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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California







Snake Behavior and Life History

 










observation link

 


These are pictures and videos that illustrate some of the interesting behavior and or natural history of snakes from California and around the world.
Miscellaneous Snake Observations
       
coachwhip snake 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. 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
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 Northern Mohave Rattlesnake San Diego Alligator Lizard rattlesnake perception

Click on this picture to see an illustrated interpretation of the various ways pit vipers (including rattlesnakes) perceive their prey, using their eyes, their sense of smell, their ability to detect vibrations, and their ability to sense heat. © Frank Buchter
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 juvenile Northern Mohave Rattlesnake was spotted resting, avoiding the daytime heat, inside a small animal burrow under a desert shrub. A predator becomes the prey. Sort of...
A Ventura County San Diego Alligator Lizard bites onto the nose of a predatory California Striped Racer, leaving the snake unable to strike. Eventually the lizard released its grip and the two ran in opposite directions. © Melissa Wantz
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer
Sometimes snakes seem to come almost out of nowhere - because sometimes they really do. This adult Red Racer was photographed for about 20 minutes as it poked its head in and out then slowly emerged from a hole barely larger than itself in San Diego County © Douglas Brown
san diego gophersnake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
This short video shows a gopher snake digging earth by curving its head and using the curve to scoop up and move the dirt. The reason for its digging is uncertain. Three gopher snakes were seen in and outside a hole. The photographer carried them to a nearby field then blocked the hole with a stone. The snake seen here returned near the stone and tried to dig its way back into the hole. My guess is that since this occured in the April breeding season, one of the snakes was a breeding condition female who entered the hole for some reason and that the other two snakes were males attempting to mate with her. The snake seen here is probably a male attracted to her scent. This wild juvenile San Diego Gopher Snake has two heads.
Two-headed snakes are rare, but they show up occasionally in captive breeding and in the wild.
     
Snake Dens (Hibernacula) and Aggregations
       
Red-sided Gartersnakes in Den Red-sided Gartersnakes in Den Red-sided Gartersnake Den Red-sided Gartersnakes in Den
Red-sided Gartersnakes Red-sided Gartersnakes Red-sided Gartersnakes Red-sided Gartersnakes
The four pictures on top and the four videos directly above show thousands of Red-sided Gartersnakes in their spring mass emergence from hibernation, as they wrestle for breeding opportunities in the Narcisse snake dens in Manitoba, Canada.
great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake Northern Rubber Boa
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 over-collection when they are gathered around the den. © Tom Green - TomGreenPhotography.com Group of adult Rubber Boas,
Marin County © Chad Lane
In winter, it is not uncommon for several snakes, including multiple species, to share the same shelter. 8 boas were found under the same board along with a few Coast Gartersnakes.
northern pacific rattlesnake habitat southern pacific rattlesnake habitat northern pacific rattlesnake habitat northern pacific rattlesnake habitat
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake den site, Contra Costa County © Erik Grouell Southern Pacific Rattlesnake den habitat, Los Angeles County © Koby Poulton A deep crack in a large boulder serves as the entrance to a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake den in Kern County. A rattlesnake basks at the bottom right of the crack.
Deep cracks like this often harbor several species of snakes and even San Diego Alligator Lizards during the winter.
Wandering Gartersnakes and Valley Gartersnakes northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific 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 snake dens in Narcisse, Maitoba, Canada are a well-known tourist attraction. In this picture you can see a mass of Wandering Gartersnakes and Valley Gartersnakes after emergence from their winter den in Wyoming in early May.
© Leslie Schreiber
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake basking in March, San Joaquin County Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
northern pacific rattlesnake habitat northern pacific rattlesnake habitat northern pacific rattlesnake habitat northern pacific rattlesnake habitat
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
northern pacific rattlesnake habitat northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake
Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake at hibernaculum, Humboldt County
© Lee Hecker
Indian rock python Indian Rock Python Indian Rock Python  
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.
In winter, Indian Rock Pythons take advantage of sunny days to bask outside their hibernacula. When threatened, they simply crawl or slide quickly into the hole. These were two of several pythons seen basking and retreating into this hole in January in Rajasthan, India.  
     
Polymorphism

Animals that are polymorphic come in a variety of patterns and colors. Often young from the same clutch all have a difference appearance.
 
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake nw gartersnake
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake Northwestern Gartersnake
The Northwestern Gartersnake - Thamnophis ordinoides, is polymorphic. Notice the wide range of colors, patterns, and number of stripes on the snakes above. They are not all from the same location, but they are all the same species. (At one time they were considered to be several different species due to their differences in appearance.)

Studies have shown that the escape behavior of this snake is determined by pattern: striped snakes will escape by crawling away, since the stripes make it difficult to determine the snake's speed, while spotted or plain snakes will crawl, suddenly change direction, then hold still, as their pattern tends to blend in with the background.
(E. D. Brodie III)
Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake
Variable Groundsnake ground snake ground snake  
Variable Groundsnakes are also polymorphic, coming in a variety of banded, striped, and plain patterns.
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
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake    
This large adult Pacific Gopher Snake was seen
swimming on a lake in Sacramento County.
   
     
Skin Shedding
       
Eastern Coachwhip southern pacific rattlesnake Puget Sound Gartersnake northern pacific rattlesnake
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." Adult Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino County © Stuart Williams.
This snake is also "in the blue," and it actually shows some blue coloring on the head and lower sides.
Snakes start shedding their skin at the tip of the nose, as you can see on this Puget Sound Gartersnake that is just beginning to shed its skin.
© Filip Tkaczyk
This juvenile Northern Pacific Rattlesnakewas found under a rock next to its recently shed skin.  © Luke Talltree
northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake  
This adult Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is in the middle of shedding its skin. © John Delgado  
     
Snake Tracks and Other Signs of their Presence
       
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 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 snake tracks 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 snake snake snake
A Colorado Desert sidewinder crawls over a sand dune showing its characteristic tracks. © Jason Jones Shed snake skin Ground Snake shed skin Ground Snake shed skin
snake snake california kingsnake  
Garter Snake shed skin Shed of unknown species,
Rio Grande Valley, Texas.




The results of red-tailed hawk predation on a California Kingsnake,
Riverside County © Jeff Ahrens
 

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