A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Escaped Pet Herps
Found in California

USGS Nonindigenous
Aquatic Species

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(Also known as alien, introduced, exotic, non-indiginous, non-native, and if they have been proven to be harmful - invasive species.)

This is a list of non-native reptiles and amphibians which have been introduced into California through the actions of humans. These species have established self-sustained breeding populations. Most of them have arrived recently, spread by humans either intentionally or accidentally. In some cases these established populations may prove to be only temporary and they will eventually die out.

Released or escaped pet herps of almost any species are sometimes found in the wild, especially in heavily-populated areas, but these do not necessarily constitute an established population. See our page of some Escaped Pet Herps found in the state. The CA Dept. of Fish & Game has an Invasive Species Program. to prevent the spread of Invasive species and to reduce their negative effects.

The intent here is to try to keep track of the established alien species which are the most common and widespread. There are certainly more species which have become established in small areas in California which are not on this list. (An example would be a population of House Geckos I've seen living inside a pet store in Berkeley for many years. It is doubtful these geckos have invaded the rest of the neighborhood and so they can't really be considered established.) More species will probably become established in the state in the future, and some introduced populations will disappear due to competition, weather, disease, intentional eradication, or other causes.

Please contact me by email if you find any wild non-native herps in the state.

Established and Breeding

Rana berlandieri - Rio Grande Leopard Frog Native to the southeast from the Atlantic to central Texas. Accidenatlly released near Yuma between 1965 - 1971, quickly spreading along the lower Colorado River area and the Imperial Valley. Range continues to expand.
Rana catesbeiana - American Bullfrog Native to the eastern and midwestern United States and southeast Canada. Introduced for food in the 1920's by commercial frog farmers due to its large meaty legs. Now established throughout most of the western United States and southwestern Canada.
Rana sphenocephala - Southern Leopard Frog Most likely first introduced into the Santa Ana River basin in 1929 or 1930, probably as larvae that arrived with other imported Bullfrogs, fish, and crayfish from Louisiana. Now common in the Prado Flood Control Basin.
Xenopus laevis - African Clawed Frog Originally native to South Africa. Brought to the US in the 1940's and widely used for laboratory study and human pregnancy testing. Also a popular aquarium pet. Escaped laboratory animals and released pets were established in California primarily before being banned in the 1960s.
Ambystoma mavortium (tigrinum) - Barred Tiger Salamander
Introduced into isolated locations in California, most likely through the introduction of released larvae used as fishing bait along with expanding irrigation in arid areas.
Anolis carolinensis - Green Anole As of 12/2012 this lizard has not appeared on any California state lists of introduced species. I am adding it now because it is apparently established around the San Diego Zoo in San Diego County. There have been enough sightings that I doubt they are all released pets. Of course, not until juveniles are found will this be confirmed.

According to Jones, Lawrence, Rob Lovich, editors. Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide. Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2009, a population of Green Anoles exists at the San Diego Zoo. They are also well-known from Balboa Park which surrounds the zoo.

Personal communications with San Diego County herpers confirms their presence as of fall 2010.

There is also a report of Green Anoles inhabiting a park in Carlsbad in San Diego County on FieldherpForum.  I have also received information of a sighting of a single anole in the Rancho Carrillo area of Carlsbad.

There is a voucher specimen in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History collection of a lizard found in Northridge in 1980.
Anolis sagrei sagrei - Cuban Brown Anole

I have received a report with pictures of an established population of Brown Anoles on a one acre palm garden in Vista.

I have received reports that a population of this lizard exists at a private residence and its surroundings in Palm Desert and another in Rancho Mirage. I have not been able to confirm these yet, but photographs show the species and the presence of several lizards indicates an established population.

A reliable herper also reports that these lizards are established at private residences in Encinitas on the San Diego Coast, but I have not been able to confirm this either.

I have received another report showing a neonate lizard found at a residence in Orange County.
Chamaeleo jacksonii xantholophus -
Yellow-crested Jackson's Chameleon
Native to East Africa. In California, Jackson's Chameleons have been introduced into San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties. (McKeown, 1997 Bull. Chicago Herpetol. Soc. 32:101.) Locations include Morro Bay, Laguna Beach, and possibly the Palos Verde Peninsula.
Hemidactylus turcicus - Mediterranean House Gecko Native to southern Europe. Spread rapidly throughout world, proabably through human transportation of its eggs in shipments of nursery plants, lumber, and other goods. A fairly recent arrival in California, continuing to expand its range.
Podarcis siculus siculus - Southern Italian Wall Lizard A population of this Mediterranean lizard occurs in a suburban neighborhood in San Pedro, Los Angeles County. It was intentionally introduced in 1994.

Details are given in:
Deichsel, Guntram, Gary Nafis, and Jonathan Hakim.
Herpetological Review Volume 41, Number 4 - December 2010 P. 513-14
Tarentola annularis - White-spotted Wall Gecko In 2006 it was reported on the internet that there was a population of these geckos in Redlands.
"...there is a thriving population of Tarentola annularis in the downtown Redlands area. I've had reports of neonates from as much as 3 miles from the possible spot of the original introduction."

William Flaxington confirmed that they were there in 2007.
Jonathan Hakkim confirmed that they are still present in 2012.

The species Tarentola annularis - Ringed Wall Gecko, is listed on the 2008 SSAR Alien Species list as native to northern Africa is established in Florida.
Tarentola mauritanica - Moorish Wall Gecko

Native to Mediterranean countries, found in isolated localities in California. Released or escaped pets are most likely the cause. The extent of the establishment of this species is not well known.

I found one published record:
This lizard has been introduced and established in San Diego County, California.
(Mahrdt, 1998, Herpetol. Rev. 29: 52)

I have also received a report that a population of these geckos inhabited a building in Hanford years ago, and might still be there.
Nerodia fasciata - Southern Watersnake Native from the southeast into central Texas. Established in and around Lake Natoma in the city of Folsom, Sacramento County, most likely from escaped or released pets. First documented in 1992 in Folsom.

See: Stitt, Balfour, Luckau, Edwards - U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service Report, April 2005.

According to Michael Fuller of the Nerodia Working Group, a reproducing population of N. fasciata has existed in Harbor City in Los Anageles for several years. While the snakes key out to N. f. pictiventris morphologially, preliminary mDNA results (as of 9/08) suggest that they are Nerodia clarkii, or possibly hybrids of N. clarkii and N. f. pictiventris. The habitat is a freshwater lake, typical of that used by N. fasciata, while N. clarkii typically inhabit brackish waters.
Nerodia sipedon - Northern Watersnake According to Michael Fuller of the Nerodia Working Group, and my own observations, a population exists in the vicinity of Roseville, Placer County, which is fairly close to the Folsom population of N. fasciata.

Consult the California Nerodia website for more information about Nerodia found in California.
If you find a snake you believe to be a non-native watersnake, go to the site to find out where you can send pictures for confirmation.

Ramphotyphlops braminus - Brahminy Blind Snake Native to South Asia and introduced around the world. Reported from Chula Vista in Herp Review, December 2010.
Chelydra serpentina serpentina - Eastern Snapping Turtle Introduced into a number of isolated localities in the state, probably as a result of the release of unwanted pets.
Chrysemys picta bellii - Western Painted Turtle Established in many locations in ponds throughout the state, especially in the south, probably as a result of the release of unwanted pets.
Trachemys scripta elegans - Red-eared Slider Native to the south and midwest, from eastern New Mexico north into Chicago and south to the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Georgia. Found throughout California. A common pet turtle. The release of unwanted pets is largely responsible for the wide introduction of this species in California.
Apalone spinifera emoryi - Texas Spiny Softshell Native to Texas and New Mexico. Probably introduced into the Colorado River system around 1900. Now ranges throughout the Colorado River and the Imperial Valley and in other Isolated populations, including several locations in San Diego County.

Status in Doubt: Formerly Present, Now Unconfirmed

Nerodia rhombifer - Diamond-backed Watersnake
This snake, native to the Southeast and farther south in eastern Mexico, was introduced to Lafayette Reservoir in Contra Costa County. First observed in the late 1980's, the population reached high densities in the early 1990's, bringing complaints from fisherman and other visitors who believed the non-native snakes were eating the reservoir's fish, frogs and turtles (which mostly consist of non-native stocked fish, non-native American Bullfrogs, and non-native Red-eared Sliders.) In 1996 a contract was awarded to a wildlife control company to begin to control the snake population. Just as efforts were begun to increase the control effort in December, 1997, large numbers of dead watersnakes and turtles were observed. The cause of the die-off is unknown, but dissected snakes were found to contain a respiratory tract fungus. An abnormally wet and cold El Nino weather system has been indicated as a possible cause for the outbreak. No watersnakes have been confirmed at Lafayette Reservoir since late 1999, but sightings are occasionally reported, and the population may still continue to hang on in low numbers.

Stitt, Balfour, Luckau, Edwards - U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service Report, April 2005.
Ctenosaura hemilopha - Spiny-tailed Iguana According to Robert Stebbins in California Amphibians and Reptiles, 1972, this species, native to southern Baja California, was once present in Fullerton, but its reproductive status was unknown.
Gehyra mutilata - Stump-toed Gecko A San Diego population in was reported in 1982 but it is no longer considered to be reproducing.
Sceloporus cyanogenis (serrifer)- Blue Spiny Lizard According to Robert Stebbins in California Amphibians and Reptiles, 1972, this species, native to southern Texas and northeastern Mexico, could be found at the base of the Palms to Pines Highway above Palm Springs. Whether or not it was established and breeding was unknown. It does not appear that they remain in the area.
Gopherus berlandieri - Texas Tortoise According to Robert Stebbins in California Amphibians and Reptiles, 1972, this species, native to southern Texas and northeastern Mexico, could be found occasionally in the desert where it was released as an unwanted pet.
Malaclemys terrapin - Diamond-backed Terrapin In the late 19th century hundreds of these turtles were released into the San Francisco Bay for use as a food source, but the conditions were not favorable for their survival and they were never established.

Occurance of Established Populations Reported, but Not Documented and Confirmed

These are not yet on the SSAR  Alien Species list of herps found in California.

Please email me if you have any pictures or additional information about any of these species or any other alien herps in California.

Many non-native herps have escaped into the wild in California. Alligators and Caiman occasionally show up in lakes and ponds and the press usually makes a big fuss over them. Most urban lakes contain a number of exotic species of turtles. (Jeff Lemm, in his Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region, quotes biologist Mark Jennings, who has extensively surveyed Caifornia for reptiles and amphbians, as stating that there are "roughly 30 species of exotic turtles found in southern California's waterways, although not all of these are established." There are certainly many more alien species that have entered the wild in the state, but these are typically isolated instances and do not necessarily represent breeding populations, so they are not considered to be established non-native or exotic species, and they will not be listed here. See the Escaped Pet Herps page to see some of those that have been reported to me.

Anolis equestris - Knight Anole (Cuban Knight Anole) There is an internet rumor that populations of these Cuban lizards occur in San Diego County. They have been established in Florida and Hawaii.
Chamaeleo calyptratus - Veiled Chameleon I have been informed that a population of this species native to the Arabian Peninsula was established at a location in San Diego County in the early 2000's and may still be there and could be breeding. They originated from the escape of a captive collection.
Furcifer pardalis - Panther Chameleon There is an unconfirmed internet rumor that populations of these chameleons from Madagascar occur in San Diego County. This seems unlikely as there are not any established populations yet in Florida or Hawaii.
Hemidactylus garnotii - Indo-Pacific Gecko / Fox Gecko Specimens have been collected from Lake Forest in Orange County, and from Torrance in Los Angeles County and depositied in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, but I don't know if they are established in these locations. Multiple specimens were taken from Torrance, so it looks like it could be established there.
I have received reports with pictures of other alien geckos that look like this species from Los Angeles and Palm Springs that have not yet been confirmed.
Geochelone pardalis - Leopard Tortoise

A population of breeding Leopard Tortoises has been reported at Mission Trails Park in San Diego County. These tortoises, originally from Africa, are common pets. (I have misplaced the source of this report. If you know, please email me.)

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