Across the globe, there are quite a few countries that don’t have snakes. And they have one thing in common: they’re islands. Aside from that, some far-flung parts of continents are too cold for snakes to survive.
Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand don’t have any native species of snakes. Northern Canada, Russia (Siberia), Greenland, the southern tip of South America and Antarctica also don’t have any snakes.
Snakes have a huge natural range. They can be found as far north as Scandinavia, and as far south as Argentina and South Africa. Not to mention, they’re on every continent bar Antarctica. But, there are places in the world that don’t have snakes.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Which Countries Don’t Have Snakes?
- 2 U.S. States with No Snakes
Which Countries Don’t Have Snakes?
The three biggest countries without snakes are Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand. Of course, there are also some states/places that don’t have snakes, such as Alaska and Siberia. Only a few countries don’t have any native snakes at all. These countries are as follows:
- New Zealand
- Cape Verde
- Many small Pacific island nations: Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands
Aside from these countries, you also won’t find snakes in the following locations:
- Siberia (Northern Russia)
- Central and Northern Canada
- The southern tip of Argentina and Chile
- The northern part of Finland, and anywhere north of the Arctic Circle
So, snakes don’t like the cold because they’re cold-blooded and depend on their environment to keep them warm. But why are there no snakes in warmer places like Ireland and New Zealand?
Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?
Snakes first begin to appear in the fossil record about 150 million years ago. But at this point, Ireland was far removed from any other landmass, so snakes had no way to get there.
Not only that, but back then, Ireland was much colder than it is today. While these days it has the Gulf Stream, which keeps Ireland and the UK warmer than other countries on the same latitude, 150 million years ago it didn’t.
While scientists think there may have been a land bridge between Ireland and England after the last ice age, for whatever reason, snakes never crossed it. Perhaps it’s because prehistoric Ireland was too cold for them.
Why Are There No Snakes in New Zealand?
New Zealand is geographically isolated from any other country. It would take a monumental feat for an Australian snake, like the coastal taipan, to get to New Zealand. It is possible for snakes to make their way to new habitats by crossing the sea, either because they swam or a current took them, but the distance between New Zealand and Australia is just too great.
According to the NZ Department of Conservation, even sea snakes only rarely visit. Yellow-bellied sea snakes and sea kraits occasionally pass by, but the water is too cold as it’s outside of their tropical range, so they leave.
Are There Snakes in England?
There are three species of snakes native to England:
- The European adder, Vipera berus
- The grass snake, Natrix natrix
- The smooth snake, Coronella austriaca
The European adder is the only venomous snake of the three, although it prefers avoiding people rather than confronting them. But why are there snakes in England but not in Ireland?
Well, when the glaciers retreated after the last ice age, the English Channel disappeared and was replaced with a land bridge.
Only these three species of snake crossed the bridge. Scientists can tell that this is what happened for many reasons.
Each of these snakes is found in Europe, too. Not only that, but the fossil record for these snakes starts after the last ice age ended.
Are There Any Caribbean Islands Without Snakes?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any Caribbean islands with no snakes. It’s true that these are islands that were only recently formed (on a geological timescale, anyway). The land itself has never been attached to any other landmass, so snakes from millions of years ago wouldn’t have had a chance to colonize the land before they became islands.
However, snakes have managed to get there. Some Caribbean islands, like Trinidad and Tobago, are very close to the mainland of South, Central or North America where there are plenty of snakes. Couple that with the fact that many islands are in chains, which are quite close to each other, and it’s possible for a snake to swim or get caught in a current that takes them to another island.
Not only that, but the water is warm enough for any traveling snake to survive. That’s how the fer-de-lance pit viper managed to get from its native Mexico and South America to most Caribbean islands. Aside from that, people have introduced some species, like the boa constrictor.
Other Parts of the World with No Snakes
Iceland is another example of a volcanic island that has never been connected to another continent. The fact that the Atlantic Ocean around Iceland is so cold also stops any snakes from swimming across, say from North America, or the U.K.
There are some tropical islands without snakes. Cape Verde is a group of islands similar to Caribbean countries, but off the coast of Africa instead. These islands, too, were formed by volcanic eruptions underwater. Because of their distance from the African mainland, they’ve never been colonized by snakes.
Out past Australia, in the south Pacific, many small islands don’t have snakes. These include the following:
- Kiribati, a group of islands in the middle of the Pacific
- Tuvalu, south of Kiribati, a group of small reef islands and atolls
- Nauru, an 8-square-mile island, only has the bimini blind snake —which was introduced. There are no native snakes
- The Marshall Islands, which again only has the bimini blind snake
Other than that, places like the North or South Pole, Greenland, the far northern reaches of Canada and Russia don’t have snakes. It’s just too cold for them to survive there.
U.S. States with No Snakes
Every state in the contiguous United States has native snakes. The ‘contiguous’ United States are all the states that share land borders.
The only exceptions are Alaska and Hawaii. Let’s take a look at both states, in turn, and why they don’t have snakes.
Are There Snakes in Alaska?
In northern U.S. states like Washington or Montana, snakes will brumate for several months in the winter. They hide underground, in burrows or in cracks in rocks, where they can shelter from the cold.
Snakes need to be able to brumate below the frost line. Soil and rock above the frost line freeze during the winter, while everything below stays unfrozen. If the snake were to experience these freezing temperatures for too long, they’d die.
Are There Snakes in Hawaii?
Hawaii is another tropical island that doesn’t have snakes. Like other islands that were formed by volcanoes, and are distant from any other landmass, snakes haven’t managed to reach it.
However, since Hawaii has a large population for a tropical island, irresponsible owners have abandoned their snakes and let them loose. There have been many sightings of snakes in Hawaii like:
- The bimini blind snake, which is found across the world
- The brown tree snake, which is from Guam, another Pacific island
- Sea snakes, like the yellow-bellied sea snake
Hawaii is the most remote group of islands on earth. Therefore, any plants and animals in Hawaii are unique to the island, having colonized it less than ten million years ago, but been isolated ever since.
According to the National Academies Press, these species are threatened by any non-native animals colonizing the state, including snakes.
Hawaii has strict regulations about the ownership of exotic animals. Nobody is allowed to keep snakes there as pets, not even with a permit.
Does Canada Have Snakes?
Canada does have snakes, but only in the south. The massassauga rattlesnake, for example, can be found in southern Ontario. Other rattlesnakes, like the western diamondback rattlesnake and the prairie rattlesnake, extend north into Canada, too.
But if they were to head even further north, it’s too cold for them. So, the northern reaches of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are far too cold—let alone the Yukon or the Northwest Territories. Not only are these places too cold in the winter, but they also aren’t warm enough for snakes in the spring, fall, and maybe even summer, too.