Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The King of Walnuts

The California mountain kingsnake has been elected by popular vote to be the Dipper Ranch snake featured on the 2012 Dipper Ranch walnut label. Thank you readers for your votes and delightful comments. I can see that you relish the diversity of snakes in our California coastal mountains as much as I do.

NEWS FLASH - I've seen two more snakes since November 18th when I predicted the California nightsnake would be my last 2012 snake sighting on the Dipper Ranch. The snakes should be tucked away in their winter beds by now, right? Until a series of intense storms shook things up in late November. At times, the rain was falling so hard that the slopes became super-saturated and slipped and oozed beneath themselves.

The snake seen earliest in all years at the Dipper Ranch - a coast gartersnake on March 6, 2010.
On December 3rd, we were making our way around a landslide by going cross country through a forest. We were in a hurry to check a pond that was threatening to boil over. As we jumped a rushing ephemeral stream, I briefly slipped and reached out to grab a handful of mud on the far side. There below my nose I saw a small coast gartersnake similarly slip-swimming its way down the slope.

Then on December 10th as I was monitoring a tractor working on a slipout, I noticed a peculiar-looking root resting on a pile of mud at the side of the road. A wavy, dark grey root with a bright orange band. On closer inspection, the colored root was a thin 12-inch long Pacific ring-necked snake. I picked the ringneck up and moved it to a safe place out of the emergency work zone. It didn't seem injured and flipped up a tightly coiled tail exposing its bright orange underside, a defensive pose. I wonder if that snake had been tucked into a soil crack for the winter when the landslide brought it up to the surface again.

Ring-necked snakes are mildly venomous, just enough to capture their small prey (slugs, slender salamanders, worms and such) but not enough to harm the good Samaritan biologist moving them out of the way.  Perhaps the orange color warns predators of the venom or maybe the bright coiled tail distracts predators from the head and main body of this small snake.
So for the 2012 calendar year, that makes 20 snakes observed on the Dipper Ranch of six species: 1 California mountain kingsnake, 1 California nightsnake, 1 Pacific ring-necked snake,  2 coast gartersnakes, 7 gopher snakes, and 8 rattlesnakes.

Compare that to the total number of snakes (101) I have recorded on the Dipper Ranch since October 2007:

Before 2012, the earliest date I've seen a snake on the Dipper Ranch was March 6th (a coast gartersnake in 2010), and the latest date I have seen a snake on the Dipper ranch was November 6th (a racer in 2011). In 2008, I saw the greatest number of snake species including coast gartersnake, gopher snake, rattler, California mountain kingsnake, racer, sharp-tail and nightsnake.

What do you think of those numbers?

Oh, wait. You are probably waiting for another important number - the random number which wins someone a bag of shelled 2012 Dipper Ranch walnuts. That random number is 1, and tierramor's previously  and randomly appointed number is closest, so you get the walnuts. I will contact you soon to arrange for delivery.

Pacific ring-necked snakes are small snakes.


  1. Most excellent. Aside from the mtn kings and night snakes, that rubber boa record is a great one too. Now you just have to find a chaparral whipsnake, a black-headed snake and scruz and sf garters, and you'll have all the local species. :)

    I've seen a coast garter a scruz garter and a ringneck over the last month as well. Those species often pop out in fall/winter when it warms up after storms and like to get after chorus frogs and small sallys. Sharp-tailed also.

    (btw - on the ringeneck - the ssp is amabilis).

  2. Thanks random-man. That's a hilarious spell-check mistake that i have now fixed. I count on my readers to catch errors from my late-night writing and rambling.


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