CaliforniaHerps.com

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 Gophersnake 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.
Gophersnake 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 Gophersnake.)

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 Gophersnake San Diego Gophersnake San Diego Gophersnake
This short video shows a Gophersnake 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 Gophersnakes 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 Gophersnake has two heads.
Two-headed snakes are rare, but they show up occasionally in captive breeding and in the wild.
California Striped Racer      
Many species of snakes can quickly climb high up a tree. This California Striped Racer was photographed high up a tree in Santa Barbara County.
© Francesca Heras
     
     
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 northern pacific rattlesnake
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. Juvenile basking outside hibernaculum in Alameda County © Emily Mastrelli
     
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 Gophersnake
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 Gophersnake Southern Watersnake
Gartersnakes are often seen in water, like this Diablo Range Gartersnake Swimming Santa Cruz Gartersnake
© Scott Peden
I watched this Sonoran Gophersnake
swim across a narrow part of the Colorado River from Arizona to California.
A Southern Watersnake swims across a lake in Los Angeles County.
Pacific Gophersnake Pacific Gophersnake    
This large adult Pacific Gophersnake was seen
swimming on a lake in Sacramento County.
   
     
Skin Shedding
Eastern Coachwhip racer racer racer
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." This Western Yellow-bellied Racer is about to shed its skin, which you can tell by the milky eye.

This juvenile Western Yellow-bellied Racer shows the milky eye of a snake about to shed its skin. © Joel A. Germond
california kingsnake Two-striped Gartersnake Puget Sound Gartersnake northern pacific rattlesnake
This California Kingsnake shows the milky eye of a snake about to shed its skin. Two-striped Gartersnake preparing to shed, with milky eyes. 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
southern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake
Adult Southern Pacific Rattlesnake © Stuart Williams.
This snake is "in the blue," and it even shows some blue coloring on the head and lower sides.
This adult Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is shedding its skin. © John Delgado
shed shed shed shed
All of these shed snakeskins were found in the field. Sometimes you don't find snakes, but you know they're around because you find their shed skins.
     
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 Gophersnake...
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    
Garter Snake shed skin Shed of unknown species,
Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
   
     
Snake Predation
california kingsnake california kingsnake Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake
A California Kingsnake killing a Pacific Gophersnake
for dinner in Contra Costa County. © Tim Dayton
Snakes are sometimes preyed upon by birds of prey, or raptors. Here, a San Diego Gophersnake is carried off by a Red-tailed Hawk in San Luis Obispo County. © Joel A. Germond
Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake california kingsnake California Striped Racer California Striped Racer
California Kingsnakes are powerful predators capable of eating other snakes almost as large as they are. Here you can see one eating a Pacific Gophersnake. © Patrick Brigg
The results of red-tailed hawk predation on a California Kingsnake,
Riverside County © Jeff Ahrens
Lonnie Fehr discovered this adult California Striped Racer cannibalizing a juvenile racer in the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County.
California Kingsnake California Kingsnake California Kingsnake California Kingsnake
California Kingsnakes eat snakes along with other animals. They are immune to rattlesnake venom, so they
sometimes eat rattlesnakes. This one is eating a juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake. © Kimberly Deutsch
This California Kingsnake is almost finished eating a juvenile Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.   © Michele Coughlin
southern pacific rattlesnake southern pacific rattlesnake California Mountain Kingsnake California Mountain Kingsnake
A California Striped Racer - Coluber lateralis lateralis, eating a juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake in Los Angeles County. © Anthony
This Sierra Mountain Kingsnake is eating a juvenile
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
, © Patrick Briggs
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
A California Kingsnake eating a Southern Pacific Rattlesnake in Orange County © Ed Smith
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake  
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake  
Stacy Holt with Death Valley National Park sent me the above six photos which were taken on 8/28/13 by National Park Service Employees Drew Kaiser and Shannon Mazzei. Drew and Shannon saw the snakes struggling at around 11 AM in near Towne Pass. A California Kingsnake was wrapped tightly around a Panamint Rattlesnake and the snakes were barely moving. Disturbed by the onlookers, the kingsnake retreated under a nearby bush. The rattlesnake was dead by that time, and appears to be biting itself, but was described as biting onto the kingsnake before it died. The kingsnake probably returned to swallow the rattlesnake after the people left.
You can see other interesting wildlife sightings on the Death Valley National Park Facebook Page.
 
southern pacific rattlesnake southern pacific rattlesnake Long-nosed Snake Long-nosed Snake
This California Kingsnake was discovered eating a juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake in the Los Padres Mountains, Santa Barbara County © Benjamin Bruno Chad M. Lane found this adult Long-nosed Snake in Alameda County eating another adult Long-nosed Snake. A report of the sighting was published in Herp Review in 2009 as the first documented occurance of cannibalistic behavior in this species. © Chad M. Lane
northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake Red Coachwhip  
A California Striped Racer eats a Coast Patch-nosed Snake in Los Angeles County, near Altadena. © David Couch Red Coachwhips will eat whatever they can find and overpower, including snakes. Darrel Roberts found this one eating a young Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake in his Phoenix driveway one morning.  © Darrel Roberts  
       
Human Use of Snakes
Rattlesnake art Rattlesnake Art rattles art herp stuff
Rattlesnake rattles attached to fiber cord, Chamacoco, (South America)
American Museum of Natural History
Life-sized deer made of the rattles of 657 large rattlesnakes, Buckhorn Curio Museum, San Antonio, Texas Rattlesnake rattle art, Buckhorn Curio Museum, San Antonio, Texas Snakes were used to make "snake oil" that promised to cure pains, strains, sprains, bruises, sore feet, stiff joints, sore muscles, and other ailments.
can Mondo Cane Mondo Cane Eva Nera
Humans around the world eat snakes, including canned rattlesnake meat.
© Lou Silva
Canned rattlesnake meat. The documentary "Mondo Cane" released in 1962 includes a segment filmed in a market in Singapore (where we are told that snake is the national dish) that shows a woman shopping for snake meat and a snake being cooked and eaten in an outdoor restaurant. This fictional movie includes a scene in a real snake market in Hong Kong where we see a snake skinned alive, chopped up, cooked, and eaten.
herp stuff Indian snake skin drum    
Humans prey of snakes for their skin. These items made of python skin were for sale in a store in Bangkok. Python skin hand drum, Mumbai, India    
       

Home Site Map About Us Identification Lists Maps Photos More Lists CA Snakes CA Lizards CA Turtles CA Salamanders CA Frogs
Contact Us Usage Resources Rattlesnakes Sounds Videos FieldHerping Yard Herps Behavior Herp Fun CA Regulations
Beyond CA All Herps


Return to the Top

 © 2000 -