You already know that snakes are some of the most adaptable and amazing animals on Earth.
They can inhabit a variety of ecosystems, from arid deserts to temperate regions with cold seasons, most can climb, swim, and move on land, and they can hibernate. Not all, but many can.
Given all these facts, can snakes live in regions like Alaska, where the cold season isn’t the exception but the rule?
The short answer is no, snakes cannot live in Alaska. As a snake lover, that’s the last place you should be looking in, aside from the Arctic regions, of course. But why can’t snakes live in Alaska?
Why Are There No Snakes in Alaska?
Fun fact, there are actually snakes in Alaska. You didn’t see this one coming, did you? Well, it’s actually true.
Contrary to what I just said one paragraph ago, Alaska does have its tiny share of snakes in the south region, especially in the Alaskan Panhandle, and we’re talking about the notorious garter snake.
This species has adapted to the colder climate in the region, and there have been numerous reports over the past several years from people encountering the hardy reptile in the Alaskan wilderness.
Other than that, Alaska is completely devoid of not only snakes but reptiles in general too. This includes other lizards, snakes, and turtles.
The Reptiles of Alaska
The only so-called ‘reptiles’ of Alaska that you can encounter in the region are actually amphibians, not reptiles.
Some of these include:
- Western toad – You can recognize this species by its bumpy skin and the distinct dorsal band traversing the toad’s entire back. This species is mostly found in wetlands and various streams of water in several parts of Alaska.
- Pacific tree toad – Pacific tree toads are easily recognizable by their green bodies, black eye patches, and predilection for climbing trees. However, they always stick to their preferred water sources, occupying the neighboring trees and branches.
- Wood frog – Wood frogs are small, brown, and smooth-skinned, with 2 dorsal skin crests traversing their back. This species is notorious for its ability to survive in extreme weather conditions, even when covered with snow and frozen completely.
These amphibians are some of the most resilient animals in the region, partly thanks to their ability to hibernate during the cold season. But this isn’t the core problem because many snake species can hibernate too.
So, this wouldn’t be an impediment for those particular species. Given this fact, why are there no reptiles in Alaska?
The primary reason is actually the average temperature in the region. You see, even on the coldest summer days, Alaskan temperatures won’t climb higher than 40-60 F, and 60 F is generally the temperature at which most reptiles enter their hibernation state.
The majority of reptiles require at least 75-80 °F as the lowest temperatures permissible to thrive. Which isn’t an option in Alaska.
Snake Sightings in Alaska
It’s weird to discuss snake sightings in a country that is almost entirely devoid of snakes, yet here we are. Believe it or not, though, there is some merit to these sightings because most of them are legitimate.
They’re just not what you think. Here are some cases worth discussing:
- Garter snakes – We’ve already mentioned this species and how it founds its way into southern Alaska. Just don’t think it’s commonplace to encounter garter snakes everywhere. These reptiles only cross into the Alaskan wilderness on the hottest summer days, but they don’t tend to stick around for too long. Even the most optimistic approximations state that it could take a century or more until snakes could actually survive in the Alaskan wilderness, if ever.
- Escaped pets – Just because there are no snakes in the Alaskan ecosystems doesn’t mean that the people there have never seen snakes or reptiles overall. Furthermore, many people even own snakes, which is quite feasible because you’re housing them indoors anyway; it doesn’t matter how the climate is outside. This often leads to incidents where people lose their reptilian pets, especially during transportation, which increases the snake sighting incidence accordingly.
- Accidental releases – Then you have accidental snake releases due to the reptiles escaping their temporary handlers. These are animals being transported to different areas for pet trading or other purposes. This has led to someone finding a lethargic ball python in Anchorage and a loose corn snake pet near the Turnagain Arm Trail.
Snake sightings are uncommon in Alaska, but they’re not unheard of. Even so, don’t hold your breath for one.
Pet Snakes in Alaska
Some of the most popular snake pets in Alaska include ball pythons, garter snakes (makes sense, right?), corn snakes, and rosy boas. Garter snakes are obviously the easiest to procure, primarily because their habitat is closer to the border.
Even if people don’t necessarily catch wild garter snakes, they are still easier to trade, thanks to their natural ecosystems being closer to home.
The legality of keeping various snake species and exotic animals varies depending on the case. For instance, all of the 4 snakes I’ve mentioned earlier can be kept as pets without a permit, but this isn’t the case with all species.
Some even fall under specific housing and care regulations, forcing the keepers to prove that they can provide the animal with adequate care.
It may take a while until the notion of an ‘Alaskan snake’ makes sense. Until then, take a peak into the reptile trade and get yourself a nice snake pet.
Or consider an amphibian instead, as Alaska has a fair share of those.