Thamnophis Proximus – Western Ribbon Snake

Thamnophis proximus - Western Ribbon Snake information (1)

The western ribbon snake, thamnophis proximus, is a nonvenomous colubrid snake found in the Central United States, Mexico and parts of Central America. It belongs to the genus of garter snakes and shows the characteristic dark body coloration with three longitudinal stripes, usually in orange and yellow colors. The western ribbon snake can easily be confused with the (eastern) ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus).


The western ribbon snake appears long and slender and its head is often broader than the body. The base coloration is dark brown, black or olive green. The species has one clearly visible longitudinal stripe along the center of the back, usually orange-colored. Two more longitudinal stripes in yellow, greenish or blueish colors run along the sides of the snake. The belly is cream-colored or white and the lips of the snake are completely white. A conspicuous characteristic of this species is a long tail, which can reach almost one third of the body length.

The western ribbon snake differs from the (eastern) ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) by two closely adjacent spots on the upper side of the head, which are either missing or clearly separated in T. sauritus.

Thamnophis proximus western ribbon snake found in Illinois
Can you see the two merge white spots on the top of the snake’s head? A tell-sign for a western ribbon snake. Photo: Greg Schechter

Since its range also overlaps with the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), which can also take on a wide variety of appearances with a central longitudinal stripe, the two species are often confused. Both species are harmless for humans. Its range can also overlap and confused with the Butler’s garter snake. Usually, ribbon snakes are more slender than other garter snake species.


Western ribbon snakes are medium-sized snakes and reach an average total length of 20-50 inches (50-127 cm). Males are generally smaller than females. Their body is more slender than other garter snakes.

Hunting Behavior and Habitat

The western ribbon-snake always lives near waters, often in densely overgrown, bushy terrain. It is day-active, a skilled climber and a great swimmer. It feeds mostly on frogs and other amphibians as well as fish.

Western ribbon snake hidden in rocks natural habitat
A western ribbon snake hidden between rocks in Illinois. Photo: Greg Schechter


Different from most other garter snakes, this species shows a clear territorial behavior and will not refrain from biting or aggressive behavior. However, the western ribbon snake has a comparably small head and will often have problems even biting through human skin. The snake is not a threat for humans and is considered a non-venomous species.

Thamnophis proximus - Western Ribbon Snake information (1)
A western ribbon snake showing its tongue.

Western ribbon snake range in the USA

While the eastern ribbon snake actually lives in the East of North America, the habitat of the western ribbon snake is not in the west of the continent, but it is found west of the eastern ribbon snake’s range in the Central United States in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nebraska, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas.

A western ribbon snake in Kansas black snake with yellow and blueish stripes longitudinal lines
A western ribbon snake with a blueish color. Photo: Nick Varvel

Subspecies of Thamnophis proximus

Currently, six subspecies of the western ribbon snake are recognized:

  • Thamnophis proximus proximus – orangestripe ribbon snake, western ribbon snake
  • Thamnophis proximus rubrilineatus – redstripe ribbon snake
  • Thamnophis proximus alpinus – Chiapas Highlands ribbon snake
  • Thamnophis proximus diabolicus – arid land ribbon snake
  • Thamnophis proximus orarius – Gulf Coast ribbon snake
  • Thamnophis proximus rutiloris – Mexican ribbon snake

Scientific classification of Thamnophis proximus

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Suborder: Serpentes
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Genus: Thamnophis
  • Species: Thamnophis proximus
Thamnophis Proximus – Western Ribbon Snake

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