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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


California Nightsnake -
Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha nuchalata

(Tanner, 1943)

(= Hypsiglena torquata nuchalata)
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Hypsiglena CA Range Map
Range in California: Purple

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California Nightsnake California Nightsnake California Nightsnake
  Adult, Alameda County  
California Nightsnake California Nightsnake California Nightsnake
Adult, Alameda County Juvenile, Alameda County Adult, Alameda County
California Nightsnake California Nightsnake California Nightsnake
Adult, San Joaquin County Adult, Contra Costa County Adult, San Joaquin County
© Sam Murray
California Nightsnake California Nightsnake California Nightsnake
Juvenile, Calaveras County © Chad M. Lane Adult, Tuolumne County
© 2005 Rick Staub
California Nightsnake California Nightsnake California Nightsnake
Adult, Santa Cruz County  © Zach Lim Adult, Santa Cruz County  © Zach Lim
California Nightsnake California Nightsnake California Nightsnake
Adult, San Mateo County  © Zach Lim
Adult, Santa Clara County
© John Worden
  California Nightsnake  
  Adult, Greenhorn Mountains,
Kern County © Ryan Sikola
 
     
Habitat
California Nightsnake Habitat California Nightsnake Habitat California Nightsnake Habitat
Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, Alameda County
California Nightsnake Habitat California Nightsnake Habitat California Nightsnake Habitat
Habitat, Contra Costa County Habitat, San Joaquin County Habitat, San Joaquin County
California Nightsnake Habitat California Nightsnake Habitat  
Habitat, San Mateo County © Zach Lim  
     
Short Video
  California Nightsnake  
  An uncooperative California Nightsnake found on a road at night refuses to do anything worth putting on video.  
   
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  - Mildly venomous, but not considered harmful to most humans.

Size
Adults can be 12 - 26 inches long (30-66 cm.) Most seen are 8 - 12 inches long, rarely over 16 inches.
Hatchlings are about 7 inches in length.

Appearance
A small slender snake with a narrow flat head, smooth scales in 19 rows, and vertical pupils.
Color and Pattern
Color varies, often matching the substrate, from light gray, light brown, beige, to tan or cream, with dark brown or gray blotches on the back and sides.
Usually a pair of large dark markings on the neck and a dark bar through or behind the eyes.
Whitish or yellowish and unmarked underneath.
Subspecies Variation
H. o. nuchalata is "…characterized by large nuchal blotches on the sides that often come together to form a collar, and one row of large dorsal body blotches; the eye stripe comes to a point, just contacting the lateral blotches or collar."

H. o. klauberi
"is characterized by a three-part nuchal collar formed by two lateral blotches, not in contact with the eye stripe, and an elongate, irregular median nape spot."  1

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Nocturnal, and also active at dusk and dawn.
Can be found under rocks, boards, logs, and other surface objects.
Sometimes seen crossing roads on warm nights.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a wide range of terrestrial vertebrates, mostly lizards and their eggs, sometimes small snakes, frogs, and salamanders.
Breeding
Lays eggs from April to September.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha nuchalata - California Nightsnake, is found along the south Coast Ranges from San Luis Obispo county north to the Bay Area, then north on the eastern slopes of the north Coast Range to Shasta County, and down the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, basically ringing the central valley, but not found in the valley itself.

The species, Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha - Nightsnake, is found in a ring around the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, including the south coast ranges, and the inner north coast ranges and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and south into coastal Southern California.
Elevational Range
Sea level to 8,700 ft. (2,650 meters).

Habitat
Found in a variety of habitats, often arid areas, from chaparral, Sagebrush flats, deserts, suburban lots and gardens, mountain meadows, grassland. Most commonly found in areas with abundant surface cover.

Notes on Taxonomy
Mulcahy, 2008, conducted a comprehensive genetics study of Hypsiglena, recognizing 6 species, three in the USA, and an undescribed species, all from the one previous species of Hypsiglena torquata. He also maintained several subspecies designations. Within California: H. chlorophaea, and H. ochrorhyncha "…were each recovered as groups of multiple subspecies. The subspecies within these wide-ranging species were maintained pending further evaluation. These subspecies may represent incipient species that may not yet have achieved reciprocal monophyly, but possess unique morphologies, and are geographically discrete." 1

Grismer et al. (1994 Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Science 93(2): 45-80) synonymized the Hypsiglena torquata subspecies deserticola and klauberi because they intergraded widely.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Hypsiglena North American Nightsnakes Cope, 1860
Species ochrorhyncha Nightsnake Cope, 1860
Subspecies

nuchalata California Nightsnake (Tanner, 1943)
Original Description
Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha - Cope, 1860
klauberi - (Tanner, 1943)

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Hypsiglena - Greek - hypsi - on high and glenes - eyeball - probably refers to the vertical pupil

nuchalata - Latin - nucha - neck and latus - side -- "pertaining to the side of the neck"

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

ochrorhyncha - yellow-ochre snout: ochro - Greek (ochra) - yellow-ochre, and rhynchos - a beak, snout

from Jaeger, Edmund C. A Source-book of Biological Names and Terms Third Edition. Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1962.

Alternate Names
Hypsiglena torquata - Night Snake
Hypsiglena ochrorhynchus - Coast Night Snake

Related or Similar California Snakes
H. o. klauberi - San Diego Nightsnake
H. clorophaea deserticola - Northern Desert Nightsnake
T. hobartsmithi
- Smith's Black-headed Snake
Tantilla planiceps - Western Black-headed Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

1 Daniel G. Mulcahy. Phylogeography and species boundaries of the western North American Night snake (Hypsiglena torquata): Revisiting the subspecies concept. ScienceDirect - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 46 (2008) 1095-1115.

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.


Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None

 

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