Monday, December 29, 2008

Rattlers Where You Live

CAUTION: rattlesnakes are venomous and their bites can be dangerous to people. There is much lore and misinformation about rattlesnakes and their bites; please review this link Living with Rattlesnakes for more information about safety around rattlesnakes. The bottom line: don't pick up any snake that might be a rattlesnake, and when you are outdoors in rattlesnake country (most of California), be careful where you place your hands and feet.

<--- note="" span="" the="" two=""> holes on each side of the rattle- snake's head: the inner nostril and the outer heat- sensing pit.
Behind and in the garage and barn, under the picnic table, at the foot of my kitchen steps, next to a creek, on a cow carcass and sunning with art. These are all places I have seen rattlesnakes on the Dipper Ranch.

Sometimes I worry that there is a den of rattlesnakes under the barn. And yet all 11 (eleven!) times I have seen a rattlesnake in the past 14 months, only one has been an adult size, and only two have gotten into strike pose and rattled and only after a commotion as several people panicked. No person, pet or livestock have been bitten. One large rattler was killed and I support that decision under the circumstances.

Rattlesnakes are the only snake native to California that have venom potentially harmful to humans. The small-sized California nightsnake is mildly venomous with just enough venom to subdue a frog or lizard but not enough to hurt a human. The only species of rattlesnake in northern California is the northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus). Southern California has 8 rattlesnake species and the southwestern deserts of the US have 15 rattlesnake species.

The basic appearance of rattlesnakes is a heavy body with brown blotches. The head is triangular shaped due to venom pits in its 'cheeks', the neck is comparatively narrow below the jaw and the tail is blunt with rattles. In my observations, a single row of white scales surrounds each brown blotch on our local northern Pacific rattlesnakes.

The end of the tail of rattlesnakes is blunt with a series of yellowish, hard segments which are the rattles. Young rattlesnakes may have only one small segment which might not be obvious, but the tip of the tail will still be distinctly blunt, yellow and out of a different material than the rest of the snake's body. I often do not see the tail end of a rattlesnake, especially when they are resting in a coiled position, so do not assume a snake is not a rattler just because the rattles are not obvious. You need to have a good view of the tail end to make this call.

RATTLESNAKE LOOK-A-LIKES: Other snakes with brown blotches in central coastal California that might be confused with rattlesnakes are gopher snakes, nightsnakes and juvenile racer snakes. None of these have rattles on the tail. Instead, they have sharply pointed tails. You may not always be able to see the tail on a snake, so move cautiously away from brown-blotched snakes if you can't see the tail. On the other hand, these other snakes should not immediately be killed just because they look like rattlers.
Here are a few photos for comparison, but check the better photos at the California Herps website to become familiar with the distinct differences between these snakes.

Gopher snakes are large. They have a pointed end to their tail, but if they nervously twitch their tail in a pile of dry leaves, it may sound like rattling. When gopher snakes are threatened, they sometimes flatten their head on the ground and the outline takes on a general diamond shape, however, the neck does not greatly narrow below the jaw as with rattlesnakes.

California nightsnakes are small, have bright, coppery-gold eyes with a vertical slit, and a larger pair of brown blotches on the side of their head that merge together on their upper neck. The rest of the body has separate brown blotches. Pointed tail.

Juvenile yellow-bellied racer snakes have blotchy coloration unlike the adult racers, but they are slender with large, round, dark eyes.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Curiosity of Racers

In early June, I woke up to another foggy morning. "When is summer coming and how will I grow tomatoes? What's the use of another cold day?", I wondered. Then I realized a cold morning is the perfect time to move snakes, especially yellow-bellied racer snakes (Coluber constrictor mormon) which can be very fast as their name indicates. For several days, I had been trying to catch two racers in my springbox, but they would zip under the concrete ledge before I could snag them.

So I got up that cold foggy morning in my pajamas, put on a pair of boots, grabbed my pack and my brand new Midwest Gentle Giant snake tongs and headed to the springbox. Upon prying open and propping the springbox lid, sure enough, there was a pile of olive-green snakes curled up in the corner. As soon as the tongs descended into the vault, the largest snake charged under the outlet pipe. I gently clamped the tongs on a scaly coil sticking out from underneath the pipe and pulled upwards. There was resistance as if the snake was somehow gripping the underside of the pipe but he came loose with steady pressure and I plopped him into the waiting pillowcase. The other two snakes were still sleepy and cold and I was able to scoop up both at the same time with the tongs.

I walked that full pillowcase about 1/4 of a mile to a grassy pasture, perfect racer habitat. As I pulled them out of the pillowcase, they started to wake up and one even struck at my gloved hand. They had dark olive backs contrasting with creamy yellow bellies and big round eyes. I pinched the three snakes between the fingers of my left hand and retrieved my camera from my pack with my right hand. As I was focusing the camera, all three turned to face their capturer with looks of wide-eyed curiosity. Yes, I was an odd sight taking photos of a handful of snakes at 6 AM in my pajamas.

After getting an eyeful of each other, I released the racers in the grassland, expecting them to race off. Instead, they curled up in a pile and hid their heads beneath each other. Since I had heard a red-tailed hawk calling from a nearby hillside, I covered the racers with the nearest cow patty. Later that day, I rechecked the cow patty and the curious racers were gone.

Racers are described as having brown, green or grey backs and yellow or off-white bellies. The Dipper racers are an attractive deep olive color with a hint of blue. Racers often hold their heads erect, even hunting that way. The juvenile racers look quite different than the adults and this can lead to misidentification because almost all other reptile species have adults and immature forms that look very similar except for size. Juvenile racers have brown blotches on their backs, however, they still have the big round eyes, hold their heads erect and are as fast as their mommas.
--- A big-eyed juvenile racer---

Racers are harmless to humans, so don't mix them up with the brown-blotched rattlesnakes. Instead, give these fast snakes a moment to contemplate your human face before they streak back to their snake world.

See also:
Gayle Pickwell, (late professor of Zoology, San Jose State College), Amphibians & Reptiles of the Pacific States, Dover Publications, 1972.

Alan St. John, Reptiles of the Northwest, Lone Pine Publishing, 2002.

California Herps

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Yearful of Snakes

I have encountered 40 snakes since moving to the Dipper Ranch. That's actually over a 15-month period rather than a year, but snakes don't have fingers, so they aren't counting. Of the 13 species of snakes known to occur in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I have observed nine species on the Dipper Ranch so far: northern rubber boa, western yellow-bellied racer, sharp-tailed snake, Pacific ringed-neck snake, California nightsnake, California kingsnake, Pacific gopher snake, northern Pacific rattlesnake, and coast gartersnake.

<--- Two yellow-bellied racers who think they are camouflaged in yellow dried-out thistles

Snakes were primarily seen May through October, with most sightings in May and June. The most frequently encountered snakes were rattlesnakes (11) and racers (8). Some of the snakes may have been observed more than once. I moved seven of the rattlers that occurred near the house and barn and marked three of those. I only gave one snake a name, and I hope I see her lovely self again next spring. The rattlers, not so much. My methods for capturing and moving snakes, which I will describe in a subsequent posting, seem to be working but . . . do not try this at home.

I frequently found snakes in my springboxes, underground vaults that collect water from pipes pounded into the ground at springs in the surrounding hillsides. The main two springboxes have heavy corrugated metal lids and vertical concrete sides that drop approximately 5 feet. We are not sure how the snakes get in the springboxes; the cracks around the lids seem too small and are several feet off the ground. The springboxes drain fast enough that their gravel-covered bottoms are rarely flooded. Although the dark and damp conditions might be just fine with most snakes, food is limited in there and they will eventually die unless they get out. So I regularly check the springboxes to remove any small critters because I care about the animals on the ranch, even the snakes. Besides, I shower in this stuff and I don't want to smell like snakes.

The main springbox with lid propped open --->

Checking the springbox is part of country living. When I originally moved onto the property, a co-worker told me that jumping down into the 5-foot deep vault to rescue snakes was part of my job. I refused. Not only am I claustrophobic (thus the career choice as an ecologist), but snakes give me the creeps (thus the career focus on plants). Jumping into a pit to rescue snakes really gives me the creeps because even with arms and legs, I don't think I could pull myself out of that deep vault, much less do it with a snake or two in trembling hand.

In the next few postings, I will share some stories and photos about these snakes. ssssseee ya'

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Worker Peasants Dancing in the Snow

My housemate was up late Tuesday night doing his usual middle-of-the-night computer thing with headphones on, all the blinds closed and completely oblivious to the real world when he heard a loud thump on his closed bedroom door. Before he could panic about rifle-bearing neighbors or ghosts associated with the hang noose we found in the attic, a mouse scrambled into his bedroom under the door. He tried to catch it by the tail as it stumbled about the clothes-strewn floor. The mouse seemed stunned as would any small critter confronted by such an enormous pile of dirty laundry.

When the tail strategy didn't work, he covered his hand with a dirty sock and snagged the mouse with a full body swipe. Cat King Cole was territorially waiting in the hallway and followed the sock-wrapped pair to the kitchen door. My housemate threw the mouse out the door and noticed a big puff of white go up as it landed in the driveway. That's when he realized it was snowing. We don't usually have snow, we occasionally have deer mice visit the house at night, and my new shelter cat just happens to be a fantastic mouser. It took this unique combination of random events to wrench a young person away from his computer to enjoy snow falling in the countryside in the moonlight. I, gainfully employed nature girl, slept through the whole thing.

A few workday hours later, I got up at 5 AM, discovered the snowy circumstances and did a little snow dance in the yard. That's when I noticed a cluster of canine tracks at one spot on the driveway. Using my nature-girl powers of deduction, I determined that the colony of gophers who live in the bank above the driveway had a sledding party which ended when a reckless gopher flew high into the moonlit night, landed with a white puff in the driveway snow and was pounced upon by a waiting predator.

Later that day, my housemate told me his sock-mouse story. I had the night predator angle correct, but it took an unbiased computer kid to fill in, indeed, create the true real-life details. That was a lucky coyote. It's not just anywhere you can snack on a cat-tenderized dirty-sock flavored deer mouse.

Here is a photo of mice I live-captured in my kitchen December 2007. Last winter when I did not have a cat, I struggled with mice coming into the house whenever it got cold. At first I thought I had two different species of mice because their size and color were different. One morning I found two mice in separate live traps in the kitchen and I put them in this clear container for scientific observation before marking their tails and releasing them on the back 50. When I saw the big mouse grooming the little mouse, my mom-instinct kicked in and I finally figured it out. They were not two species, just adult mice successfully breeding immature mice in my house. Adult deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) have brown fur on top and a bright white belly. Juveniles deer mice are smaller with grey-blue fur.

The snow lasted this week until Friday morning. Thanks to my neighbor Ruth for the above shot of Dipper Ranch in the snow from her kitchen across Peters Creek canyon. Other neighbors are promising more photos which I will try to post later (go here for fantastic snow and sky photo by neighbor Georgia). We see snow so infrequently, those who are home in the winter daylight hours are obliged to take photos of the surrounding hillsides. The worker peasants of us are reduced to snow dancing in the wee dark hours of the morning when we are prone to wild speculations about night-time animal merriment.
Here are some photos from January 2007, the only time it snowed last year, when I called into work "It's snowing, I'm not sure I can get out my driveway, bye." My Minnesota relatives are snickering. This little white lie gave me a chance to take photos and follow animal tracks in the snow.

Here's the Newt Pond surrounded by snow last year. There were coast range newts mating in it then and their eggs successfully hatched a few weeks later. Newt mating and snow was not a combination I formerly imagined. Yesterday, when I checked the Newt Pond, this week's snow had melted but there were 2 groggy newts resting in its shallow depths. They were doing something funny with their eyes. I will report on their reproductive progress over the next few months.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What Eats This?

There's a tall Fremont cottonwood tree (Populus fremontii) planted at the Plum Pond on the Dipper Ranch. After hiking all the way down there, it's nice to sit next to the pond and relax while watching the dragonflies flit across the pond surface in sync with the fluttering cottonwood leaves. Trees in the Populus family (including the quaking aspen) have long flattened stems and wide blades which cause them to move in the slightest breeze.

In September, I noticed many of the fallen cottonwood leaves had a bulge at the base of the leaf blade. I've frequently planted and hiked among several species of cottonwood trees and never noticed this before. On closer inspection, I found that all the swollen bumps had a small slit on the side. I realized they were probably galls.

Galls are abnormalities in plant tissues caused by some other organism, often an insect. The insect chemically or mechanically stimulates the plant tissue to produce extra plant hormones which in turn greatly increase plant growth in a localized area (like cancer) and this results in a new structure - the gall. Guess what happens inside the gall. The insect either moves into or lays eggs in this new structure. Thus, the insect has caused the plant to create a bug birthing chamber or bug condominium. Certain aphids do this to cottonwood and poplar leaf stems. Ah-hah.

But there's more. The Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid (Pemphigus populitransversus) bears live young inside the cottonwood gall, that turn into winged females who leave the cottonwood to give birth to more female aphids that eat mustard plants. See the naturebyte video at the end of this posting for a fascinating and gross video of the fat, warty mom aphid swarmed by her winged offspring, all sucking inside the gall. The lady mustard version of the family flies back to the cottonwoods in the fall and has a generation of both female and male aphids who lay eggs in the cottonwood twigs or bark since cottonwoods are deciduous and drop their leaves in the fall. In the spring, the leaf buds break, the aphid eggs hatch, the little aphid nymphs chew on the new cottonwood leaf stems causing the galls to form and the whole thing starts over again. Whew.

But there's still more. Today I saw a small bird busily picking gall-laden leaves in the cottonwood tree at the Plum Pond and I saw and heard it peck at each leaf and then drop them. The bird was greyish and seemed to have a small crest. It was getting dark, and as always, I was nervous about the approach of mountain-lion hours, so I couldn't stay for long, but I think it was an oak titmouse (Parus inornatus - photo by Gary Kramer, US Fish & Wildlife Service). A quick internet search finds many research studies on poplar gall aphids, types of poplars infested by them, birds who eat the aphids, and why they occur, where, at what numbers, or not.

This planted cottonwood tree is the only one at the pond or anywhere nearby. Still, the aphids find it, go through their complicated life cycle and the birds find the galls with the aphids. Next time I'm relaxing at the Plum Pond, I will try not to be unnerved by the busy and complicated natural world above me or maybe I will sit under the sycamore tree instead.

Insect and Mite Galls, Univ of Minnesota Extension Service
Backyard Nature with Jim Conrad
Gross & Fascinating Aphid Video by Henry Shenkman
Field Guide to Plant Galls of California and Other Western States, Ron Russo, University of California Press, 2006.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Winter is Green and Orange

A few weeks ago, the first big rains finally started in coastal California. With rain, the grass sprouts, the hills turn green and the newts start marching to their breeding ponds. On November 11, I pulled a yellow-eyed ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica) from the springbox, a little fellow, shiny orange jewel. Notice the skin on this bright salamander is smooth and there are narrow lines running up his sides and across his back. They live mostly in the damp woods among leaves and logs.
As I was releasing the ensatina at the closest pond, we stumbled upon a coast range newt (Taricha torosa torosa) plodding along in the same direction. He looked like a brute next to the ensatina. Later I learned that while coast range newts breed in ponds, ensatinas lay their eggs and brood them in moist logs or burrows until they hatch fully formed. So I guess this ensatina just had to turn around to find another moist spot.

The male coast range newts head to the ponds first. This one is a male as shown by his swollen vent. Once he spends time in the water, his skin will get smooth and his fat tail will flatten to an effective swimming blade. This coast range newt subspecies of the California newt species is detected by the way the eyes extend beyond the outline of the head as seen from above and the yellow coloring of the skin under the eye. All subspecies of the California newt are poisonous and sometimes secret the neurotoxin through their skin, so either don't pick them up or wash your hands before you lick your fingers.

More info and photos of these salamanders later as the rains pick up and the newts get busy. I spent quite a bit of time with newt eggs and aquatic larvae over the past year. Ever try to feed a bunch of baby newts?

Part IV - Cracking the Nuts

I spend winter evenings cracking walnuts while I watch movies. Then I seal the kernels in vacuum-packed pouches and store them in the freezer or give them away for holiday presents.

This is my cracking technique. Line up the nutcracker perpendicular to the slit in the shell. Grasp the free ends of the walnut firmly in your other fist (even tighter than shown in the photo) and gently apply pressure with the nutcracker just until you feel the slit widen and hear the first crack. Roll the walnut 180 degrees and reposition the nutcracker diagonally across the top and bottom of the shell. Slowly apply pressure again until you hear another crack. Usually by this point there are enough cracks in the shell that you can pull one hemisphere off and then firmly pluck the nutmeat out of the remaining cup of the shell. Either pull out the papery packing tissue between the kernel halves or use your fingers to split the nutmeat in half and flick off the packing tissue which should be brown and stiff if the walnut is ripe.

I challenge myself to crack the walnut shell so the kernel comes out whole. Then the nutmeat looks like a brain with its wrinkled double hemispheres. Indeed, in the 16th and 17th centuries, herbalists encouraged the eating of walnuts to boost one's intelligence and heal other ailments of the head and heart. Modern-day research has found that walnuts are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and have multiple health benefits (

Other animals frequently harvesting both acorns and walnuts on the Dipper Ranch are deer, Stellar jays, scrub jays and ravens. If I sleep late on these brilliant autumn days, the Stellar jays get me up by rapping shells on the roof to peck a hole through to the nutmeat. On the other end of the day, the deer gather in the willow thicket below the barn at dusk, waiting for their chance at the walnut-strewn yard. Since the deer rutting season and acorn drop occur at the same season, careful driving is required this time of year as the deer recklessly cross roads at night to socialize under their favorite oak trees. The deer look ridiculous eating acorns. To eat these big nuts, they must open their mouths so wide, they lose all their daintiness.

Everywhere I go these days, I carry bagfuls of walnuts and give them away. The birds are carting off acorns overhead to family and hiding places. It's amazing these trees can produce so much food in their own little packages.

One final amazing fact about acorns - you can make a loud whistle with an acorn cap.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Part III - Harvesting & Hoarding

Every few days between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I scoop up any brown shells from the ground under the walnut trees and toss any fallen nuts still encased in hulls against the red barn to let the outer coating weather itself off. That way, I avoid staining my hands black from the phenol chemicals in the hulls. Some people use walnut hulls for making black or brown dye.

I wonder if the chemical in the walnut hulls also reduces the number of predators willing to chew through to the nut. Squirrels seem to be immune. Although English walnuts are not native to the North American continent (they originate from southwest Asia and are sometimes more correctly called Persian walnuts), our local wildlife collect them from yards and orchards. Squirrels are famous for stripping my friends' urban walnut trees. I am fortunate that the farmyard is surrounded by a broad band of grassland which the native western grey squirrels are not willing to cross from the hillside forests. There are, however, rodents that apparently collect walnuts at night because throughout the winter I find emptied shells in the barn with small holes chewed through the end.

Most nuts for human consumption need to dry for days to weeks before they are eaten. Last winter, I dried my walnut crop in the garage in open cardboard boxes covered with metal wire refrigerator shelves. Eventually, however, rodents raided the stash and the garage floor was strewn with broken shells. At first I couldn't figure out how the mice got the fat shells out of the boxes which were still sturdily covered with the wire shelves. Then I decided extra skinny mice had been assigned the mission to slip through the wires, crack the nuts inside the box and toss the pieces through the bars to their hungry families waiting outside.

This year, I am pouring the collected walnuts onto an old screen door suspended between picnic tables under the maple trees. I clamp a set of window screens on top to discourage raiders. So far it is working, although at first, I expected to hear crashing noises from the clever raccoons unscrewing the clamps some night. The raccoons (who ate my entire pear and persimmon crops this year) haven't shown up, so maybe their smirky mouths and sneaky hands aren't strong enough to crack open walnut shells. I hear the great-horned owl every night now, and sometimes a pair of screech owls, so they must be keeping the skinny mice away.

Every few days, I turn the walnuts to ensure thorough drying. It's a meditative process rolling the walnuts and lining them all on their long sides so the top screen will clamp down firmly. The other day while I was rolling walnuts, the local flock of acorn woodpeckers landed in the maple trees above me, chattering about their day of acorn harvesting. It reminded me about their special techniques for storing and drying acorns in a pecker-made granary.

Acorn woodpeckers work in extended family groups to harvest acorns and store them in their own granaries - tree trunks, power poles and fence posts that they have riddled with long rows of holes. They check the granary every day and since the acorns slightly shrink as they dry, the woodpeckers will move any loose acorns into tighter holes to prevent other animals from robbing their stash. I haven't found the acorn woodpeckers' cache on the Dipper Ranch, however, every morning they visit the maple trees by the house and conduct a short shouting match with the earlier arriving Stellar jays, so the yard must be somewhere between their nighttime roosts and granary trees. (Painting of acorn woodpecker above by Bob Hines, United States Fish and Wildlife Service)

Ninety-nine percent of the US supply and two-thirds of the world supply of English walnuts are produced from extensive orchards in the Central Valley of California ( Commercial harvest of walnuts is largely mechanized. First the orchard floor is rolled or dragged clean, then the walnuts are knocked loose from the trees by large shaking machines, and finally the fallen walnuts are blown into a row and swept up my mechanical harvesters.

I'm glad I get the chance to pick up the walnuts by hand. They make a lovely sound when they plunk into the bucket and many of my friends and family while talking to me on the cell phone in the fall, exclaim, "I hear walnuts. Will you save me some?"

For a hilarious description of the hippy lifestyle of California's acorn woodpeckers, see the Bird Watcher's General Store.

Part II - The Nut Leaves Home

By late summer, plump green hulls hang heavily in the walnut canopy. As the hulls slowly split, they reveal promising peeks of brown shells. By early fall, the hulls release their cargo and brown shells plop to the ground. On windy days, some nuts may drop still encased in their hulls.

In our area, the general order that acorns ripen in the fall is valley oak, black oak, tanoak, coast live oak, and then canyon oak. The acorns of species in the white oak group take 6 months to ripen (pollinated in spring, full acorn formed in subsequent fall), whereas acorns of the black oak group take 18 months to grow and ripen. On branches of the black oaks, you will find first-year acorns looking like shingled buttons, and second-year acorns fully formed. The first crop of acorns dropped is usually the damaged acorns, ones with weevils or mold or otherwise underdeveloped. They are still good eating for wildlife, but if you are collecting acorns to grow oaks, wait a few weeks for the second drop when the healthy, heavy acorns are finally released from their caps and fall and roll to their future destination.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Part I - A Sum of Nut Parts

English walnuts have 3 layers: the outer fleshy hull, the hard woody shell, and the inner eatable kernel. If you have just seen walnuts in holiday baskets, you wouldn't know about the thick, green hull that has to peel open to release the brown-shelled nut. As an extra layer, the hull discourages early consumption of the nut from some bugs and other potential consumers.

The acorn seed is enclosed in a leathery, bullet-shaped casing that emerges from a shingled cap. Each oak species has an acorn cap with a slightly different design, their own signature beanie or architectural roofline. The cap depth can vary from shallow to deep and the shape of the shingles covering the cap can be distinctly flat or warty depending on the species of oak.

Both the walnut hull and the acorn cap derive from bracts originally enclosing the flower buds. These plant parts modify their function through the reproductive stages, first protecting the developing flower (and perhaps controlling the timing of wind pollination in a way that may increase the genetic diversity or food quality of the seed crop) and then protecting the fertilized seed as it swells with food transported from the mother tree and stored in the developing nut - future nourishment once the nut breaks away and starts its separate life or becomes a menu item.


- A Serialized Story about Big Nuts -

My friends and I are collecting English walnuts in our farmyards while the local wildlife is harvesting acorns on the surrounding hillsides. In this autumn series, I'll compare these two large-sized nuts and their consumers.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Early fall seems to be nightsnake time at the Dipper Ranch. California nightsnakes (Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha nuchalata) are small snakes with a bit of venom, just enough to subdue a frog or lizard but not enough to hurt a human. They are active at night, so we rarely see them. In October 2007, I found one in my springbox. And mid-September 2008, I found this fellow in the same location, a covered underground concrete vault about 5 feet deep that collects the slow oozing of upslope springs. Night snakes are supposed to like arid lands, so I don't know what they are doing in my springbox. Maybe the bitter end of the rainless California summer brings them to the sound of dripping water. Their brown blotched color makes them easy to confuse with rattlers and gopher snakes, but they have distinct copper-gold eyes with vertical slits. Neither fellow tried to bite me, although I handle and move snakes with net, tongs and leather gloves. I released the night snakes to a dry slope on the ranch away from the springbox. This year, I first shared the visitor with my country neighbors and preserve volunteers so more people will recognize and be less likely to mix up this interesting snake with rattlesnakes.

See also
Reptiles of the Northwest, Alan St. John, Lone Pine Press