CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Variable Groundsnake -
Sonora semiannulata
semiannulata

Baird and Girard, 1853
Click on a picture for a larger view



Variable Groundsnake California Range Map
Range in California: Red




observation link



SoCalHerpsCover
Android and iPhone App
Electronic Field Guide to the
Reptiles and Amphibians of
Southern California.
Click for More Information.
Available Now at the
iTunes App Store
 and Google Play




Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake
Banded adult, Inyo County Banded adult, Inyo County
Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake
  Striped juvenile, Imperial County  
Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake
Banded adult, Inyo County
© Brad Alexander
Striped adult, Inyo County
© Brad Alexander
Striped adult, Old Woman Mtns.
San Bernardino County
© 2005 Michael Rathbun.
Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake
Banded adult, Lassen County
(First snake recorded from from Lassen County and Northeastern California.)
© Loren Prins
Banded adult, Inyo County
© 2005 Jeremiah Easter
Banded adult, Clark Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Benjamin German
Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake Variable Groundsnake
Adult, Riverside County
© Richard Morgan II
Preserved specimen (black and white banded morph) from the Bartlett hills near the town of Joshua Tree, San Bernardino County. © Jeremiah Easter Adult male (striped) and female (banded), San Bernardino County 
© Adam G. Clause
  Variable Groundsnake shed  
  Shed Groundsnake Skin, Inyo County  
     
Variable Groundsnakes From Outside California
Variable Groundsnake
Variable Groundsnake ground snake
Striped adult, Arizona,
© Gary Nafis, specimen courtesy of Randy Babb
Banded adult, Arizona
© Gary Nafis, specimen courtesy of Randy Babb
Adult, Presidio County, Texas
ground snake ground snake ground snake
Adult, Travis County, Texas
 
Habitat
Variable Groundsnake Habitat Variable Groundsnake Habitat Variable Groundsnake Habitat
Habitat, rocky wash, 5,500 ft.,
Inyo County mountains
Habitat, White/Inyo Mountains,
Inyo County
Habitat, next to Colorado River, Imperial County desert
  Variable Groundsnake Habitat  
  Habitat, Lassen County desert
© Loren Prins
 
     
Short Video
  Variable Groundsnake  
  A tiny juvenile Variable Ground Snake is found under a rock in Imperial County.  
     
Similar Snakes
Comparison chart of the 3 subspecies of Chionactis in California, along with the similar sympatric species - Sonora semiannulata, and the similar possibly sympatric species - Chilomeniscus stramineus.

A plain-colored Variable Ground Snake with black on the head is sometimes confused with a Smith's Black-headed Snake - Tantilla hobartsmithi, but the ground snake has a loreal scale, which is not present in Tantilla, and lacks the red coloring on the belly that is found on the black-headed snake.

Variable Groundsnake Smith's Black-headed Snake Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake
Underside of Variable Groundsnake Underside of Smith's
Black-headed Snake
Underside of Shovel-nosed Snake
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

There are shallow grooves on the outer sides of the rear teeth which indicates that this snake may produce a mild venom, but it is not dangerous to humans.

Size
4 - 18 inches long (10 - 46 cm) including hatchlings. Typically 8 - 12 inches.

Appearance
A small snake with a round body, smooth glossy scales, and a head barely wider than the neck.
Color and Pattern
Variable in color and pattern - this snake may be banded, striped, or solid in color.
Often several colors and patterns are found in the same location.

Some examples of colors and patterns are:
banded with black and gray or yellowish with or without reddish saddles along the back on the light bands;
solid grayish with a darker head;
banded with orange or red and black;
banded with pink and gray;
reddish-orange above with gray sides; and
gray with a thin orange stripe along the back.

The underside can be whitish or yellowish with or without dark crossbands.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Secretive but not uncommon.
Terrestrial, remaining underground in the daytime, surfacing at night or during heavy rains.
Sometimes seen on roads at night, often discovered beneath surface debris, especially rocks.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small invertebrates, including spiders, scorpions, centipedes, crickets, and insect larvae.
Breeding
Lays eggs from June - August.

Geographical Range
In California, occurs from eastern San Diego county east to the Colorado River, north into the Mojave Desert as far west as 29 palms and Barstow, and north along the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Nevada, and farther north in Lassen County.  (The first record from Northeastern California and from Honey Lake Basin in Lassen County was described in Herpetological Review 38(4), 2007, and can be seen in the above photo by Loren Prins, who made the discovery.)

Outside California, ranges south into Baja California, north into Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas, and south into Mexico.

Habitat
Inhabits areas with surface cover and some moisture: grassland, riverbottoms, desert flats, ranchland, sand hummocks, open rocky hillsides with loose soil, sandy washes, dry streambeds, and riparian thickets.

Notes on Taxonomy
Two subspecies of Sonora semiannulata are recognized since 2000:
S. s. semiannulata
- Variable Groundsnake, and
S. s. taylori
- Southern Texas Groundsnake.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Sonora North American Groundsnakes Baird and Girard, 1853
Species semiannulata Western Groundsnake Baird and Girard, 1853
Subspecies

semiannulata Variable Groundsnake Baird and Girard, 1853
Original Description
Sonora semiannulata - Baird and Girard, 1853 - Cat. N. Amer. Rept., Pt. 1, p. 117

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Sonora - region of Sonora - type collected in Sonora, Mexico
semiannulata
- Latin - semi - half and annulata - ringed - refers to the body cross bands which fail to cross the venter

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

Alternate Names
Previously recognized as Sonora semiannulata (No subspecies recognized.)
Western Ground Snake
Ground Snake

Related or Similar California Snakes
C. o. annulata - Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake
C. o. occipitalis - Mojave Shovel-nosed Snake
C. o. talpina - Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake
C. stramineus - Variable Sandsnake 
R. l. lecontei - Western Long-nosed Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

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

 

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 -