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and Reptiles of California


Western Black-headed Snake - Tantilla planiceps

(Blainville, 1835)
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Western Black-headed Snake Range Map
Range in California: Red

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Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake
Adult, Alameda County Adult, Alameda County
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake
  Adult, Imperial County.  
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake snakeWestern Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake
Adult, Alameda County. © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of John Worden. Adult, San Diego County
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake
Adult, Imperial County Adult, San Diego County
Adult, San Diego County
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake
Adult, Ojai, Ventura County
© Michael Inaba

Adult, Los Angeles County, found active on the surface during daylight on a summer evening. © Trevor Yehle
Adult, Riverside County © Brian Hinds Adult, Ojai, Ventura County
© Michael Inaba
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake
Adult, Riveside County © Brad Alexander Adult, San Diego County © Dick Bartlett
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake
Adult, Alameda County © David Jahn Adult, San Diego County
© Dan Kennedy
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake
Adult, San Bernardino County © Jeff Teel Adult, Orange County
© Mike Pecora
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake  
Juvenile, Alameda County © Mark Gary

 
Habitat
Western Black-headed Snake Habitat Western Black-headed Snake Habitat Western Black-headed Snake Habitat Western Black-headed Snake Habitat
Habitat, Imperial County desert Habitat, grassland, Alameda County Habitat, grassland, San Joaquin County Habitat, grassland, Alameda County
Western Black-headed Snake Habitat Western Black-headed Snake Habitat Western Black-headed Snake Habitat San Diego Ring-necked Snake Habitat
Habitat, Riverside County hills Habitat, San Diego County San Diego County coastal sage habitat San Diego County coastal sage habitat
Western Black-headed Snake Habitat      
Habitat, Alameda County © Mark Gary

     
Short Videos
Western Black-headed Snake Western Black-headed Snake    
A Western Black-headed Snake discovered at night crawling in a sandy wash in Imperial County.

Four of us decided to stop road cruising at night for herps and walk around a rocky spot in the desert with flashlights. Granite night and leaf-toed lizards were out on the rocks along with a few banded rock lizards and a couple of chuckwallas. We saw red-diamond and speckled rattlesnakes and a rosy boa. Then Stuart Young spotted this little Tantilla crawling in the sand in a wash I had just walked across before him. It's always nice to see such a reclusive snake active in its habitat. I decided to film it exactly where it was found to let it crawl away in known territory. The video starts out with the terrified reptile moving at escape velocity, but it calms down a bit and moves more slowly before it crawls into the rocks.

A tiny Western Black-headed Snake crawls around in San Diego County.

This snake was found in the early morning in a small pit trap set out to survey the reptiles, rodents, and other small animals that were crawling around in the coastal chapparal habitat. It was filmed with some difficulty where it was found and then was allowed to crawl away into the brush to find a place to hide until night fell when it would be more comfortable continuing its nocturnal foraging (and hopefully would not fall in the trap again.)
   
Description

Not Dangerous to Humans
Mildly venomous. This snake uses a mild form of venom to immobilize its prey. This venom is considered harmless to humans.
Size
One of the smallest snakes in California, about 3.5 - 15.5 inches long (9 - 40 cm).
Appearance
A small, thin, snake with a flat head and smooth, shiny scales. The top of the head is dark brown or black, with a faint light collar between the dark cap and the body color which is brownish or beige and unmarked. This collar may or may not have a border of dark dots. The dark color usually drops below the mouthline behind the corner of the jaw.The belly is whitish with a reddish stripe that does not extend all the way to the edge of the ventral scales.
Similar Species
Comparison Chart of Tantilla hobartsmithi - Smith's Black-headed Snake and Tantilla planiceps - Western Black-headed Snake
Behavior
Secretive -spends much of its time underground or underneath surface objects. A good burrower, able to disappear quickly into loose soil. Occasionally found active on the surface at night on roads, especially after rains.
Diet
Millipedes, centipedes, and insects.
Reproduction
Not well understood. Eggs are laid, probably in May and June.
Range
The known range of this species in California and elsewhere is spotty due to its secretive nature. Its range is probably less disjointed than the records show. It occurs along the coast of southern California, east and north to the desert side of the mountains as far as Whitewater Canon, and north through the south Coast Range to the San Francisco Bay where it has been recorded just south of San Jose, east of Mt. Diablo, and east of Livermore. Occurs in disjointed locations in Baja California south to the cape. From near sea level to about 4,000 ft. (1,219 m).
Habitat
Occurs in grassland, chaparral, oak and oak-pine woodland, deserts. Along the rocky edges of streas and washes. Often found beneath rocks, plant debris, and other surface cover.
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None.

Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Tantilla Black-headed Snakes Baird and Girard, 1853
Species


planiceps Western Black-headed Snake (Blainville, 1835)
Original Description
Tantilla planiceps - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 294, pl. 27, figs. 3-3b

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Tantilla - Latin - tantillum - so small a thing - refers to the small size
planiceps
- Latin - planus flat and NL ceps head - refers to the flattened head

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

Alternate Names
California Black-headed Snake

Related or Similar California Snakes
T. hobartsmithi - Smith's Black-headed Snake
H. t. nuchalata - California Nightsnake
H. t. deserticola - Desert Nightsnake

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

 

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