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By Frank Hein

Serpents in the Wildlands – Among the host of plant and animal species on Catalina, the reptiles have a rather low profile, literally and figuratively. In fact, six species of snakes are known to live on the Island, including the Southern Pacific rattlesnake. Here are their brief profiles and images from previous research on Catalina.
San Diego Gopher Snake
Common Name: San Diego gopher snake
Scientific Name: Pituophis catenifer annectans
Identification: Adults can be two-and-a-half to seven feet long. Their ground color is tan, light brown, or yellowish, with brown or black rounded blotches along their back and sides. Gopher snakes can often be mistaken for rattlesnakes, but they have a more slender head, a glossy body, and a pointed tail.
Habitat: They are widespread in most habitat types, most common in oak woodlands. They are frequently seen on paved and dirt roadways. They can swim and climb trees.
Food: Rodents, birds and their eggs, and lizards; kills by constriction.
Range: Coastal Southern California into Baja.
Reproduction: Lay eggs from June to August.
Rare or Endemic: No.
Resident: Yes.
Introduced: No.
Venomous: No.

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
Common Name: Southern Pacific ratttlesnake
Scientific Name: Crotalus oreganus helleri
Identification: Adults can be 30 to 54 inches in length. Rattlesnakes have thick, non-glossy, heavy bodies and thin necks with large triangular heads. Their ground color is brown to olive-brown with brown blotches outlined in lighter pigment running down their backs. They have rattles consisting of interlocking segments at the end of their tails.
Habitat: Island-wide, tolerates disturbed areas
Food: Small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Rattlesnakes envenomate their prey, then swallow it whole.
Range: Distributed across most of the western United States, Mexico, and Canada. The Southern Pacific rattlesnake subspecies (Crotalus oreganus helleri) is distributed from Southern California to the central part of Baja California.
Reproduction: A live-bearing species, this rattlesnake's young are born from August to October.
Rare or Endemic: No.
Resident: Yes.
Introduced: No.
Venomous: Yes.

Two-striped Garter Snake
Common Name: Two-striped garter snake
Scientific Name: Thamnophis hammondii
Identification: Adults are 24 to 40 inches long. Appearance is variable, although there are two basic pattern morphs. Both are olive, brown, or dark grey with a pale yellow or orange underside with dark smudging. The striped variety has a yellowish to grey lateral stripe on each side with faint spotting. The un-striped variety lacks lateral stripes and has two rows of small darks spots on each side.
Habitat: Found in or near permanent fresh water, along streams with rocky beds bordered by willows and other streamside vegetation.
Food: Tadpoles, frogs, fish and their eggs, and worms. They have toxins in their saliva which can be deadly to their prey, but are not considered dangerous to humans.
Range: Coastal California from Monterey County to northwest Baja California.
Reproduction: A live-bearing species, its young are born from July to August.
Rare or Endemic: Yes, rare.
Resident: Yes.
Introduced: No.
Special Status: This type of garter snake has been designated a Species of Special Concern (SSC) by the California Department of Fish & Game, and is protected by the state.
Venomous: No.

Western Ringneck Snake
Common Name: Western ringneck snake
Scientific Name: Diaophis punctatus
Identification: Adults are eight to 34 inches long. Ringneck snakes are small, thin, and have smooth scales. They are grey, blue-grey, blackish, or dark-olive. Their undersides are yellow to orange and are speckled with black markings. The undersides of their tails are bright reddish-orange. They are easily identified by a narrow orange band around their necks, one to one-and-a-half scale rows wide.
Habitat: They are associated with moist habitats, including coastal sage scrub and oak woodlands, and usually found under the cover of rocks, bark, wood and other debris.
Food: A diverse diet includes slender salamanders, tree frogs, small lizards and snakes, slugs, and worms. They use a mild form of venom to incapacitate their prey, but are not considered dangerous to humans.
Range: Subspecies endemic to California.
Reproduction: They lay eggs in the summer.
Rare or Endemic: No.
Resident: Yes.
Introduced: No.
Venomous: No.

California Kingsnake
Common Name: California kingsnake
Scientific Name: Lampropeltis getulus
Identification: Adults are 30 to 85 inches long, although they seldom exceed 48 inches. They have smooth, shiny scales and are highly variable in appearance. They most commonly have alternating bands of black or brown with white or light yellow. Stripes can vary in width and color. Other varieties include an un-banded phase with a dark belly and lateral striping, partial striping or specking, or an individual could be albino. 
Habitat: Widespread in many habitats, most common in riparian systems.
Food: Snakes (including rattlesnakes), lizards, reptile eggs, birds and their eggs, and small mammals; kills by constriction.
Range: California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and the Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California Norte, and Baja Sur.
Reproduction: This species lays eggs any time from May to August.
Rare or Endemic: No,
Resident: Yes.
Introduced: No.
Venomous: No.

California Mountain Kingsnake
Common Name: California mountain kingsnake
Scientific Name: Lampropeltis zonata
Identification: Adults are 20 to 50 inches long, 24 to 30 on average. They are a medium-sized, smooth, shiny snake with a slender, cylindrical body. Their bodies are banded with black, red and white or off-white rings that vary in width and shade of color. Bands continue across the belly, but are faded and irregular.
Habitat: This is a habitat generalist, found oak woodlands, riparian areas, chaparral, coastal sage scrub, and more. They spend most of their time underground, inside crevices, or under objects. They hibernate in the winter.
Food: Lizards, snakes, bird eggs and nestlings, and small mammals.
Range: Found from southern Washington to northern Baja.
Reproduction: Eggs are laid in June or July.
Rare or Endemic: Yes, rare.
Resident: Yes.
Introduced: Unknown.
Venomous: No.
Note: The California mountain kingsnake has been reported sporadically on Catalina Island and it’s possible that these specimens were escaped pets. The scientifically safe position to take is that there are five confirmed snakes on Catalina, with the California mountain kingsnake being studied. There is no controversy about the presence of the California kingsnake, only the California mountain kingsnake.

Learning to Love Snakes

For a really handy link to Catalina’s wildlife, including all of our snakes, click HERE.

Contributing to this edition was Alexa Johnson

Edited by Jerry Roberts

Issue #12 / All About Snakes


A Guide’s Guide to Catalina’s Snakes
More Catalina Snake Facts
Fact or Fiction: Rattlers Don’t Have Eyelids
Did You Know … Rattlers’ System Thermal

Photo by Julie King

The San Diego gopher snake is sometimes mistaken at first sight for the a rattlesnake.

Photo by Julie King

The Southern Pacific rattlesnake latches onto prey -- often rodents -- with its fangs, envenomates it, and swallows it whole.

Photo by Angela Aarhus

The two-striped garter snake has been designated a Species of Special Concern and is protected by California's Department of Fish & Game.

Conservancy file photo

The western ringneck snake is usually found in moist areas on Catalina.

Conservancy file photo

The California kingsnake will feed on other snakes, including rattlesnakes.

Conservancy file photo

The California mountain kingsnake is not yet confirmed as a Catalina native, and may have been introduced to the Island.

Missed recent issues?

Issue #1 / All About Bison

Issue #2 / All About Birds

Issue #3 / All About Plants
Issue #4 / All About Eagles
Issue #5 / All About Ravens & Crows
Issue #6 / All About Natives & Invasives  
Issue #7 / All About Rain
Issue #8 / All About Bison Roundup
Issue #9 / All About Foxes
Issue #10 / All About Weeds
Issue #11 / All About Eagle Hatchlings



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