Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Colors Brown

The answers to last week's quiz on whether the photo was a Northern Pacific rattlesnake or a Pacific gopher snake are below :

(click on photos for larger version or go to original Brown vs. Brown post)

Snake #1: gopher snake - sharp tail tip, glossy coloration.


 Snake #2:  rattlesnake - the Northern Pacific rattlesnake is a subspecies of the Western rattlesnake which usually has a white stripe pointing backwards from below the eye to the corner of the mouth. They also have a single row of white scales outlining the brown blotches.  Three times in the summer of 2008, I found a juvenile rattlesnake curled up next to this hose, and I know that at least 2 of them were different snakes because of the unique pattern of blotches on their necks.

Snake #3: rattlesnake - triangular-shaped head with heat-sensing loreal pits between the nostrils and eyes, and small scales between the eyes.  Note that not all species of rattlesnakes have small scales between the eyes, but the Northern Pacific rattlesnake is the only rattler in the central California coast area and it has small scales between the eyes.

Snake #4: rattlesnake - neck is much narrower than backside of triangular head, small scales between eyes, eyes have vertical slit for pupil, loreal pits.  Note white edging around dark blotches.

Snake #5: gopher snake - although this gopher snake is flattening its head which makes it look somewhat triangular, note that the transition to the neck is gradually narrower.  Big scales between the eyes.  Round pupil. Gopher snakes often have a black line between the eyes that extends straight down beneath the eye.

Snake #6: gopher snake - even without seeing the tail, I could quickly tell the head sticking out under the barn door was a gopher snake because it has round pupils, big scales between the eyes and it is shiny.  Note that the brown blotches are outlined with a row of black scales.

Snake #7:  gopher snake - round pupils, shiny.

Through the House of Herps blog carnival, I found more fun rattler ID photos - see if you can find the timber rattlesnakes in Philly Herping's post .

And the bonus snake on the top of this post is the San Francisco gartersnake.  Note the bright red head, the turquoise color to its light stripe and belly, and that the red side stripe is not broken by the bordering black stripe at least on the front part of the body.  The San Francisco gartersnake is listed as endangered by both federal and California laws.  This snake is on a property near the Dipper Ranch and the person holding the snake in this photo is a permitted educator.

See also:
Northern Pacific rattlesnake - Crotalus oreganus oreganus
Pacific gopher snake - Pituophis catenifer catenifer
San Francisco gartersnake - Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia


  1. I don't know what it is, but I'm noticing snakes everywhere now. Is there as seasonal fluctuation for snakes or am I just being more observant?

  2. Has it been getting warmer where you are? Snakes could be coming out of their winter dens and spending more time hunting and adjusting their body temperature in the sun. Also, if you have been mowing, you will see them more.

  3. Ha, I guess it's been getting warmer here. Being along the Monterey Bay, temperatures don't always follow typical seasonal fluctuations. During my hike last week at Elkhorn Slough, I spotted several foot-long-ish gopher and garter snakes. They were pretty cute! Do you think it'd be okay to pick them up? I wanted to take pictures but they moved too darn quickly.

  4. Check out this new article on gopher snakes in the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge newsletter: I'm Just a Soul Whose Intentions Are Good
    It answers your questions about picking up snakes and it is a great article.

  5. Ha! Great article. Thanks. Look, but don't touch.

  6. I live in Cazadero with the famous Red-bellied Newts of Dr. Twitty. I have found as many as five different rattlesnakes by the foundation of my house in a single summer (only four this summer).
    Although they generally have a dusty, matte appearance - not always! I have found several glossy, greenish rattlers (yes, they did have rattles, 9 + 13) that the locals call Timber Rattlers. Both were mature snakes and gorgeous! I believe they were glossy because they had just shed and their skin hadn't turned matte yet.
    Also, another distinguishing feature is that Gopher Snakes have a long, slender body while Rattlesnakes have a heavy, thick body.
    <> Herp Lover <>


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