Snakes in Hawaii

The are no native snakes in Hawaii, but there are 7 species found in the state. Regulations are in place to restrict them from being introduced to the environment, though some still slip through the cracks.

Introducing large amounts of new snakes to the islands could mess up their already unique environment, which is why snakes are illegal in Hawaii. They would be huge competition for the already existent animal populations that are native, causing them to possibly lose both food and their habitat.

Hawaii State Law deemed it illegal to own snakes as pets. Breaking this law can result in jail time for as long as three years and fines up to $200,000 since it is considered a class C felony.

Hawaii introduced a pardon or an amnesty program in 2017 that encouraged owners to give up their illegal animals. This was actually helpful and a lot of people came forward, but many snakes still remain in the wild.

However, some people smuggle snakes into Hawaii by plane or boat for profit. These black market sales bring exotic snakes onto the islands for people who are interested in owning one as a pet. 

Although there are also snakes coming in by mistake through porting ships that come from Guam, mainly. Guam accidentally introduced Boa Constrictors that hitched a ride to the islands.

Authorities have since tried to take care of the situation by controlling what goes on with boats to and from the islands.

In 2018, Hawaii Agriculture deliberately imported four Brown Tree Snakes into the state in order to train dogs to detect snakes. These dogs are used to help discover any snakes that might have hitched a ride through cargo, aircraft, or passengers.

Now that you understand the snake rules and laws of Hawaii, here are some of the species you might find on the islands:

Common Snake Species in Hawaii

Here are some common snakes that roam the state:

1. Corn Snake

Corn Snake in studio
Corn Snake in studio
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific Name: Pantherophis guttatus
  • Other Names: Red Rat Snake, Cornsnake
  • Adult Size: 2 to 6 feet
  • Lifespan: 6 to 8 years in the wild; up to 25 years in captivity
  • Average Price Range: $60 to $200 per snake

Corn Snakes are a type of rat snake, and will sometimes be referred to as red rat snakes. These tiny constrictors can make great first-time snakes since they stay a good size, are docile, non-venomous, and are relatively easy to care for.

Often mistaken for the Copperhead, these snakes have a tan or orange body with red-brown blotches throughout their backs length. Their undersides are cream or white with black spots placed in a way that resembles a checkerboard.

They also have slender heads which are similar to the width of their body.

Corn snakes can be found in forest openings, overgrown fields, and abandoned buildings. They eat whatever small rodents they can find and will also consume amphibians, birds, their eggs, other snakes, and lizards.

They are constrictors, meaning they strangle their prey, suffocating them before swallowing them whole.

In Hawaii, there has been only one sighting of a Corn Snake in someone’s backyard in 2019. There is still no idea as to how it appeared there, but it was assumed that it was another black market pet that got loose.

2. Gophersnake

Gopher Snake on rock (Pituophis catenifer)
Gopher Snake on rock (Pituophis catenifer)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific Name: Pituophis catenifer
  • Other Names: Gopher Snake
  • Adult Size: 4 to 7 feet; can reach up to 9 feet
  • Lifespan: 12 to 15 years; up to 30 years in captivity
  • Average Price Range: $30 to $100 per snake

The Gopher Snakes are heavy-bodied, docile creatures except when threatened.

These guys will require a very secure enclosure as they are escape artists. They also require a lot of space due to their size and active nature.

Gopher snakes are usually a light tan to brown color with large, dark brown, sometimes reddish-brown spots and lined patterns throughout their length.

They can be found in pine or oak barrens, savannas, and sand prairies where they do a great job at keeping gopher populations from overabundance.

They really like to eat small rodents, which is actually how they got their name.

One was found on Hawaii’s Big Island in 2014 slithering away from some shipping containers but it was killed by workers in Keaau shortly after being spotted.

The same thing happened again at a shipyard in Honolulu in the year 2007, then again near Honolulu Airport in 2012.

Since Gophersnakes are native to the west coast of the United States, it is likely that there are still more to be found on the islands.

3. Brahminy Blind Snake

Brahminy blind snake in Australia
Blind Snake Brittle on asphalt road with small stones (indotyphlops braminus)
  • Experience Level: Expert
  • Family: Typhlopidae
  • Scientific Name: Indotyphlops braminus
  • Adult Size: 2 to 6.5 inches
  • Lifespan: Unknown

These small, thin, worm-like snakes are usually a shiny silver-gray, or sometimes purple-looking with a blunt head and tail which look very similar.

They like to live in urban and agricultural areas and live underground most of their lives. They often frequent ant burrows and termite hills where they will eat these insects as well as their eggs, pupae, and larvae.

They like to live in areas like dry jungles, abandoned buildings, city gardens, and wet forests. They will be found hiding under logs, stones, leaves, and wet debris.

They are non-venomous and are completely harmless to humans.

They are found quite often in Hawaii, predicted to have been brought over in the ’30s through potting soil from the Philippines. Although there was an eruption of the species after they were brought over, there has never really been any effect on the ecosystems due to them.

4. Rainbow Boa

Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria)
Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria)
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Boinae
  • Scientific Name: Epicrates cenchria
  • Other Names: Brazilian Rainbow Boa
  • Adult Size: 5 to 6 feet
  • Lifespan: 20+ year
  • Average Price Range: $300 to $1000 per snake

While Rainbow Boas can become accustomed to handling and make fun pets, they are naturally quite defensive creatures.

These beautiful red-orange or brown-orange snakes have a distinctive pattern and radiant look to them. They have black or sometimes purple circular blotches all around their backs and may also have a luminescent rainbow tint over their bodies in certain lighting.

They like humid woodland forests as well as open savannas and are typically found in the basin of the Amazon River.

These constrictors feed on smaller mammals, rodents, bats, birds, and small lizards.

In 2013, a Rainbow Boa of almost three feet was spotted at a crosswalk in Chinatown, Honolulu. In that same year, another one was killed on Oahu’s highway by a car.

In Kea’au on Big Island, a 6-foot Rainbow Boa was confiscated and in 2015, the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture discovered the largest Rainbow Boa they had ever seen in Nuuanu measuring up to 7 feet long.

A lot of these Boas were most likely smuggled and sold on the black market with full intent. While there are definitely some lurking in the wilderness, it is possible that shipping containers brought some over as well.

The Hawaiian Department of Agriculture is dedicated to getting these pets out of the illegal trade and away from the wild.

5. Ball Python

ball-python-Python-regius
Ball Python (Python-regius)
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Pythonidae
  • Scientific Name: Python regius
  • Other Names: Python, Royal Python
  • Adult Size: 6 feet
  • Lifespan: 30 years in captivity
  • Average Price Range: $100 to $1000+ per snake

The Ball Python is the most popular pet snake to keep in the world. They are shy creatures that can learn to become accustomed to their owners, which makes them suitable for captivity.

They get their name from their defense mechanism of coiling up into a ball when they are feeling threatened.

Ball pythons will either be dark brown with light brown blotches randomly spread throughout their body or cream or tan with yellow splotches in the same pattern. They will typically always have smooth scales.

This species is native to West and Central Africa, so they like shrublands, open forests, and grasslands. They typically like some sort of coverage and will stay close to an open water source in order to cool themselves off in the heat.

They will mostly feed on rats and mice as adults. When they are smaller, they tend to eat crickets and pinkie mice.

In 2020, a hunter came across a four-foot ball python in the Kahalu’u Forest. The hunter turned it into the local humane society where it was handed over to inspectors, who still don’t know how it got to Hawaii.

Venomous Snakes in Hawaii

Here are some of the most venomous snakes that roam the state:

6. Brown Tree Snake

Brown tree snake on tree branch (Boiga irregularis)
Brown tree snake on tree branch (Boiga irregularis)
  • Experience Level: Expert
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific Name: Boiga irregularis
  • Other Names: Brown Catsnake
  • Adult Size: 8 feet
  • Lifespan: 10 to 15 years

Brown Tree Snakes are typically olive-green, or brown or orange-yellow in color with blotchy brown lines going vertically down the length of their back, making them appear striped.

They are sometimes called Catsnakes due to their cat-like yellow eyes. Their head is relatively larger than the rest of its body.

These snakes are super aggressive and are fairly venomous to humans.

They will inhabit tropical rainforests, mangrove swamps, sparse forests, and dry forests. They tend to choose to live near limestone cliffs, trees, and caves but can also be found in rural gardens, plantations, and human-made areas.

These snakes like to feed on bats, birds, eggs, and smaller animals. They might also eat lizards, especially while they are juveniles.

It is said that Brown Tree Snakes made it over to Hawaii through aircraft from Guam.

Up to this day, only a handful of them have been found, but it is crucial that they are all collected out of the wild since they are an invasive species to the ecosystems in Hawaii.

They are a serious threat to Hawaii’s ecosystems so officials are trying their best to screen all incoming aircraft and passengers with those snake-sniffing dogs we mentioned earlier.

In 2018, Hawaii Agriculture deliberately imported four Brown Tree Snakes into the state in order to train dogs to detect snakes. These dogs are used to help discover any snakes that might have hitched a ride through cargo, aircraft, or passengers.

They are only native to the islands that are between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but they have somehow snuck their way into Hawaii, spoiling the wildlife by feeding and reproducing.

7. Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

Yellow bellied sea snake (Hydrophis platurus)
Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake
  • Experience Level: Expert
  • Family: Elapidae
  • Scientific Name: Hydrophis platurus
  • Other Names: Yellowbelly Sea Snake, Pelagic Sea Snake
  • Adult Size: up to 5 feet
  • Lifespan: 7 years in captivity; Wild lifespan unknown

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake could be the only snake that might be native to Hawaii. Although they are rare to spot because they do not come onto land and are timid creatures.

However, they are highly venomous and a bite from them will send neurotoxins that attack your brain. If you are bitten, you must get antivenom and be treated as soon as possible.

These snakes are strikingly beautiful with their black backs and bright yellow undersides. Toward their tail, which looks similar to a flat flipper, the black turns into spots similar to a cow’s spots, covering its narrow, flat tail.

Since this shy swimmer doesn’t like to be near others anyways, sightings and bites are both a rare occurrence, making them less threatening.

There have not been any reported attacks in Hawaiian waters, but fishermen will accidentally scoop them up into their nets every once in a while, so we know they are out there although we are unclear about how they got there in the first place.

Conclusion

Although Hawaii has strict laws against keeping snakes, there are still quite a few that have snuck by, which can be detrimental to Hawaii’s delicate ecosystems.

We hope you learned something and found the information you were looking for.

Leave us a comment below if you’re from Hawaii and let us know your experiences with snakes on the islands, if any.

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