CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





Identifying Sharp-tailed Snakes (Contia)

 






map
Range in California

Red - Sharp-tailed Snake
Orange - Forest Sharp-tailed Snake

Click the map for more information




observation link

 


Not Dangerous
(Non-poisonous) 
Sharp-tailed Snakes do not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Two species of Sharp-tailed snakes are found in California:

Contia tenuis - Common Sharp-tailed Snake
Contia longicauda - Forest Sharp-tailed Snake

Contia tenuis
- Common Sharp-tailed Snake, is more widespread and more commonly encountered, typically underneath surface objects in open, moist, sunny areas in late winter and spring. Also often found underneath objects and in piles of leaves or other vegetation in backyards.

Contia longicauda is found in shaded wet forests along the northern coast.


Contia longicauda went unnoticed for a long time because of its similarities to Contia tenuis and because of the fossorial and secretive nature of sharp-tailed snakes and of their seasonally-limited period of activity.

The easiest way to differentiate the two species in the field is to look at the caudal scales and the tail length. (Caudal scales are the scales on the tail behind the cloaca.) This means the snake must be picked up and turned over so you can count scales - not an easy thing to do with a tiny, squirming snake.

C. longicauda has a longer tail with more caudal scales than C. tenuis.
C. longicauda
has from 43 to 58 caudal scales,
C. tenuis
has from 24 - 43.

The tail of C. longicauda averages 20 percent of the total length of the snake.
The tail of C. tenuis averages 14.5 percent of the total length.

C. longicauda has narrow black crossbars marking the anterior portion of the ventral scutes, covering only 1/3 to 1/4 of each ventral. The cross bands on C. tenuis are thicker, covering 1/2 to 1/3 of each ventral.

There are also subtle differences in dorsal and ventral coloration and pigmentation, but these probably won't help in identification.

Sharp-tailed Snake Sharp-tailed Snake Sharp-tailed Snake
Contia tenuis - Common Sharp-tailed Snake
Forest Sharp-tailed Snake Forest Sharp-tailed Snake
Forest Sharp-tailed Snake
Contia longicaudae - Forest Sharp-tailed Snake

Comparisons of the Two Species of Sharp-tailed Snakes (Contia)

Adult C. longicauda from Santa Cruz County, and Adult C. tenuis from Santa Clara County.

(The C. longicauda is in shed, so its color is duller than normal.)

Sharp-tailed Snakes Comparison Sharp-tailed Snakes Comparison Sharp-tailed Snakes Comparison
C. longicauda on left,
C. tenuis on right.

C. tenuis on the left,
C. longicauda on the right.
C. longicaude on top,
C. tenuis on bottom.
Identifying Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia) species

Contia longicauda went unnoticed for a long time because of its similarities to Contia tenuis and because of the fossorial and secretive nature of sharp-tailed snakes and of their seasonally-limited period of activity.

The easiest way to differentiate the two species in the field is to look at the caudal scales and the tail length. (Caudal scales are the scales on the tail behind the cloaca.) C. longicaudae has a longer tail with more caudal scales than C. tenuis. C. longicauda has from 43 to 58 caudal scales, while C. tenuis has from  24 - 43. The tail of C. longicauda averages 20 percent of the total length of the snake. The tail of C. tenuis averages 14.5 percent of the total length.

C. longicauda has narrow black crossbars marking the anterior portion of the ventral scutes, covering only 1/3 to 1/4 of each ventral. The cross bands on C. tenuis are thicker, covering 1/2 to 1/3 of each ventral.

There are also subtle differences in dorsal and ventral coloration and pigmentation, but these probably won't help in identification.


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 -