Nothing you read here should be considered to be legal advice or an interpretation of local, state, or federal laws.
The information below pertains to private hunting and collecting of native reptiles and amphibians in California, not selling or trading animals. To download a PDF with information regarding captive propagation of native reptiles and amphibians, follow the link on the special permits page that should be labelled Native Reptile Captive Propogation.
A current California freshwater sportfishing fishing license is needed to take, or collect, reptiles and amphibians in California, except for rattlesnakes, that are not protected by law. (See the California Fish and Game Commission web site (http://www.fgc.ca.gov/) for exceptions, such as scientific collecting permits.) This license must be displayed by attaching it to the "outer clothing at or above the waistline so that it is plainly visible...."
Fish and Game officers have told me that all herpers need a license if they plan to pick up or handle a herp (except rattlesnakes) for any reason, including photography, even though they don't plan to collect it. The reason they give makes sense: if you have an animal in your possession, even if it's only temporarily, and a law enforcement officer sees you with the animal in your possession, it can appear to the officer that you are collecting the animal. Most people who are illegally collecting an animal will lie and tell an officer that they were not going to keep it, and this only makes it impossible for the officer to determine if you are also lying. So be smart, and have a license.
Many species of California herps cannot be collected without special permits. You are responsible for knowing the current regulations regarding herps if you plan to catch or collect them. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, etc. Consult the California Fish and Game Department if you have any questions about this. Be aware that there are also specific regulations governing properties such as regional, county, state, and national parks, and wildlife preserves. A valid fishing license may not give you permission to catch or collect herps in these areas.
The links below should direct you to the most current California state regulations. If this page is not updated by the time these regulations expire (February 29, 2009), go to the California Fish and Game Commission web site to find the updated link.
Also, be aware that the names used by CaliforniaHerps.com and by other web sites and field guides sometimes differ from those used by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG.) The names used by the CDFG do not always reflect recent name changes for some species, and this may cause confusion regarding which animals can be taken. This means, that in order to follow the law, you should be familiar with the names used by the CDFG and consult the CDFG with any questions.
Some herpers have lobbied for a herp stamp or some other system so that the state can know how many licenses are purchased for the collection (or photographing) of herps. Until such a system is established, the state has no way of knowing how many licenses they are selling to herpers, which affords them the opportunity to assume that herpers in general do not buy licenses.
A license is not needed to collect rattlesnakes. I'm guessing that this is probably for the benefit of someone who is not intentionally hunting for animals who feels that they need to kill a rattlesnake in order to protect themself, their family, or their animals, and to prevent an unreasonable expense to property owners such as farmers and ranchers who feel they need to kill snakes on their property. Whatever the reason, it seems to encourage the unnecessary killing of rattlesnakes. Nevertheless, by my reading, and I could be wrong here, there is still a two snake limit on the take of rattlesnakes, because rattlesnakes as a whole (not by species) are listed below the statement: "The limit for each of the species listed below is two....." I do not know if that also applies to the killing of rattlesnakes. Contact the CDFG for clarification.
To download a .pdf file of the current regulations, go to the California Sport Fishing Regulations page (http://www.fgc.ca.gov/html/fishregs.html) and click on the link labeled "2007 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulation Booklet (valid through 2/29/2009)(.pdf)."
The rules regarding amphibians and reptiles are found here:
Rules regarding Amphibians:
Article 4, section 5.05 - page 17.
Rules regarding Reptiles:
Article 4, section 5.60 - pages 19 - 20.
For any supplemental regulations, you should consult the California Fish and Game Commission.
These regulations are current until February 28th, 2009, unless otherwise noted. If our link to the regulations is not up-to-date, you can find a link to the most current regulations on the California Fish and Game Commission home page. The regulations should be available here.
For your convenience, I have copied the relevant sections from the 2008 .pdf document (downloaded February 2nd, 2008) which you can read below. All emphasis has been added by me and is not part of the original document. These regulations appear to be exactly the same as the 2007 regulations except for the page numbers.
The information below is not guaranteed to be accurate or up-to-date. (I have to say that because I don't want to get in trouble for giving out legal advice.) For the accurate, current laws, see the actual fishing regulations booklet or the.pdf document.
(a) Only the following amphibians may be taken under the authority of a sportfishing license, subject to the restrictions in this section. No amphibians may be taken from ecological reserves designated by the commission in Section 630 or from state parks, or national parks or monuments.
(1) Pacific giant salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus)
(2) California giant salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus)
(3) Southern Seep (Torrent) Salamander (Rhyacotriton variegatus)
(4) Rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa)
(5) California newt (Taricha torosa)
(6) Red-bellied newt (Taricha rivularis)
(7) Northwestern salamander (Ambystoma gracile)
(8) Long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum), except Santa Cruz long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum)
(9) Black salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus)
(10) Clouded salamander (Aneides ferreus)
(11) Arboreal salamander (Aneides lugubris)
(12) California slender salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus): See Special Closure (f)(1)
(13) Pacific slender salamander (Batrachoseps pacificus): See Special Closure (f)(1)
(14) Relictual slender salamander (Batrachoseps relictus): See Special Closure (f)(1)
(15) Dunn’s salamander (Plethodon dunni)
(16) Ensatina salamander (Ensatina eschscholtzii)
(Frogs and Toads)
(17) Western toad (Bufo boreas)
(18) Woodhouse’s toad (Bufo woodhouseii)
(19) Red-spotted toad (Bufo punctatus)
(20) Great Plains toad (Bufo cognatus)
(21) Great Basin spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus (Spea) intermontana)
(22) Couch’s spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus (Spea) couchii)
(23) California chorus frog (Hyla (Pseudacris) cadaverina)
(24) Pacific chorus frog (Hyla (Pseudacris) regilla)
(25) Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens)
(26) Southern leopard frog (Rana yutricularia)
(27) Rio Grande leopard frog (Rana berlandieri)
(28) Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)
(b) Open season: All year. The season closures in Chapter 3 (District Trout and Salmon District General Regulations and Special Regulations) do not apply to fishing for amphibians with methods other than hook and line (see sections 7.00 and 7.50(a)(2)).
(c) Limit: The daily bag and possession limit for each of the amphibian species listed in subsection (a), above, is four except for bullfrogs, which have no daily bag or possession limit.
(d) Hours: Amphibians may be taken at any time of day or night.
(e) Methods of take:
(1) Amphibians may be taken only by hand, hand-held dip net, or hook and line, except bullfrogs may also be taken by lights, spears, gigs, grabs, paddles, bow and arrow, or fishing tackle.
(2) It is unlawful to use any method or means of collecting that involves breaking apart of rocks, granite flakes, logs, or other shelters in or under which amphibians may be found.
(f) Special closures:
(1) No slender salamanders (Batrachoseps spp.) may be taken from Inyo and Mono counties and from the Santa Rosa Mountains, Riverside County.
(a) General Provisions: Only the following reptiles may be taken under the authority of a sportfishing license, subject to the restrictions in this section. The limit for each of the species listed below is two, unless otherwise provided. Limit, as used in this section, means daily bag and possession limit. No reptiles shall be taken from ecological reserves designated by the commission in Section 630 or from state parks, or national parks or monuments.
(b) No sportfishing license is required for the sport take of any rattlesnake.
(1) Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta): Limit: No limit.
(2) Slider Turtle (Pseudemys (Trachemys) scripta): Limit: No limit.
(3) Spiny softshell turtle (Trionyx spiniferus): Limit: No limit.
(4) Western banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus)
(5) Desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis)
(6) Chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus)
(7) Zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides)
(8) Colorado Desert fringe-toed lizard (Uma notata)
(9) Mojave fringe-toed lizard (Uma scoparia)
(10) Desert spiny lizard (Sceloporus magister)
(11) Granite spiny lizard (Sceloporus orcutti)
(12) Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis): Limit: Species No. 12-16 have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate
(13) Sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus): Limit: Species No. 12-16 have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate
(14) Side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana): Limit: Species No. 12-16 have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate
(15) Western skink (Eumeces skiltonianus): Limit: Species No. 12-16 have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate
(16) Desert night lizard (Xantusia vigilis): Limit: Species No. 12-16 have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate
(17) Long-tailed brush lizard (Urosaurus graciosus)
(18) Tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
(19) Small-scaled lizard (Urosaurus microscutatus)
(20) Desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)
(21) Short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii)
(22) Great basin collared lizard (Crotaphytus bicintores)
(23) Banded rock lizard (Petrosaurus mearnsi)
(24) Baja California collared lizard (Crotaphytus vestigum)
(25) Long-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia wislizenii)
(26) Gilbert’s skink (Eumeces gilberti)
(27) Western whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris)
(28) Southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata)
(29) Northern alligator lizard (Elgaria coerulea)
(30) California legless lizard (Anniella pulchra), except black legless lizard (Anniella pulchra nigra): Limit: One (1)
(31) Rubber boa (Charina bottae), except southern rubber boa (Charina bottae umbratica)
(32) Rosy boa (Lichanura trivirgata)
(33) Ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus)
(34) Sharp-tailed snake (Contia tenuis)
(35) Spotted leaf-nosed snake (Phyllorhynchus decurtatus)
(36) Racer (Coluber constrictor)
(37) Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum), except San Joaquin Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum ruddocki)
(38) Striped whipsnake (Masticophis taeniatus)
(39) California whipsnake (striped racer) (Masticophis lateralis), except Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus)
(40) Western patch-nosed snake (Salvadora hexalepis).
(41) Glossy snake (Arizona elegans)
(42) Gopher snake (Pituophis melanoleucus): Limit: Four (4)
(43) Common kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula): Limit: Four (4)
(44) California mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata), except San Diego mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata pulchra) : Limit: One
(1). Special Closure: No California mountain kingsnakes shall be taken in Orange and San Diego counties, and in Los Angeles County west of Interstate 5.
(45) Long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)
(46) Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), except San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia): Special Closure: No common garter snakes shall be taken in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, and Ventura counties.
(47) Terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans)
(48) Western aquatic (Sierra) garter snake (Thamnophis couchii)
(49) Pacific coast aquatic garter snake (Thamnophis atratus)
(50) Northwestern garter snake (Thamnophis ordinoides)
(51) Checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus)
(52) Ground snake (Sonora semiannulata)
(53) Western shovel-nosed snake (Chionactis occipitalis)
(54) California black-headed snake (Tantilla planiceps)
(55) Southwestern black-headed snake (Tantilla hobartsmithi)
(56) Lyre snake (Trimorphodon biscutatus)
(57) Night snake (Hypsiglena torquata)
(58) Western blind snake (Leptotyphlops humilis)
(c) Open season: All year.
(d) Hours: Reptiles may be taken at any time of day or night.
(e) Methods of take:
(1) Reptiles may be taken only by hand, except as provided in subsections (d)(2) and (3) below, or by the following hand-operated devices:
(A) Lizard nooses.
(B) Snake tongs.
(C) Snake hooks.
(2) Rattlesnakes may be taken by any method.
(3) Turtles may be taken by hook and line. Fishing methods described in Section 2.00 [see below] apply to the take of spiny softshell turtles, slider turtles and painted turtles.
(4) It is unlawful to use any method or means of collecting that involves breaking apart of rocks, granite flakes, logs or other shelters in or under which reptiles may be found.
Herps not on the lists of animals that can be taken with a valid sportfishing license
The lists above indicate which reptiles and amphibians can be taken. This simplifies enforcement for the CDFG, because any animal not on the list is automatically protected, including newly discovered species, and newly-described species.
I thought it would be useful to make a list of herps that are not on the above lists, and which therefore cannot be taken. (If I missed anything, please let me know. ) This is tricky because some animals on my list are probably not on the CDFG lists because they are newly recognized subspecies or species, such as the Wandering Salamander, which used to be classified as the Clouded Salamander. (The Clouded Salamander can be taken, but the Wandering Salamander is not on the list. Does this mean the Wandering Salamander cannot be taken, or is it still classified as the Clouded Salamander? One would have to contact the CDFG for the answer.) Another problem is the genus Batrachoseps, which has recently been split into many new species which are probably not yet recognized by the CDFG, and that is why they are not on the list of takable animals. For example, many of the Sierra Batrachoseps which were formerly classified as Batrachoseps nigriventris and Batrachoseps pacificus, have been re-classified as full species - B. kawia, B. regius, B. gregarius, B. diabolicus. This taxonomy and these names are in common use now, but the changes are not reflected in the CDFG list. The CDFG appears to be conservative, reacting slowly to changes in nomenclature. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, but it can make it confusing to those trying to understand the regulations.
Please do not consider the following lists as an official representation or interpretation of the current law. You will have to determine that yourself.
California Herps that may not be taken:
(1) None of the introduced
Tiger Salamanders - Ambystoma tigrinum (mavortium)
(2) California Tiger Salamander - Ambystoma californiense
(3) Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander - Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum
(4) Wandering Salamander? - Aneides vagrans
(5) Inyo Mountains Salamander - Batrachoseps campi
(6) Kern Plateau Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps robustus
(7) Kern Canyon Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps simatus
(8) Tehachapi Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps stebbinsi
(9) Desert Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps major aridus
(10) Black-bellied Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps nigriventris
(11) San Gabriel Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps gabrieli
(12 )Gregarious Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps gregarius
(13 )Lesser Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps minor
(14 )San Simeon Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps incognitus
(15) Shasta Salamander - Hydromantes shastae
(16) Limestone Salamander - Hydromantes brunus
(17) Mt. Lyell Salamander - Hydromantes platycephalus
(18) Del Norte Salamander - Plethodon elongatus
(19) Siskiyou Mountains Salamander - Plethodon stormi
(20) Scott Bar Salamander - Plethodon asupak
(The CDFG Batrachoseps taxonomy is confusing, so the following salamanders might be takable. Consult the CDFG for information regarding these species.)
(21) Hell Hollow Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps diabolicus
(22) Gabilan Mountains Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps gavilanesis
(23) Sequoia Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps kawia
(24) Santa Lucia Mountains Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps luciae
(25) Garden Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps major
(26) Kings River Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps regius
(1) Sonoran Desert Toad - Bufo alvarius
(2) Arroyo Toad - Bufo Californicus
(3) Arizona Toad - Bufo microscaphus
(4) Black Toad - Bufo exsul
(5) Yosemite Toad - Bufo canorus
(6) California Red- legged Frog - Rana draytonii
(7) Northern Red-legged Frog - Rana aurora
(8) Foothill Yellow-legged Frog - Rana boylii
(9) Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog - Rana sierrae
(10) Southern Mountain Yellow-legged Frog - Rana muscosa
(11) Cascades Frog - Rana cascadae
(12) Oregon Spotted Frog - Rana pretiosa
(13) Lowland Leopard Frog - Rana yavapaiensis
(14) California Spadefoot - Spea hamondii
(15) African Clawed Frog - Xenopus laevis
(1) Baja California Ratsnake - Bogertophis rosaliae
(2) Southern Rubber Boa - Charina umbratica
(3) San Diego Mountain Kingsnake - Lampropeltis zonata pulchra
(4) San Joaquin Coachwhip - Masticophis flagellum ruddocki
(5) Alameda Whipsnake - Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus
(6) Yellow- bellied Sea Snake - Pelamis Platurus
(7) Two-striped Gartersnake - Thamnophis hammondii
(8) Giant Gartersnake - Thamnophis gigas
(9) San Francisco Gartersnake - Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia
(10) Common Gartersnake - Thamnophis sirtalis (From Southern California, only)
(11) San Diego Nightsnake - Hypsiglena ochroryncha klauberi (Recently re-recognized)
(1) Orange-throated Whiptail - Aspidoscelis hyperythrus beldingi
(2) Black Legless Lizard - Anniella pulchra (dark morph from Monterey Bay)
(3) Peninsular Banded Gecko (Barefoot Gecko) - Coleonyx switaki
(4) Panamint Alligator Lizard - Elgaria panamintina
(5) Cope's Leopard Lizard - Gambelia copei
(6) Blunt-nosed Leopard - Gambelia sila
(7) Mediterranean Gecko - Hemidactylus turcicus
(8) Gila Monster - Heloderma suspectum cinctum
(9) Flat-tailed Horned Lizard - Phrynosoma mcallii
(10) Coast Horned Lizard - Phrynosoma coronatum
(11) Peninsula Leaf-toed Gecko - Phyllodactylus nocticolus
(12) Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard - Uma inornata
(13) Sandstone Night Lizard - Xantusia gracilis
(14) Granite Night Lizard - Xantusia henshawi
(15) Island Night Lizard - Xantusia riversiana
(16) Baja California Night Lizard - Xantusia wigginsi (This lizard may be included with Xantusia vigilis)
(1) Northern Pacific Pond Turtle - Actinemys marmorata marmorata
(2) Southern Pacific Pond Turtle - Actinemys marmorata pallida
(3) Snapping Turtle - Chelydra serpentina
(4) Desert Tortoise - Gopherus agassizii
(5) Sonoran Mud Turtle -
(6) All Sea Turtles