A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Snake Behavior and Natural History


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These are pictures and videos that illustrate some of the interesting behaviors of some of the snakes shown on this web site. (Not all interesting snake behaviors are shown here, only those from this site. More will be added here as they are added to the site.) Follow the links on the name of each species to find more pictures and information about it.

Miscellaneous Snake Observations
Wandering Gartersnakes and Valley Gartersnakes Great Basin Rattlesnakes Great Basin Rattlesnakes Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
During winter, many snakes stay underground or deep in rock cracks, where the temperature is warmer than it is outside. They do not eat or move around much during this time. Some snakes overwinter in large groups. The giant snake dens in Narcisse, Maitoba, Canada are even tourist attractions. Here you can see a mass of Wandering Gartersnakes and Valley Gartersnakes as they emerge from their den in early May in Wyoming. © Leslie Schreiber Great Basin Rattlesnakes have been seen for at least 20 years at this den site in Nevada. It is important not to give out the location of rattlesnake den sites indiscriminately, because the snakes are vulnerable to attack or collection when they are gathered around the den. © Tom Green - This juvenile Northern Mohave Rattlesnake was spotted resting, avoiding the daytime heat, inside a small animal burrow under a desert shrub.
coachwhip Indian rock python
green ratsnake
northern pacific rattlesnake
I saw the Red Coachwhip in this video crawling around before it saw me. After turning around to move my direction, it became aware of me, raising its head off the ground in a state of alert, and wiggled its neck back and forth rapidly, while holding its head still, then turned around and raced away over the rocks into a bush. I don't know what the neck movement was about, but maybe it was meant to make the snake look more threatening. During the winter in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, when it can get very cold and foggy, Indian Rock Pythons retreat underground into large porcupine burrows. When the sun emerges on winter afternoons, they often move up to the mouth of the burrow to warm up in the sun, as seen here. They also emerge completely from the hole and bask in the sunlight with their bodies stretched out near the mouth of the burrow.
Most snakes are good swimmers and good climbers. This Green Ratsnake is climbing straight up the bark of a tree.

Rattlesnakes are often depicted in fiction as aggressors, leaping and striking viciously, often for no reason other than to give the hero an excuse to kill it to prove himself. The truth is that rattlesnakes are almost always defensive, not offensive, when they encounter humans, wanting nothing more than to escape, and the least heroic thing someone can do is to automatically kill them. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake in this video is seen slowly following a snake hook with curiosity, not aggression. The hook had been used earlier to pick up a breeding pair of snakes, and we decided that this one was probably a male that smelled the scent of the breeding female on the hook.
gopher snake Eastern Coachwhip  
This video shows how a snake uses its long forked tongue to sense its surroundings. (The snake shown here is a San Diego Gopher Snake.)

This dead juvenile Pacific Gopher Snake was found in Sutter County. It appears to have a leg, but on closer inspection, it is the leg of what is probably an alligator lizard that broke through the snake's side after the snake swallowed it.
© Kevin Bryant

The milky eye of this Eastern Coachwhip, which is close to shedding its skin, shows why snakes in this pre-shed condition are called "blue" or "in the blue."  
Animals that are polymorphic come in a variety of patterns and colors. Often young from the same clutch all have a difference appearance. The Northwestern Gartersnake - Thamnophis ordinoides, is polymorphic. Notice the wide range of colors, patterns, and number of stripes on the snakes below. They are not all from the same location, but they are all the same species.
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake nw gartersnake
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
© William Flaxington

© Alan Barron © Alan Barron © Jeremiah Easter
Snake Movement
sidewinder red diamond rattlesnake san diego gophersnake san joaquin coachwhip
This video shows the sidewinding locomotion of a
Mohave Desert Sidewinder
This video shows the slow, deliberate movement of a Red-diamond Rattlesnake as it crawls across rocks and ground in the desert at night. At one point, it continually raises up as if it is attempting to crawl higer, but it is on top of the boulder with nowhere to go. This video shows a large
San Diego Gopher Snake
moving quickly, keeping its body nearly straight.
This video shows the rapid movement of a long, thin San Joaquin Coachwhip.
Colorado Desert Sidewinder
Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake.
A Colorado Desert Sidewinder found on a road at night rattles and sidewinds. This video shows the rapid "Lateral Progression" movement of a
Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake

Snakes Swimming
California Red-sided Gartersnake oregon gartersnake california kingsnake Diablo Range Gartersnake Habitat
Video: A red-sided gartersnake swims around in a small cattle pond on a sunny spring afternoon in Alameda County. I wanted to get a closer look, so I walked over to the snake's side of the pond, but then it swam to the other side, again and again, until I got tired of going round in circles. Most snakes can swim. Some species spend much of their time in the water hunting for frogs and fish. This video shows Oregon Gartersnakes basking and swimming. California Kingsnake swimming across
a stream  © Nicholas Hess
Video: Diablo Range Gartersnakes swimming in another cattle pond in Contra Costa County.
Giant Gartersnake Sierra Gartersnake Sierra Gartersnake Northern Watersnake
Giant Gartersnake observed in an agricultural conduit, Sacramento County Video: A Sierra Gartersnake crawls and swims in a Tuolumne County lake. This adult Sierra Gartersnake saw a brown trout rising in a creek in El Dorado County, raced across the creek, grabbed the trout, and dragged it to the shore.   
© Gary Ridley
Video: Watersnakes(Nerodia) spend most of their time in the water, like this
Northern Watersnake
Diablo Range Gartersnake Santa Cruz Gartersnake Sonoran Gopher Snake Southern Watersnake
Gartersnakes are often seen in and near water, like this Diablo Range Gartersnake

Santa Cruz Gartersnake
© Scott Peden
Sonoran Gopher Snake
swimming in the Colorado River.
A Southern Watersnake swims across a lake in Los Angeles County
Snake Tracks and Other Signs
snake tracks snake tracks snake tracks snake tracks
Something big crossed here... California Kingsnake Tracks San Diego Gophersnake Tracks Southern Pacific Rattlesnake Tracks
snake tracks snake tracks snake tracks
Mojave Sidewinder Tracks San Diego Gophersnake Tracks A big Coachwhip quickly crossed here just before I took this picture. Patch-nosed  Snake Tracks
snake tracks
Western Yellow-bellied Racer Tracks Something big crawled through here... Shovel-nosed Snake Tracks Could have been a gopher snake...
Colorado Desert Sidewinder
A Colorado Desert sidewinder crawls over a sand dune showing its characteristic tracks. © Jason Jones Shed snake skin Ground Snake shed Ground Snake shed
Garter Snake shed Shed of unknown species,
Rio Grande Valley, Texas.


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