Ten species of snake have been observed on the Reserve. An additional four species may be found on the Reserve. The California mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) is strikingly colored, with alternating rings of red, white, and black down the length of their body. The rubber boa (Charina bottae) is a small- to medium-sized snake that has a blunt tail and head, and dark-brown to olive dorsal coloration. The western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans) is similar in appearance to the common garter snake, but it generally has 8 upper labial scales instead of 7 in the common garter snake. Additionally, the common garter snake has relatively large eyes compared to the western terrestrial garter snake. Finally, the long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei) potentially occurs at Quail Ridge, although this is on the very fringe of the species’ range and the habitat is not ideal.

Common garter snake; Photo by Mike BenardCommon garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis (Colubridae Family) – Beginning in late May, common garter snakes are commonly found hunting Pacific treefrog larvae and metamorphs at Far Pond, Fordyce Pond, and the ephemeral creeks near these ponds. They are inexplicably absent from the Decker Canyon Pond and Dan’s Pond. These snakes are livebearing, and neonates first appear around the ponds in late June and early July. Palping some of these juveniles has revealed some of them to have eaten large Pacific treefrog metamorphs that weigh over 20% of the snake’s mass. When captured these snakes flatten their heads, hiss, strike, sometimes bite, and often will smear captors with feces and anal gland secretions. In 2002, a large common kingsnake was observed eating a common garter snake in Fordyce Pond (see below), and in 2003 a recently killed garter snake was found in Fordyce Pond with bite marks indicative of a coyote or bobcat. These snakes can be easily distinguished from the other garter snake on the Reserve by the presence of bright red scales on the body between the three bright yellow longitudinal stripes. They are medium-sized snakes (46-130 cm; 18-52 inches).

Western aquatic garter snake, Thamnophis atratus (Colubridae Family) – Only one aquatic garter snake has been observed at the Quail Ridge Reserve. This snake can be differentiated from other garter snakes of the area by the lack of red on its body.

Ring-necked snake, Diadophis punctatus (Colubridae Family) – These small (20-75 cm; 8-30 inches), Ring-necked Snake; Photo by Mike Benardattractive snakes are gray-green dorsally, with a bright orange or deep red ventral coloration and a bright orange/red ring around their neck. When disturbed they often coil up, hide their head in their coils, and expose their brightly colored tail in several coils. Ringneck snakes are observed commonly on the Reserve under rocks and cover boards from February through May, although they may be seen any month of the year. They have been observed under cover objects near Far Pond, where one was found to have eaten a Pacific treefrog metamorph. They have also been reported to feed on sharp-tailed snakes.

Night Snake; Photo by Mike BenardNight snake, Hypsiglena torquata (Colubridae Family) – These small (30-65 cm; 12-26 inches), nocturnal snakes superficially resemble western rattlesnakes, with vertical pupils, a blotched brown and tan color pattern, dark stripe on the side of the head, and a somewhat triangular head. They feed primarily on sceloporine (spiny) lizards and squamate (scaled reptiles) eggs, and occasionally eat frogs, other squamates, and insects. Only one has been observed on the Quail Ridge Reserve, under a log near Far Pond. Night snakes have small rear fangs on their jaws, but their bites have not been reported to be dangerous to humans.

California whipsnake, Masticophis lateralis (Colubridae Family) – These are fast, hard to catch snakes that are most commonly encountered in warm weather. They can reach large sizes (75 to 152 cm; 30 to 60 inches) and have relatively large eyes. They are diurnal, active foragers often found climbing bushes and trees, and eat a broad range of prey, but lizards make up a large portion of their diet. They can be recognized by their dark grey to black dorsal coloration broken by a single white longitudinal stripe on each side. Unlike garter snakes, there is no dorsal stripe.

Sharp-tailed Snake; Photo by Mike Benard Sharp-tailed snake, Contia tenuis (Colubridae Family) – Sharp-tailed snakes become active on the Reserve from December through April, and are commonly encountered under cover boards on the ridge that descends north of the station. They are small (20 to 45 cm; 8-18 inches), brown to gray in color, with a longitudinal red stripe on each side that fades as they grow older. They often coil into a ball when disturbed. Little is known about the ecology of these snakes.

Kingsnake eating garter snake; Photo by Mike BenardCommon kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula (Colubridae Family) – These striking snakes stand out from all other snakes on the Reserve by their black-and-white ringed bodies. They can reach large sizes (75-208 cm; 30-82 inches), and are active both diurnally and nocturnally beginning around May throughout the Reserve. They are well known for their ability to eat venomous rattlesnakes and many other snakes, but a large portion of their diet comprises lizards, eggs, and small mammals. A large kingsnake was observed eating a common garter snake in May 2002 at the Fordyce Pond.

Gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer (Colubridae Family) – This is another large (90-275 cm; 36-110 inches) snake commonly observed in the day and night throughout the Reserve beginning around May. They have a tan and brown dorsal coloration that comes in two forms. The most common is a blotched color pattern, but about 10% of the gopher snakes encountered on the Reserve have a pattern of longitudinal tan stripes. When threatened, these snakes often rapidly vibrate their tail tip, which sounds similar to a rattlesnake rattle in dry leaves or grass. Gopher snakes feed primarily on small mammals, but also include birds, eggs, and occasionally lizards in their diet. Yellow-bellied racer; Photo by Mike Benard

Yellow-bellied racer, Coluber constrictor (Colubridae Family) – These active diurnal snakes have a yellow-green dorsal coloration as adults, and mottled tan-brown coloration as juveniles. They have been observed throughout the Reserve and appear most commonly from May through the summer months. They are frequently found around Fordyce Pond in the afternoon. Adults reach up to 90 cm (35 inches) in total length.

Western rattlesnake, Crotalus viridis (Viperidae Family) – These large (37-162 cm; 15-64 inches) snakes are the only dangerously venomous snakes on the Reserve (night snakes also have venom, but this is not readilyWestern rattlesnake; Photo by Mike Benard transmitted to humans and is not very dangerous). They may be found throughout the Reserve. They begin to emerge from dens (which may be just a large rock with a hollow underneath) in April. For several weeks they remain close to the dens. As temperatures increase, they eventually leave the dens for most of the summer. They can be recognized by their large, triangular heads. The top of the head is dark, and the cheeks (labial scales) are cream/white in color, bisected by a diagonal dark stripe running roughly from the back corner of the eye to the edge of the mouth. The back of the snake generally has dark diamond patterns that give way to alternating dark and tan rings toward the tail. Most obvious is the rattle on the tail, which grows as the snake sheds skins (but the number of rattles is not a consitent measure of age in years). Rattlesnakes are live-bearing, and have an interesting range of social behaviors, including male-male ritual combat and, in at least several species, parental care until the first shed of the young.

Photo Credits: Title, Treefrog, and all snake photos (Mike Benard). For more pictures see: http://elib.cs.berkeley.edu/photos/fauna/

This page last updated: March 29, 2007  

Contact: Dr. Virginia Boucher
John Muir Institute of the Environment
109 The Barn, University of California, Davis, CA 95616
Phone: 530-752-6949; email: vlboucher@ucdavis.edu

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