Guide Hiking Outside Yellowstone National Park Discovers Wildly Rare Snake: PHOTO

by Jon D. B.

Upon first encountering this rare snake in Yellowstone National Park, local guide Frank Hessler had to look the species up.

Typically, folks come to Yellowstone to experience bison, bears, and elk. But seeing one of these unique snakes, Hessler says, is even less likely than spotting a wolf in the national park.

“I was so stoked when I saw it. I was like, oh my god. A rubber boa!” Hessler, owner of Livingston-based Mountain Men Guiding LLC., tells Montana’s Q2 News.

A member of the boa family, the rubber boa is a small, nocturnal snake rarely seen by humans. It’s one of only two boa species native to North America, with the Greater Yellowstone area being one of their habitats. These unique-looking, smaller reptiles are far from what’d you’d expect for a snake, however. So much so, in fact, that Frank first thought the animal he was seeing was a large earthworm.

“I ducked down to look at it and I’m like wait, wait, no, my gosh! That’s… That’s a rubber boa!” he enthusiastically recalls for the local news.

Yellowstone National Park Quick Facts: Rubber Boa

The rubber boa is one of six reptile species and the largest species found in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo credit: National Park Service, YELL, NPS)
  • Scientific name: Charina bottae
  • Max Length: 28 inches
  • Rare in Yellowstone due to their nocturnal and burrowing nature
  • Coloring is brown or greenish-brown on their backs, belly is lemon-yellow
  • Scales are small and smooth, making these snakes appear and feel rubbery
  • Prey: Small mammals, amphibians, lizards, birds, and even other snakes

The rubber boa Hessler spotted was a small one; around 8-inches-long, he says. But when grown to their full two-foot size, they tend to look a bit more like a snake than an earthworm, as this classic illustration shows:

Man observing Rubber Boa (Charina bottae), illustration. (Photo by De Agostini via Getty Images/De Agostini via Getty Images)

Still, seeing one of these elusive snakes of any size is a remarkable day for a wildlife enthusiast and Yellowstone guide like Frank. In decades of traveling the ecosystem, this is only the second he’s ever seen.

“I saw one in like 2008 right by the boiling river in Yellowstone and I had no idea what it was then, so you do a little research and look it up,” he adds.

As for this latest spotting, “It was a really cool experience, super random just sitting in the middle of the trail just sunning himself as it was getting cooler out,” Hessler tells Q2 in their full interview, which you can watch here.

Cool indeed, as snakes are already rare in Montana. Only 10 species call the state home, but the rubber boa is the rarest of them all.