|California nightsnake. Ranger E has a calm way with snakes. She's observed that individual snakes often have uniquely shaped spots. With careful photodocumentation of their spots, I may be able to tell the difference between future nightsnakes.|
|Nightsnakes' vertical pupils are slitlike in the sun.|
Hunting at night, thus their name and apparent cat-eye adaptation to darkness.
|2007 California nightsnake|
Nightsnakes are mildly venomous, just enough to subdue small prey when punctured with specialized teeth at the back of their jaw. They generally live in arid but well-vegetated areas such as chaparral, scrub, deserts and grasslands. Active at night and the crepuscular hours, they hunt mostly lizards and their eggs, but also small snakes and other reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
|2008 California nightsnake with dorsal spots looking like crooked figure 8's.|
The nightsnake was a hit and handled his fame quite calmly. Later that night, we returned to the Dipper Ranch and I released the party animal on a slope behind the barn.
|California nightsnake on linen.|
My attempt to photodocument 2010 nightsnake before release.
I can't tell if I've been catching the same or different nightsnakes each year since I haven't been marking them as I have been marking rattlesnakes. It's hard to compare the snakes by prior years' photographs since I'm using a new camera and my photography has improved since 2007.
|Check out the rapidly vibrating tongue on this nightsnake.|
|The female San Francisco gartersnake is a handful.|
We know San Francisco gartersnakes live at Mindego Lake, and occasionally a ranger or biologist get a quick view of one whipping through the grasslands, glide-hunting in the shallow margins of the lake, hanging in a willow tree, or basking on the dirt roads. We'll be putting up "Slow - Snake Crossing" signs.
It's hard to get people excited about snakes, and even harder to get them interested in protecting snakes which are rarely seen. The San Francisco Zoo is working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on a snake education program. Zoo staff take live San Francisco gartersnakes to schools and community meetings in the snake's limited historic range (basically the San Francisco peninsula) to help people appreciate this colorful original resident. Also, zoo staff provide treatment for any injured wild San Francisco gartersnakes, or those which need to be temporarily moved during recovery actions like the restoration of wetlands, and may become involved in a captive breeding program. Whereas the Open Space District purchases and preserves natural land, the zoo's programs may help reintroduce San Francisco gartersnakes to former habitat in the wild.
|An inspiring moment on the job: up-close and personal learning about a rare snake.|
Something a ranger is sure to share with preserve visitors.
As the hubbub from the San Francisco gartersnake calmed down, I pulled out Nightsnake #3 to compare it to a gopher snake the zoo staff also brought. Although not as colorful or rare as the San Francisco gartersnake, this small brown-blotched and rarely seen snake emphasizes the more subtle biodiversity in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
|California nightsnake on left - notice double row of rectangular blocks in an offset checker pattern on back.|
Larger gopher snake on right with single crosswise blocks on back.
Lyre snakes are also slightly venomous, cat-pupiled, brown-blotched snakes with a distinct mark on their neck. However, their neck tattoo is "V"-shaped (when the snake is viewed from the tail). I must have made a leap-of-faith 'spot' association between the two marked snakes. Mea Culpa. I'm grateful to be working with people who get excited about snakes and who also help us get our facts straight. I am constantly seeing and learning new things at the Dipper Ranch. If you see anything wrong on the Dipper Ranch blog, please let me know. I intend to keep learning and sharing fascinating snake faces and fates.
|Be careful grabbing for that tool in the field.|
Robert C. Stebbins, Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Third Edition, 2003.