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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Hypsiglena chlorophaea deserticola - Northern Desert Nightsnake

(=Hpysiglena torquata deserticola - Desert Nightsnake)

Click on a picture for a larger view

Range in California: Red

Click the map for a guide to the
other species and subspecies.

Adult, San Diego County
Adult, San Diego County
Adult, Kern County
Adult, Kern Plateau, Kern County.
© Gary Nafis Specimen courtesy of Richard Hoyer
Juvenile, San Bernardino County
Adult, Inyo County © Jackson Shedd
Adult, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
Adult in coiled defensive pose, San Bernardino County © Michael Clarkson
  Adult, Riverside County. © Brian Hinds  
Habitat, San Bernardino County
Habitat, Riverside County
Habitat, Kern County

Habitat, San Diego County

Habitat, San Diego County
Habitat, San Diego County
Mildly Venomous
Not considered dangerous to humans.
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.
A small slender snake with a narrow flat head, smooth scales in 21 rows, and vertical pupils. 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.
Nocturnal, and also active at dusk and dawn. Can be found under rocks, boards, dead Joshua tree branches, and other surface objects. Often seen crossing desert roads on warm nights.
Eats a wide range of terrestrial vertebrates, mostly lizards and their eggs, sometimes small snakes, frogs, and salamanders.
Lays eggs from April to September.
Found throughout southern California, north to San Luis Obispo County, east and north along the western Sierra Nevada mountains, and into the Great Basin desert in the far northeast part of California, including Lava Beds National Monument. There is also a record for Siskiyou county north of Yreka near the Oregon Border, and an old record from Santa Cruz Island. Ranges south into Baja California, east throughout the southwest, and north into Washington.
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.
Sea level to 8,700 ft. (2,650 meters).
Taxonomic Notes
Some herpetologists no longer recognize any subspecies of Hypsiglena torquata, pending a complete study of the entire species.

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.

The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles based their 2008 list of scientific and common names on Mulcahy (2006, PhD dissertation, Utah State University). Mulcahy conducted a comprehensive genetics study of Hypsiglena, recognizing 6 species, three in the USA, and an undescribed species. He also maintained several subspecies designations.
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)

Family Colubridae Colubrids
Genus Hypsiglena North American Nightsnakes
Species chlorophaea Desert Nightsnake

deserticola Northern Desert Nightsnake
Original Description
Hypsiglena torquata - (Gunther, 1860) - Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist., Ser. 3, Vol. 5, p. 170, pl. 10, fig. A
Hypsiglena torquata deserticola - Tanner, "1944" 1945 - Great Basin Nat., Vol. 5, p. 59, pl. 1, 3, fig. 3, map
Hypsiglena chlorophaea deserticola - Mulcahy, 2006

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Hypsiglena - Greek - hypsi - on high and glenes - eyeball - probably refers to the vertical pupil
chlorophaea -
deserticola - Latin - inhabitant of a dry place - refers to its habitat

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

Alternate Names
Hypsiglena torquata deserticola- Desert Nightsnake
Hypsiglena torquata - Night Snake
H. t. ochrorhyncha, Spotted Night Snake

Related or Similar California Snakes
H. o. nuchalata - California Nightsnake
H. o. klauberi
- San Diego Nightsnake
T. hobartsmithi - Smith's Black-headed Snake

More Information and References
Natureserve Explorer

California Dept. of Fish and Game

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 which is published several times each year by the California Department of Fish and Game.

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

Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Game None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
Natureserve Global Conservation Status Ranks
World Conservation Union - IUCN Red List


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