CALIFORNIA, (KTXL) — Seeing a snake in the wild can be a heart-stopping moment, and with nearly 50 types of snakes calling California home it can be difficult to know what you are looking at.
Here is a list of California’s snakes, including which ones pose the greatest harm to humans. All of the following information was collected from iNaturalist.
iNaturalist was created in partnership with the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic.
Habitat: It can be found in the Southwest of the United, Southern California, Southern Nevada, most of Arizona and southern New Mexico.
More specifically they can be found in the high desert, low mountain slopes, sagebrush, mesquite, creosote, areas of sparse vegetation, among cacti, Joshua tree forests or grassy plains.
Appearance: These snakes can appear in serval shades of brown to pale green based on the surrounding environment. Sometimes this green color is referred to as “Mojave greens”.
Diet: Small rodents and lizards
Lethality: The Mojave Rattlesnake is the world’s most venomous rattlesnake. Chances of survival are good if medical attention is received as quickly as possible.
Red Diamond Rattlesnake
Habitat: The Red Diamond Rattlesnake can be found in Southwestern California and Baja California.
Specifically, they can be found in cooler coastal zones, mountains and deserts. It prefers dense chaparral county of the foothills, cactus patches and boulders covered with brush.
Appearance: Has distinguishing reddish color
Diet: Rabbits, ground squirrels, lizards and other snakes
Lethality: Has one of the least potent rattlesnakes venoms. If a person does receive a bite medical attention should be sought out as soon as possible.
Habitat: Deserts of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico
Appearance: One of the unique characteristics of the sidewinder is its raised supraocular scales above its eyes that give the appearance of horns.
Diet: lizards and rodents
Lethality: Their venom is less dangerous than other larger rattlesnakes, but any rattlesnake bite should be taken seriously and medical attention should be provided as soon as possible.
Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake
Habitat: Southern California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and western Arizona.
They tend to reside in rocky hillsides, canyons, talus slopes and rocky ledges. They have been found at elevations more than 5,000 feet.
Appearance: Coloration can vary depending on its environment. It may be pink, brown, gray, yellow or almost white with black and white speckles.
Diet: Small mammals, birds and lizards
Lethality: Bites on humans have resulted in extreme swelling, large blisters and several hours of intense pain.
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
Habitat: Found from central Arkansas to southwestern and Central California.
Appearance: Hosts a series of color patterns including a gray-brown ground color, pinkish-brown, brick red, yellowish, pinkish or chalky white.
Diet: bird, lizards, mice and lizards
Lethality: The Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake accounts for the greatest number of snakebites in the United States. As they stand their ground when they are confronted, they are considered one of the most aggressive rattlesnakes in the United States.
Habitat: Found in Washington, Oregon and California. It can also be found in parts of Mexico and Canada
Appearance: Its coloration can be dark-brown, dark-gray and olive-brown with black blotches and uneven white edges.
Diet: birds, bird eggs, small mammals, reptiles
Lethality: These are venomous
Yellow-bellied Sea Snake
Habitat: This species of sea snake has been found in the Indo-Pacific, Costa Rice and Southern California. In 2015, they were seen and photographed on beaches in Ventura County.
Appearance: These snakes have a bicolor pattern with a yellow underbelly and brown back.
Diet: They eat pelagic fish by floating on the surface of the water to attract fish seeking shelter. They then swim backward and lunge at the fish with their jaws open.
Lethality: The venom from this snake can cause damage to skeletal muscle with consequent myoglobinuria, neuromuscular paralysis or direct renal damage.
California King Snake
Habitat: This species lives in a wide variety of habitats, including woodland chaparral, grassland, deserts, marshes, and even suburban areas.
Appearance: A wide range of color morphs exist in the wild; they are usually found with alternating dark and light bands ranging in color from black and white to brown and cream.
Diet: California kingsnakes are opportunistic feeders and common food items include rodents, birds, other reptiles and amphibians. The “king” in their name refers to their propensity to hunt and eat other snakes, including venomous rattlesnakes; California kingsnakes are naturally resistant to the venom of rattlesnakes.
Bite: They are considered harmless to humans, but if handled it is common for this species to bite, as well as excrete musk and fecal contents
Habitat: Ranges across the entire southern United States. Coachwhips are commonly found in open areas with sandy soil, open pine forests, old fields and prairies. They thrive in sandhill scrub and coastal dunes.
Appearance: They vary greatly in color, but most reflect a proper camouflage for their natural habitat. They have thin bodies with small heads and large eyes
Diet: Lizards, small brids, rodents
Bite: Can be painful, but harmless unless it goes untreated
There are several different types of Garter across the United States and in California including; Common, Northwestern, Checkered, Giant and Two-striped.
Checkered Garter Snake
Habitat: Found near water in grasslands and deserts
Appearance: Green with a checkered pattern down its back
Diet: Small frogs, toads, small fish and earthworms
Bite: Has a mild neurotoxic venom that is nonlethal to humans
Common Garter Snake
Habitat: Indigenous to North America
Appearance: Yellow stripes on a black, brown or green background
Diet: Mice and other small rodents
Bite: Can cause slight itching and/or swelling in humans
Giant Garter Snake
Habitat: Found in the wetlands of the Sacramento Valley, but are rather rare
Appearance: Have a yellow dorsal stripe against a black or dark gray background and two additional yellow stripes on either side that run the length of its body
Diet: Fish, frogs and tadpoles
Bite: Its venom is harmless to humans but may cause itchiness and/or a rash in the bite area
Northwestern Garter Snake
Habitat: California, Oregon and Washington
Appearance: Is one of the most varied species of snakes in the world
Diet: Slugs, salamanders and frogs
Two-striped Garter Snake
Habitat: Mainly found in central California and Baja California. Is highly aquatic and prefers a habitat near to permanent or semi-permanent bodies of water
Appearance: Has a yellow lateral stripe on each side
Diet: Fish and amphibians
Habitat: Normally found in semi-arid grasslands between California and Kansas
Appearance: Have a similar appearance to the Gopher Snake, but are smaller with narrow and point heads.
Diet: small lizards
Habitat: Much of the western United States, northern Mexico and southwest Canada
Appearance: Yellow or pale brown with large brown or black blotches and smaller dark spots on the side. Their appearance is similar to rattlesnakes, but they do not have black and white banding on its tail like a rattlesnake
Diet: rodents and lizards
Bite: Gopher snakes do not bite with an open mouth but rather use their blunt nose to strike would-be attackers.
Habitat: Found throughout North American, but are typically found in dry, rocky areas with loose soil.
Appearance: Can be brown, red or orange with black banding or orange or brown striping
Diet: Eat primarily spiders, scorpions, centipedes, crickets and insect larvae
Habitat: They can be found throughout much of central and southern California. The preferred natural habitats of the long-nosed snake are desert, grassland, shrubland, and savanna.
Appearance: It is tricolor, vaguely resembling a coral snake with black and red saddling that almost looks like banding, on a yellow or cream-colored background, which can look somewhat like yellow banding.
Diet: It feeds on lizards, amphibians, and sometimes smaller snakes and infrequently rodents.
North American Racer
Habitat: Found near water, brush, trash piles, roadsides and swamps
Appearance: Solid-colored with a white, light-tan or yellow-colored belly
Diet: Small rodents, frogs, toads, lizards and other snakes
Pacific Ringneck Snake
Habitat: Can be found in woodlands, rocky hillsides, and wetter environments with an abundant cover or woody debris across much of the United States, including the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and California coast.
Appearance: Dorsal coloration is solid olive, brown, bluish-gray to smoke black. Broken only by a distinct yellow, red or yellow-orange neckband
Diet: smaller salamanders, earthworms and slugs
Bite: Incredibly harmless
Habitat: Live along the pacific coast to western Utah and Montana
Appearance: Has loose wrinkled skin with small scales that are smooth and shiny
Diet: Shrew, voles and mice
Bite: It is one of the most docile snakes and is used to help people overcome their fear of snakes
Sharp Tail Snake
Habitat: Located largely in the Sacramento Valley
Appearance: Distinguished by its sharp tail spine that can range in color from gray-brown to brick red
Diet: slugs and slug eggs
Bite: Its spine is non-toxic and not lethal to humans
Western Black-headed Snake
Habitat: Common in most of California and can be found as far out as Utah and Texas. It lives in mostly moist pockets in mostly arid or semiarid environments and spends much of its life underground.
Appearance: Brown, slender, olive-gray with a black-headed bordered with a white collar
Diet: Arthropods, particularly centipedes and beetle larvae, as well as spiders, insects, slugs, and earthworms.