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Invasive Water Snakes Competing With Endangered California Garter Snakes For Food

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A non-native southern water snake eats a sunfish. ( J.D. Willson/University of Arkansas)

A non-native southern water snake eats a sunfish. ( J.D. Willson/University of Arkansas)

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SACRAMENTO (KCBS)— Scientists are concerned about two species of non-native snakes settling in waters around  Sacramento who are competing for food with California’s own giant garter snake.

UC Davis doctoral candidate in ecology and author of a new study on this issue, Jonathan Rose, looked at where these water snakes could potentially survive in California.

They took several factors into consideration including climate and the types of bodies of water they survive in, in their native habitats in Eastern and North America.

“We found that much of California; especially the Central Valley appears to be a great climate and habitat for these snakes,” Rose said.

Sacramento Snake Showdown: Non-Native Species Concerns Scientists

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According to Rose’s research, the non-native snakes are within 10 miles of the range of the giant garter snakes. “As far as we know, they could be closer,” he said. The giant garter snake is a state and federally-listed endangered species.

“[Giant garter snakes] have suffered greatly due to habitat loss.” He said the two species are aquatically similar and are competing for fish and amphibians to eat.

It isn’t known exactly how the non-native water snake arrived, but Rose says it’s very unlikely that it was a natural movement. “They don’t occur west of the Rocky Mountains, so it’d have to be through the aid of humans either intentionally or unintentionally.” Rose said the snakes are sold in the pet trade and that they could be accidentally or intentionally released that way.

If you’re afraid of snakes and like swimming in the river you shouldn’t be too worried about these species. Rose says they’re totally harmless and non-venomous.

“They do pretty well in areas near humans. They’re pretty tolerant of human disturbance, but they’re scared of us,” he said.

The main concern is the non-native snake’s affects on California’s food chain. Rose encourages anyone who is near a body of water that sees a snake that doesn’t appear normal or to look like a garter snake to report it to the UC Davis Department of Wildlife or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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