Class Reptilia

INTRODUCTION:  In spring, summer and fall seasons, seeing reptiles can be an everyday experience in Shelter Cove. Reptiles are fully terrestrial animals, meaning that they have adaptations for life on land including lungs for air breathing and skins with scales that resist evaporation (=loss of body water), and they can produce a dry urine-feces that substantially saves body water (reduced water loss).  With some of the best adaptations for life on land among animals, particularly in effectively managing body water, it is not a surprise to find many reptiles living in dry habitats like California's hot and dry deserts.  Reptiles include turtles, crocodiles, lizards and snakes.  Lizards and snakes are the most common reptiles found in and around Shelter Cove.

Finding and identifying different kinds of reptiles can be exciting and interesting, but it requires that one knows a few things about their biology.  What they prefer to eat helps a lot in where to find them.  If they are predators of field mice and other rodents, then one may find them in the places where field mice reside (so that they can hunt and eat them).  In the Shelter Cove area, some reptile species may be more common as you leave the immediate coastal zone and climb into more arid areas uphill, yet other species like gartersnakes and alligator lizards may be more abundant in moist and humid areas downhill, near streams or watered gardens, or under objects that help to maintain a moist microclimate. On the other hand, species like fence lizards and sagebrush lizards are quite common throughout our area. 

 

There is only one reptile that you want to avoid, and it will warn you with its rattle if you get too close (rattlesnake).  Rattlesnakes don't want to interact with humans and they will escape as soon as they feel safe to do so.  Most locals in Shelter Cove say they don't find rattlesnakes in the areas, but it is always possible, particularly as one ventures further toward and into the surrounding wild lands.  All other reptiles in the region are harmless to humans.  And they are truly amazing animals! -just think about a lizard that lost its legs and began to move around using body undulations . . . now it became a snake!

The following Descriptions and Pictures highlight some of the most common reptilian species found in and around Shelter Cove.  The short Descriptions will help you to know a few facts that can help you find and identify different reptile species - they also include some interesting additional facts and provide links to the photo and other sites that provide more information.

When you go out birding, make sure you have the following:

1. Is this the right time (season) of year? (find out below!)

2. What type of habitat will the bird most likely be found? (find out below!)

3. Is there a typical sound to listen for? (find out below!)

4. Do you know the coloration patterns of males and females? (find out below!)

5. Bring your binoculars and camera!

           

Quick-Links for each reptile listed in the Shelter Cove Wild Animals Guide given here:

 
 
Northwestern Pond Turtle.jpeg

Northwestern Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata): found in ponds, lakes, creeks and other aquatic environments of the California valleys south to Kern County, and in the coast and coast ranges north of San Franciso Bay extending into Oregon and parts of Washington; adults are 3-9 inches (9-22 cm) in shell length, typically with olive brown shell with patterns of yellow or orange lines or spots; males have a light throat with no markings and a flatter shell, while females have markings on their throat and a taller shell; typically most active between February through the summer and to late November –in cold winter locations, they will hibernate under water –in an elaborate process, they severely slow their metabolism, are inactive, and respire using an adapted cloaca; they eat aquatic plants, invertebrates, frog and salamander eggs and larvae, and sometimes fish; they are long-lived and do not mate until about 10 years old; turtles walking on land do not need help –it is best to leave them alone as they move to a different location.

http://www.californiaherps.com/turtles/pages/a.marmorata.html

https://calphotos.berkeley.edu/imgs/512x768/0000_0000/0913/0087.jpeg

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

TURTLES

Alien turtle species:

Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans): this alien invasive species is more prevalently found around California urban/suburban areas, but there have been some sighted in more rural locations like southern Humboldt County; they naturally occur in midwest and southern states, but have been introduced across the world, often as pets; the species is listed in the top 100 worst invasive species by the 2014 Global Invasive Species Database; adults have a shell length of 3-15 inches (9-37 cm), with green to olive-brown skin with yellow stripes (including on limbs) and a prominent red stripe behind the eyes; they do not hibernate (like A. marmorata does) and can remain active through the year, although they will become dormant in the cold of winter.

http://www.californiaherps.com/turtles/pages/t.s.elegans.html

LIZARDS

Forest Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata): found through the California and Oregon valleys and in coastal and Coast Range regions north of Monterey; adults are up to 12 inches (30 cm) in total length, and commonly brown or grey/yellow above with 9-13 dark bands on the back, sides and tail, and light yellow eyes; they have powerful jaws and a thick rounded body with a long tail that can be used in snake-like movement or in swimming; they are generally in hiding, found under rocks, leafy forest floor, or other surface cover; they are active through the year, except during cold times, and eat a variety of small invertebrates, lizards and even small mammals; for defense, they first try to quietly blend in with the environment, but if this doesn’t work, they can break off their tail (it will slowly grow back) which will wiggle for several minutes to distract a predator while it flees.

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/e.m.multicarinata.html

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/images/emscincicaudask411long.jpg

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

 

Shasta Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea shastensis): found in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains west through Mt. Shasta region and west to the coast and Coast Ranges from north Sonoma County to Humboldt County; adults are up to 10 inches (25 cm) in total length, with powerful jaws, a slim body and long tail that can be used in snake-like movement or in swimming; brown, grey or olive coloration with irregular dark crossbands and yellow highlights, and dark eyes (unlike E. multicarinata multicarinata with light yellow eyes); they are generally in hiding, found under rocks, leafy forest floor, or other surface cover; they are active through the year, except during cold times, and eat a variety of small invertebrates, lizards and even small mammals; for defense, they first try to quietly blend in with the environment, but if this doesn’t work, they can break off their tail (it will slowly grow back) which will wiggle for several minutes to distract a predator while it flees.

 

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/e.c.shastensis.html

Western Sagebrush Lizard (Blue underside

Western Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus gracilis): broadly distributed across northern California and southern Oregon, south to Mendocino County on the coast and east to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but generally not in the valleys –typically at elevations of 500-10,500 feet (150-3200 m); prefer sagebrush, manzanita and other shrublands, as well as pine, Douglas Fir and Redwood forests often in the mountains where they are more abundant than fence lizards; adults are 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) total length, and gray or brown in color with irregular dark bands on the body and tail, and a bar of black on the shoulder; males have patches of bright light blue on each side of the belly and on the throat, which they use to confront other males and attract females –they do ‘push-ups’ to expose the bright blue!; scales are smaller in sagebrush lizards as compared with fence lizards, who also have longer spines on each scale; active from spring to late fall (hibernates in winter) and are excellent climbers and can jump from one object to another; as a defense, tail detaches easily and wiggles to distract predators, allowing escape; feed on a wide variety of small invertebrates.

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/s.g.gracilis.html

Northwestern Fence Lizard (HumCO-dorsal)

Northwestern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis): broadly distributed across the north state and Oregon, south to Mendocino county and east toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains –abundant in the valleys (where sagebrush lizards are less common, but ranging from sea level to 10,500 feet (150-3200 m); brown to gray often with light stripes or irregular lines on the sides; in contrast to sagebrush lizards, fence lizards have yellow coloring on the back of the thighs and larger scales (each with longer spine); males have patches of bright light blue on each side of the belly and on the throat, which they use to confront other males and attract females –they do ‘push-ups’ to expose the bright blue!; active when temperatures are warm, inactive in extreme heat or cold; as a defense, tail detaches easily and wiggles to distract predators, allowing escape; feed on a wide variety of small terrestrial invertebrates, and sometimes small lizards including its own species.

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/s.o.occidentalis.html

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/images/sooccidentalishu.jpg

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/images/sooccidentalisventhu.jpg

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/images/sooccidentalissi8114.jpg

http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/images/sooccidentalislfsacvent.jpg

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

 
Western Skilton's Skink.jpg

Western (“Skilton’s”) Skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus skiltonianus): found along the coast and coast ranges from San Diego County to the Bay Area, and broadly across northern California, extending up though the northwester states; prefers woodlands, pine forests and chaparral, particularly sunny clearings at the edges of creeks and rivers with lots of vegetation; slim body with small head, smooth scaling, and up to 7.5 inches (19 cm) in total length; striped with 3 dark brown and light cream stripes; tail is bright blue in juveniles and young adults, which may later fade to dull blue or gray; active in day time, but secretive and typically found underneath bark, leaf litter, rocks, or other surface objects;  eats insects and other invertebrates especially spiders and sow bugs; as a defense, it easily loses its bright blue tail, which wiggles to distract predators allowing escape.

 http://www.californiaherps.com/lizards/pages/p.s.skiltonianus.html

https://s3.amazonaws.com/classconnection/111/flashcards/2021111/jpg/esskiltonsisk-153BF1933A71F2C6B04.jpg 

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

 
 

 

Northern Rubber Boa (Charina bottae): non-venomous snake found in northern California coastal, Coast Range, and Sierra Nevada regions, but not in northern California valleys, and broadly across the northwestern USA including northern Nevada, sea level to 10,000 feet (3000 m); adults are 14-33 inches (35-84 cm) total length, with brown, pink, tan, olive-green coloration above and yellow, orange or cream color below –typically little or no patterning in the colors; has a smooth, stout body and a blunt-ended thick tail that almost looks like a head; they are constrictors that coil and can wrap their bodies around your arm or leg, and which can hold small mammals, birds, reptiles that make up their diet; as a defense, they will coil up and stick their blunt head-like tail in the air –better to lose part of your tail than your head! (scarred tails are commonly seen); known to live as long as 40-50 years; prefer grassy meadows, woodlands along streams and creeks, and both deciduous and coniferous forests.

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/c.bottae.html

https://media1.fdncms.com/northcoast/imager/u/original/14196216/rubber-boa.jpg

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

SNAKES

Western Yellow-bellied Racer (Del Norte

Western Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor mormon) non-venomous snake found along all of California’s coast and Coast Range and through most of northern California and the Northwestern states; slender body can be over 6 feet (190 cm) in length, although typically less than 3 feet in California, with broad head and smooth scales; adults have plain brown, olive-green, or grey-blue coloration above with no patterning, and yellow to white underneath, whereas juveniles are different, with extensive dark blotching on their back; they are active in daylight, good climbers, quick moving, and bites aggressively; they are not constrictors and hunt with their head held high off the ground, often moving it side to side while moving forward, and then quickly capturing prey and crushing with using their strong jaws –lizards, small mammals, birds reptiles and amphibians, and insects make up their diet; prefers open sunny areas, either moist or arid (but not desert or high mountains).

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/c.c.mormon.html

 

Northwestern Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus occidentalis): not dangerous to humans, a mildly venomous, small snake found throughout the coast and Coast Range from Mendocino County north into Oregon; adults are only 11-16 inches (28-42 cm) in total length, with a characteristic bright orange necklace-like band around their neck; body is smooth with dark olive or blackish or gray-blue coloration on the back, and bright orange or red underneath; typically found in moist habitats, under surface cover (rocks, bark, leaf litter), but may be seen moving around on cloudy days and at dusk and night; eats small vertebrates, worms, slugs and insects, with its mild venom helping to incapacitate prey; when disturbed or threatened, it will coil up like a corkscrew to expose its bright red/orange underside, but they have not been seen to bite in defense (venom is not effective on larger animals).

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/d.p.occidentalis.html

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/imth/xdpoccidentalishu.jpg

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

Kingsnake (Lampropeltis sp.): although three species of kingsnakes are common throughout most of California, they are absent from the damp redwood and coastal forests; a non-venomous snake with alternating bands of black or brown and white or light-yellow; they are immune to rattlesnake venom, so they eat rattlesnakes, in addition to a wide variety of small vertebrates and large invertebrates; they are powerful constrictors, which they use to capture prey.

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/l.californiae.html

Pacific Gophersnake (Alameda Co.).jpg
 

Pacific Gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer): this non-venomous, commonly-seen snake is found north of Santa Barbara County east to the Sierra Nevada mountains, and north through much of California into Oregon; they can casually appear similar to a rattlesnake, so be sure you know the difference before interacting with them; adults range from 2.5-9 feet (76-280 cm) in total length, with a narrow head (different from rattlesnakes) and heavily keeled (‘rough’) scales; their base color is straw or tan, with large square dark blotches along the back; they are active in daytime, or at night in hot weather, and are powerful constrictor that captures, suffocates (by constriction), and eats small-to-medium sized mammals and other vertebrates; in defense, they may flee, lie quietly and blend in, or strike, but even more dramatically they may mimic a rattlesnake by coiling up, flattening its head, hiss, and shake its (non-rattling) tail; commonly found from sea level to about 9,000 feet (2,700 m) across many habitat types, almost anywhere in which mammals can be found and captured.

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/p.c.catenifer.html

http://www.thirdeyeherp.com/spuck/california/2017/30%20pacific%20gopher%20snake_2815.jpg

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

Oregon Gartersnake.jpg

Oregon Gartersnake (Thamnophis atratus hydrophilus): non-venomous snake found along the coast and in Coast Ranges from Mendocino County north into southwest Oregon, typically in aquatic dominated habitat; some propose that they may be absent from the Humboldt coast (but try to find one!); toxins in saliva can be deadly to prey, and a bite might produce an unpleasant reaction in humans (not considered dangerous to humans); adults are 18-40 inches (46-102 cm) in length, slender with a head barely wider than the neck; base coloration is gray, olive-gray, or brownish, generally with bright stripes running down the back and on each side, with a light colored throat and pinkish/purplish tint underside (this species often loses dorsal stripe beyond the neck area, as compared with other gartersnakes); highly aquatic species able to remain underwater for extended periods of time, and often active year-round particularly spring, summer and fall; adults actively forage for amphibians and their larvae (‘tadpoles’) and sometimes small fish, leeches, and small mammals; when they eat newts which have deadly neurotoxin (tetradotoxin) in their tissues, they are able to retain the tetradotoxin for many weeks which makes them poisonous to their own predators.

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/t.a.hydrophilus.html

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/images/teterrestrisdnab1008.jpg

Coast Gartersnake (reddish stripes).jpg
 

Coast Gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans terrestris): non-venomous snake found along the coastal zones from Ventura County north to the Oregon border; toxins in saliva can be deadly to prey, and a bite might produce an unpleasant reaction in humans (not considered dangerous to humans); adults are 18-43 inches (46-109 cm) in length, slender with a head barely wider than the neck; coloration is variable (in Humboldt County, there is often a reddish/brown ground color, with red spotting on the sides), but there is usually a yellow dorsal stripe and yellowish side stripes all running down the length of the snake; the underside is yellowish to bluish-gray with varying amounts of reddish markings; chiefly a terrestrial snake, not as dependent upon aquatic environments as other gartersnake species, but often near water or in moist settings; wide variety of prey from mammals to amphibians and reptiles to invertebrates; in the humid north coast forests including Humboldt County, they are predisposed to eat slugs that are commonly found; when they eat newts which have deadly neurotoxin (tetradotoxin) in their tissues, they are able to retain the tetradotoxin for many weeks which makes them poisonous to their own predators.

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/t.e.terrestris.html

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/images/teterrestris04pesc.jpg

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

California Red-sided Gartersnake.jpg

California Red-sided Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis): non-venomous snake found along the coast and Coast Range from San Diego County north to El Norte County, typically near ponds, marshes and streams; toxins in saliva can be deadly to prey, and a bite might produce an unpleasant reaction in humans (not considered dangerous to humans); adults are 18-55 inches (46-140 cm) in length, slender with a head barely wider than the neck; the top of the head is red with body ground coloration dark olive to black with a wide yellow to bluish dorsal stripe and less distinct light lateral stripes that may blend somewhat with colors of the belly; above the lateral stripes, the sides have red bars alternating with the ground color, with the underside is bluish-gray; good swimmers, they are often active near water or in moist settings, and will tolerate cooler temperatures as compared with other gartersnake species; they eat a wide variety of prey including mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and invertebrates; when they eat newts which have deadly neurotoxin (tetradotoxin) in their tissues, they are able to retain the tetradotoxin for many weeks which makes them poisonous to their own predators.

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/t.s.infernalis.html

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/images/tsinfernalcuhu604.jpg

 

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) dangerously venomous, found from the coast to Sierra Nevada, from Kern County north into Oregon, Washington and southern British Columbia, preferring rocky areas and woodland habitat that provides shelter and hiding places; it is the only rattlesnake in our region; adults are 15-36 inches (38-91 cm) in length, with a heavy, broad body and a large triangular head, separated by a narrower neck, in addition to a rattle at the end of the tail; being pit vipers, they have two sensory pits on each side of the head above the mouth that detect infrared light emanating from warm-blooded animals like mammals and birds –they can use this at night without any visual cues to strike accurately at a warm-blooded prey!; their ground color matches the environment in which they reside, with the back and sides typically having dark-colored blotched markings with light borders, and often a light stripe extending diagonally behind the eye to the corner of their mouth; they are typically more active at dusk and night, and not active in winter; they use venom (injected by fangs) to quickly immobilize their prey and to begin the process of digestion from the inside-out, followed by swallowing –they can unhinge their jaws to accommodate larger prey like rabbits or squirrels (note that adult California Ground Squirrels are immune to rattlesnake venom); when rattlesnakes are coiled and rattling, it’s a warning that they feel threatened…at least our venomous snake gives warning not to bother them!

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/c.o.oreganus.html

http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/images/cooreganushulh101510.jpg

BACK... to Shelter Cove reptiles QUICK-LINKS

scarf%20logo_edited.jpg
FINAL%20rectangle%20PCEC%20logo%20%5B2%5