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.
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), attractive
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.
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, 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, 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, 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 readily
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/