclonion lineatum. Herpetologica, 9: 7-24.

Ross, P. 1978. Stimuli Influencing Mating Behavior in the Garter Snake, Thamnophis radix. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 4: 133-142.

Smith, H. 1965. Two New Colubrid Snakes from the United States and Mexico. Journal of the Ohio Herpetological Soceity, 5: 1-4.

Zeiner, D. 1990. Life history accounts for species in the California Wildlife habitat relationships. California's Wildlife, 1: 1-3.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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O'Keefe, K. 2012. "Tropidoclonion lineatum" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 30, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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