Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Pursuit of Herpiness

Has anyone else noticed how suddenly snakey it's gotten out there?

The spring was rolling along dry but cool... a few early-bird fence lizards were up... and then bam! - we get 2 heat spells and spring and summer snakes are all over the place.

I mean, the season has barely begun and I've already seen 6 species.

Below are the highlights.

First off, a yearling (born last summer) Yellow-bellied Racer, Coluber mormon:

shy boy
Yearling yellow-bellied racer acting shy after biting me repeatedly

yummy yellow
Getting that distinctive yellow belly

going away pose
The back spots, likely to mimic a rattlesnake, are also fading to the adult gray-green

For reference, here's a baby yellow-bellied racer I caught in 2012, and then an adult from 2011 - both from the same area as the yearling:

no yellow belly, but still feisty
Newish born yellow-bellied racer in 2012 for color and pattern comparison

baby racer
Same 2012 newish born in-hand

Adult yellow-bellied racer from 2011 to show mature coloring

And while you might think the racer, a snake that chases down prey, would be a big snake on the block - in California, there is always the king to contend with - the California Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula californiae. A banded beaut of a constrictor that happily hunts and eats any snake species, even rattlers (kings are immune to their toxins).

In this case - just the other evening - a very bold ~14" female king (queen?) decided to take on a ~30" racer. And the racer proved a bit too big of a mouthful.

California kingsnake taking on a much larger yellow-bellied racer

clamped on
Clamped on to the lower jaw

and a muy-thai master
In MMA they call this a "good ground game"

"ah - monkeys!"
Releasing the jaw to find the whole head, she saw us and reared up to defend her prey

"Mine!" (as she strikes at our cameras)

Our presence eventually caused the lady king to release the racer, which then left the scene. Probably for the better though - that battle might not have ended well for both snakes.

On Thursday, I also saw this sweetheart of a Pacific Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer. Quite the shimmery orange belly.

nice gopher
Pacific gopher snake near the Pacific (that's it in the background)

orange cream
Creamsicle orange

Hope these sightings are a foretelling of good herping this year, because the gang heads out to the Mojave soon for our annual herp holiday. Maybe we can beat the 17 species of 2011.



  1. The scales on the top of the head of the "Same 2012 newish born in-hand" snake look huge in relation to the rest of the body. Now I am wondering how scales grow. A quick check of my fav Snakes in Question (The Smithsonian Answer Book), confirms that "Scale numbers on a snake do not change with growth." and "Snakes do not grow longer and larger by adding new scales rows or new vertebrae." I kinda knew that since id of a snake often refers to the number of scales at a certain location on a snake (above jaw, across the back . . .) . So I am guessing that every time they shed, the individual scales could be larger and maybe some scales grow at different rates. Baby racer needs to grow into his large head scales. And queenie kingsnake will probably learn that jaw clamping should be avoided. Has anyone ever studied whether snakes learn hunting techniques with experience? Fascinating. I will just go consult with the gophersnake sunning behind the barn.

    1. Yes, we all spend our lives growing into our heads.

  2. What a great series of photos, especially the over ambitious kingsnake. I grew up in Santa Barbara, so I am very familiar with the local snakes of the area. In fact, I was obsessed with herps throughout my entire youth. Oh how I miss finding those kingsnakes, gopher snakes, racers, ringnecks, garter snakes, and rattlers. I loved them all.

  3. Love the blog title of this one! Clever play on words.

  4. What camera are you using to get these great macro-focus shots?

    1. All of these photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 point-and-shoot in Macro mode.

  5. good stuff
    that gopher snake is quite striking

    I have found 5 CA Kings this year all while barely looking -- things have indeed been different this spring...

    1. Heard about your amazing 5 kings. There was much speculation in the desert that you were flipping the same board and finding the same one over and over... ;)


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