Amphibians & Reptiles of Coe Park
A cold-blooded, smooth-skinned vertebrate of the class Amphibia. Many Amphibians hatch as aquatic larvae with gills and, in most species, then undergo metamorphosis into four-legged terrestrial adults with lungs for breathing air.
Word History Amphibians, not quite fish and not quite reptiles, were the first vertebrates to live on land. These cold-blooded animals spend their larval stage in water, breathing through their gills. In adulthood they usually live on land, using their lungs to breath air. This double life is also at the root of their name, amphibian, which, like many scientific words, derives from Greek. The Greek prefix amphi- means "both," or "double," and the Greek word bios means "life."
Reptiles are cold-blooded vertebrates, meaning they do not have an automatic internal body temperature control system. This means they depend on external warm sources, mainly the sun.
They breathe using a pulmonary system. Reptiles typically hatch from eggs, and the young are left to fend for themselves. Most are carnivorous, preying on small mammals, birds, insects and insect larvae. Some, such as iguanas, are herbivorous. Reptiles have scaly skin which keeps their body from drying out. They also have a double loop circulatory system which gives fully oxygenated blood to the body. They are tetrapods (either having four limbs or being descended from four-limbed ancestors).
|California Tiger Salamander
|California Slender Salamander
|California Red-legged Frog
|Foothill Yellow-legged Frog
California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense)
Description: This is a large salamander, with adults males frequently reaching 8 inches in total length while females are usually a little less than 7 inches in total length. These are thick-bodied salamanders with broad heads and blunt snouts and they usually have 12 costal grooves. Adults are a lustrous black or dark grey, with oval to bar-shaped spots ranging in color from white to yellow. Bellies are grayish in color and may contain a few small dull yellow spots. The tail is flattened from side to side to facilitate swimming. The eyes protrude from the head and have black pupils. Juveniles are dark olive green in color and do not generally have any lighter markings.
General Information/Ecology: Endemic to California; isolated from other tiger salamander populations for 5 million years. Once common throughout the lowland areas of the state from Santa Barbara to Sacramento, the species is gone from most of its historic range due to agricultural and residential development. Since 2004 it has been listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act. Its main habitat is grasslands and oak savannah in valleys and foothills. Heavily dependent upon mammal burrows for shelter; poisoning campaigns targeting ground squirrels probably contributed to its decline. They spend most of their life underground at upland sites, active primarily at night. Though primarily a terrestrial animal, they must come to water to breed and lay eggs, but do not remain in ponds. They have been known to travel distances over a half mile from upland sites to breeding ponds. Originally bred in wetlands and vernal pools; fortunately they also use stock ponds, and have persisted in many areas due to the presence of man-made water sources. They do not use streams or flowing waters. Adults migrate to ponds in winter, following storms. Females attach eggs singly in shallow water. Larvae hatch and remain in ponds, growing rapidly and transforming by late spring or summer. In drought years ponds may dry quickly and larvae may not survive. Other threats to the species include non-native species, particularly fish and bullfrogs, as well as hybridization with other tiger salamander species set loose in California. Can live 10+ years.
Coe Specific: Apparently restricted to the west side of the park, especially towards the south, which contains more breeding sites. Has been seen in Hunting Hollow, Steer Ridge, Phegley Ridge east to Vasquez Peak, and is probably present on Palassou and Fitzgerald Ridges. May be absent from central and eastern portions of the park due to rugged terrain, unsuitable habitat (e.g. chaparral), and lack of suitable breeding sites. The population status in the park is unclear, but it is probably more common just outside the park, including lightly developed portions of the valley floor, where it was once common. In Coe, non-native species such as fish and bullfrogs threaten its existence, and wild pigs may also contribute to its decline. California newts have been known to feed on eggs.
California Newt (Taricha torosa)
Description: This is a stocky, medium sized, salamander ranging between 5 to 8 inches in total length. It is tan to reddish brown on the dorsal surface with a yellow to orange belly. The eyelids and the area below the eyes are lighter colored than the rest of the head. The iris is silvery to pale yellow and the eyes appear to extend beyond the outline of the head when viewed from above. Terrestrial, non-breeding adults have warty skin and are not slimy. Aquatic, breeding males develop smooth or slimy skin, a lighter body color, swellings around their cloacal openings, and a fin-like tail.
General Information/Ecology: Endemic to California, California newts are found from Mendocino County south along the coast to San Diego, as well as in the Sierra foothills. Southern California populations have shown marked declines due primarily to habitat loss; central and northern California populations are in better shape. California newts are often seen crossing roads in wet weather as they migrate to and from breeding sites in ponds and streams. Unlike many salamanders, they are active during the day and thus more frequently encountered. During the dry season, they leave water and migrate to upland sites, where they aestivate until the rainy season returns. They use both creeks and ponds as breeding sites, where females attach golf-ball sized egg masses to vegetation. California newts are toxic and thus avoided by most predators; their skin secretes Tetrodotoxin in quantities large enough to sicken or kill most would-be predators. Garter snakes have evolved a degree of immunity to the poisons, and thus sometimes take newts. Newts can be distinguished from other salamanders (particularly ensatinas) by a lack of grooves on the sides of the body. They are often mistaken for lizards, but their slow movement and lack of scales makes identification easy.
Coe Specific: Common to abundant in Coe; found throughout the park. Often encountered during cool, damp days in winter and spring, often well away from water in forested areas of the park. They are the only salamander in the park likely to be seen out during the day. They breed in the creeks of the park and in most of the ponds, where the adults can often be seen breeding underwater. Could possibly limit California tiger salamander numbers and distribution in the park due to their potential to prey on eggs. If handled, it would be wise to wash your hands shortly after to avoid ingesting toxic secretions.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii)
Description: This is a medium-sized salamander, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in total length. They have a stout body with relatively long legs. They can be identified primarily by the structure of the tail which is rounded and constricted at the base and they have 5 toes on the back feet. Males have longer, more slender tails than females. They have smooth skin and 12 to 13 costal grooves. The color pattern of Ensatinas is highly polymorphic through their range. The Yellow-eyed Ensatina is orange brown above and orange below. The base of the legs are often lighter than the rest of the body.
General Information/Ecology: Ensatina are found along the west coast from British Columbia to Baja California. This species has long been recognized as a complex of seven highly variable subspecies, and taxonomic revisions are likely as genetic analysis provides a clearer understanding of the relationship between subspecies. Ensatinas are lungless salamanders, breathing through their skin, and although they depend upon moist conditions, they do not go to water, breeding and living their entire lives on land. They reach their highest densities in moist forests with plenty of cover in the form of logs, leaf litter, and rocks. Largely nocturnal, they are rarely seen wandering about in daylight, preferring to remain beneath cover objects. Like some lizard species, they are able to lose their tails in self-defense, as a means of distraction. They are active during the rainy season, retreating underground to aestivate during the summer and early fall.
Coe Specific: The Ensatina subspecies inhabiting Coe is Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica, the yellow-eyed salamander. It is unique among ensatina subspecies in that it is a mimic of the poisonous California newt, with brown dorsal coloration, orange belly, and yellow eyes. Such protective coloration serves as an advantage in the presence of predators. Though not often seen, the species is probably common in Coe, especially in the forests of the west side of the park bordering steams. They are probably active here from November through April, depending on rainfall patterns.
Photo Credit: squamatologist
California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus)
Description: This is a small slim salamander that is 3 to 5 ½ inches in total length. There are between 18 and 21 costal grooves, conspicuous in appearance, lending a worm-like appearance to this species. It has small, very short limbs and a long tail and each foot has 4 toes. It has variable coloring, generally black or dark above with red, brown, yellow, or tan coloring forming a dorsal stripe, sometimes with a herringbone pattern. The belly is usually black or dusky colored and finely speckled with white.
General Information/Ecology: California slender salamanders are found along the coast from southern Oregon to central California, with inland populations extending to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. These tiny salamanders may be found in a variety of habitats, but have their largest concentrations in moist forested areas. These lungless salamanders breathe through their skin, and live their life cycle entirely on land, never coming to water to breed. They are nocturnal, active primarily on damp nights, and thus are not often seen even where abundant, spending days beneath cover objects and moist leaf litter. Like other lungless salamanders, they are active during the rainy season, aestivating underground as conditions dry in late spring. They are sedentary, often living their entire lives within an area no larger than a garage. They are often found in suburban gardens beneath cover objects, and are even found in some urban areas. Like Ensatinas, they can lose their tail when attacked, but more frequently will coil their bodies and wriggle rapidly, sometimes springing themselves several feet away in the process.
Coe Specific: California slender salamanders are found throughout the park, yet seldom seen due to their small size, cryptic coloration, and nocturnal activity pattern. Their numbers are probably highest in the moist forests in the west side of the park, where they may be abundant.
Photo Credit: Kaldari
Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris)
Description: This is a medium to large sized salamander reaching up to 7 inches in total length. This salamander is brown above with small cream to yellow spots. The undersides of the tail and feet are dull yellow. Males have large triangular heads. Its toes have slightly enlarged, squarish tips and the tail is prehensile and often coiled when at rest. It has 13 to 16 costal grooves.
General Information/Ecology: Arboreal salamanders are found inhabiting the coast ranges of California down to Baja, and a portion of the mid-elevation central Sierra Nevada. Like Ensatinas and slender salamanders, they are lungless, breathing through their skin. They do not use streams or ponds to breed, doing so on land. Their primary habitat is forest, and they are particularly associated with Coast live oak forests, although they are known to inhabit blue oak forests, oak savannah, and even chaparral.
Like other lungless salamanders, they are active during the rainy season, becoming dormant as the ground dries in late spring. Arboreal salamanders are aptly named, for their prehensile tails allow them to climb trees with ease, and have been recorded in tree cavities over fifty feet high. Besides bark and tree cavities, arboreal salamanders use cover objects on the forest floor such as rocks and logs, yet they are rarely seen, preferring to emerge at night. Arboreal salamanders are unusual in that they possess formidable jaw muscles and sharp teeth, and are one of the few salamanders to employ biting as a defense strategy. Though rather small, their bite is strong enough to break the skin, something to think about before choosing to handle one. They are known to prey on other salamanders, particularly slender salamanders, although invertebrates compose the bulk of their diet.
Coe Specific: Though probably common in appropriate habitat, arboreal salamanders are rarely seen. Anecdotal evidence suggests they are less common that Ensatinas in the park. They are most likely to be found on the west side of the park, especially in Coast live oak forests, where they may be active throughout winter and spring, retreating to trees or below ground as summer approaches. Interestingly, this species is sometimes seen in suburban areas adjacent to forested habitats, hiding under logs and stones in back yards.
Photo Credit: Bill Bouton
California Toad (Anaxyrus boreas)
Description: It is dusky gray or greenish with a white or cream dorsal stripe. It is covered with small round warts that may be reddish-brown and encircled by dark pigment. Males have smoother skin and are usually smaller than females. The eyes have horizontal pupils. It has no cranial crests. Compared to many toads, it has rather small hind legs and it typically runs over ground rather than hops.
General Information/Ecology: General information/ecology: California toads are found throughout the west with the exception of the southwestern deserts. They occupy a variety of habitats, and though not strictly nocturnal, are more active at night. Adults spend most of their lives away from water, in mammal burrows and other hiding places. They come to water to breed in winter and early spring, when females deposit strings of eggs in the waters of ponds and slow-flowing streams. Toad tadpoles are small, barely exceeding an inch in length, and are dark colored, often black. They typically swim in dense schools in shallow water along the shoreline, behaviors that reduce their chances of predation from aquatic predators. They transform in early summer, often in prodigious numbers, and are very small – less than half an inch long- upon metamorphosis. Compared to frogs, toads move slowly. Lacking well-developed hind leg muscles, toads cannot jump, walking with a waddling crawl. Paratoid glands and warts distinguish them from frogs; their skin exudes milky secretions that can sicken many would-be predators. The effect on people is mild. The long-held belief that toads can transmit warts to people is entirely false.
Coe Specific: California toads are comprised of several subspecies. The one inhabiting Coe is the California toad, Anaxyrus boreas halophilus. They are found throughout the park, where they are sometimes seen breeding in the ponds and streams in late winter and early spring. They may also be encountered at night throughout the year, crawling along the trails and dirt roads. Contrary to popular belief, they are just as likely to be found in the drier eastern sections of the park as in the west.
Photo Credit: Walter Siegmund
Sierran Treefrog (Pseudacris sierra)
Description: This is a small frog that ranges in size from ¾ to 1 inch. Males are usually smaller than females and have a dark patch on their throats. Their dorsal color pattern is highly variable ranging from unicolor to mottled with greens, tans, reds, grays, browns, or blacks. The underside is creamy with yellow underneath the back legs. They have a dark stripe that extends from just before the nostril, through the eye, and past the ear. They have the ability to change from light to dark. The skin is smooth and moist. On the end of each toe there is a round sticky toe pad used for sticking to surfaces.
General Information/Ecology: Long known as Pacific Treefrog, this species is undergoing a taxonomic revision, being split into three species based on genetic differences. The central California population is now known as the Sierra treefrog. Unlike many amphibians, Sierra treefrogs remain common throughout their range. They are generalists, being found in a variety of habitats, and are capable of breeding in all sorts of water bodies, from reservoirs to backyard ponds and ditches. They have an extended breeding season that begins in early winter, and their calls can be very loud for such a small creature. Their call is familiar to anyone who has been outdoors near creeks or ponds in spring, especially at night. The name treefrog is somewhat misleading, for while tubercles on the ends of the toes allow these frogs to climb, they are predominantly ground dwellers and rarely if ever ascend trees. They are also unique in that they can change color, and come in a wide variation of hues from green to gray to dark brown. Although they can jump well, they do not dive underwater to hide like frogs of the genus Rana. During the dry season, they can disperse well away from water, sometimes turning up on slopes hundreds of yards from streams or ponds. They are often found in suburban gardens, where they may breed in backyard ponds.
Coe Specific: Sierra treefrogs may be the most abundant amphibian in Coe. They are found throughout the park, breeding in nearly every fishless pond that holds water until summer. They also breed readily in all but the most ephemeral of streams. They tadpoles probably constitute an important food source for many species, from birds and red-legged frogs to garter snakes. They can be seen along the edges of creeks and ponds throughout the year.
Photo Credit: David Hofmann
California Red-legged Frog (Rana draytonii)
Description: This frog ranges from 1 ¾ to 5 ¼ inches in length, making it the largest native frog in the Western United States. Coloring is reddish-brown, brown, gray, or olive with small flecks and spots on the back and sides and dark banding on the legs. The hind legs and lower abdomen of adult frogs are often characterized by a reddish or salmon pink color. Typically, the face has a dark mask and a tan or light colored strip above the jaw that extends to the shoulder. Dorsolateral folds are present. Males can be recognized by their enlarged forelimbs, thumbs, and webbing. Adult females are significantly longer than males.
General Information/Ecology: The California red-legged frog is the largest native frog in the western United States, occurring in an impressive array of colors, from red and orange to olive, gray, and brown. They were originally found from north-central California west of the crest of the Sierra Nevada down to Baja California, but today are gone from approximately 70% of their historic range. The causes of the decline are many and varied, beginning with the gold rush and the pollution of foothill streams. In the 19th Century they were overharvested as a food source, so much so that by the turn of the century bullfrogs had been introduced to serve a similar function. Destruction of habitat played a major role, as well as the introduction of non-native species such as the aforementioned bullfrog and also a variety of game fish such as bass. Such fish are particularly devastating to frog populations, for they are capable of wiping out all tadpoles in a pond. Pesticides may also have contributed to the decline. They are nearly gone from the Sierra foothills, as well as Southern California. They were last seen on the floor of the Central Valley in 1960. Fortunately, populations along the coast were less impacted. In 1994 the California red-legged frog became the first frog species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The preferred habitat for red-legged frogs is slow-flowing streams and ponds, lakes, marshes, and wetlands. Like bullfrogs, they are ambush predators, hiding among cover while waiting for prey. They are capable of moving well away from water, particularly on damp nights, and have been known to traverse rugged terrain and steep slopes. During the dry season, if water becomes scarce, red-legged frogs have been known to occupy cracks in mud or isolated springs. Red-legged frogs breed in winter and early spring; males can occasionally be heard calling, a soft clucking grunt that is often drowned out by the calls of treefrogs. Females lay softball-sized egg masses, the larvae of which transform in late summer or early fall. Like bullfrogs, they are strong jumpers and dive to the bottom of the water when startled.
Coe Specific: The California red-legged frog can be found throughout the park, and in certain areas such as the southwestern portion may be fairly common. They seem to prefer ponds over streams in the park, especially as breeding sites. Juveniles are more frequently encountered than adults, which typically remain hidden during the day and are only occasionally seen. Bullfrogs represent a threat, as do fish, which can render a pond unsuitable for frogs by eating tadpoles. Fish transplantation is probably the biggest threat to the species in the park; in the early 1970's, both Frog Pond and Mahoney Pond contained viable frog populations and no fish; today, red-legged frogs are absent from both. On the other hand, Hoover Lake had been stocked with fish, but dried at some point in the 1990's. It now provides habitat for red-legged frogs. Their ability to use semi-permanent ponds as breeding sites gives them an advantage over both fish and bullfrogs. Breeding surveys conducted from 2001-2007 revealed red-legged frogs breeding at 33 of the park's 111 ponds. As such, Coe provides some of the best habitat remaining for the species in the Inner Coast Range.
Photo Credit: The U.S. Army
Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (Rana boylii)
Description: This frog is 1 ½ to 3 1/5 inches long from snout to vent. It is gray, brown, reddish or olive above; sometimes plain-colored but more often spotted and mottled with dusky hues. Colors usually harmonize with the prevailing color of rocks and soil. Yellow extends from the underside of the hind legs onto the lower abdomen. Snout with a triangular, usually buff-colored patch from its tip to a line connecting the eyelids. Throat and chest often dark-spotted. Skin is grainy and there are indistinct dorsolateral folds. The eyes have horizontal pupils.
General Information/Ecology: Foothill yellow-legged frogs were historically found from western Oregon to Baja California; today they are gone from much of their range, particularly in Southern California, where they may be extirpated. Habitat loss in the form of pollution, development, and water diversions seem to be the primary causes of the decline, though non-native species have likely played a role. Today, it is estimated that only 30 streams remain with populations exceeding 100 adult frogs. Despite that sobering statistic, the foothill yellow-legged frog has yet to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. In the State of California it is listed as a Species of Special Concern. Yellow-legged frogs are very specific in their habitat requirements, frequenting small rivers and streams with pure waters and cobble substrates. They do not travel across land, nor do they exist in ponds or lakes. They breed in spring, with females laying tennis-ball sized egg masses attached to cobble in well-aerated sections of streams. Tadpoles transform in late summer.
Coe Specific: Foothill yellow-legged frogs are found in only two watersheds within the park. Coyote Creek and some of its tributaries, including Water Gulch, harbor the species. Their presence on the east fork is minimal. A second, smaller population is found along Robison Creek in the vicinity of its confluence with Orestimba Creek. Streams such as Pacheco Creek, Mississippi Creek, Coon Creek, and Red Creek do not meet their habitat requirements, thus this species is absent from a good portion of the park. Populations may fluctuate, declining in the aftermath of drought years. This species can be seen reliably along the middle fork of Coyote Creek, as well as Soda Springs Canyon.
Photo Credit: Todd Pierson
Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)
Description: This is the largest true frog inhabiting California. Typical length ranges from 3 ½ to 8 inches. Males grow to be about 7 1/8 inches while females grow to be 8 inches. Color varies from brownish to shades of green, often with spots or blotches of a darker color about the back. Cream to yellow below with gray marbling on larger individuals. They have no dorsolateral folds. The hind feet are fully webbed. The sex of an adult bullfrog can be easily determined by examining the size of the tympanum (the external ear of the frog) relative to that of the eye. The tympanum is a round circle located on the side of the head near the eye, and in males it is much larger than the eye. In females the tympanum is as large or smaller than the eye. Also, during the breeding season the throat of the male bullfrog is yellow, whereas the females is white.
General Information/Ecology: Bullfrogs are the largest frogs in North America, originally occurring east of the Rocky Mountains. They were introduced to California around 1900, as a game animal and food source, and quickly spread throughout the low and middle elevation areas of the state outside of the deserts. Bullfrogs are able to occupy a variety of aquatic habitats, including ponds, lakes, marshes, sloughs, and slow-flowing streams. Although associated with aquatic habitats, bullfrogs are capable of dispersing well away from water bodies during wet weather, allowing them to spread widely across the landscape. Their loud, bull-like bellow can be heard from nearly half a mile away. Unlike native frogs, bullfrogs breed in early summer, with females depositing basketball-sized egg masses containing thousands of eggs. Bullfrogs are wary, remaining motionless along the banks of a pond or stream until approached closely, when they will leap into the water and dive to the bottom. Like other Ranid frogs, they are sit-and-wait ambush predators, capable of swallowing prey as large as small birds and mice. Introduced bullfrogs have been implicated in the decline of many native amphibian species throughout the west, through direct predation and/or competition for food resources.
Coe Specific: Though not abundant, bullfrogs are found throughout the park, especially in permanent ponds. Bullfrogs need permanent water in order to breed successfully, since their tadpoles take a full year to mature. Thus, ponds that dry annually cannot serve as breeding ponds for the species. It is likely that bullfrogs have had a negative impact on populations of native frogs, specifically foothill yellow-legged frogs and California red-legged frogs. Besides acting as a predator, bullfrogs may be able to out-compete and displace native frogs in the quest for food resources. For the benefit of native species, bullfrogs should be controlled in the park. Unfortunately, elimination may not be possible due to the presence of bullfrogs on properties just outside the park and the ability of bullfrogs to disperse and colonize new habitat. Ponds that dry annually or even occasionally may provide an advantage to red-legged frogs, the tadpoles of which transform in late summer or early fall. Bullfrogs typically emit a loud squawk when leaping into the water at the approach of a person, unlike native frogs which remain silent.
Photo Credit: Carl D. Howe
Northwestern Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata)
Description: A medium-sized turtle that reaches between 5 and 8 inches in length as an adult. The dorsal color is a drab dark brown, olive brown, or blackish with a low unkeeled carapace (the top shell that covers the turtle's back) and usually with a pattern of lines or spots radiating from the centers of the scutes. The plastron (the lower shell) is yellowish, sometimes with dark blotches in the center of the scutes. The legs have black speckling and may show cream to yellowish coloring. The head is usually dark and may contain yellow markings. Males have a concave plastron, lighter throat, and a longer tail than females.
General Information/Ecology: The Northwestern pond turtle is found along the West Coast in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and northern and central California where it inhabits a variety of habitats including ponds, lakes, streams, slow-flowing rivers, and sloughs. It consumes a varied diet consisting of both animal and plant matter, including carrion. Wary and secretive, pond turtles are adept at detecting predators and dive to deep water at the approach of a human. They are long-lived, with some individuals exceeding 40 years of age. The name pond turtle is not particularly accurate, for they may be found along streams, where they seek basking sites adjacent to deep pools. In addition, these turtles rely on terrestrial habitat for nesting and seasonal torpor. In areas where streams dry in summer, pond turtles retreat to upland sites and bury themselves beneath a cover of leaf litter or other plant matter; they may remain upland until winter rains restore stream flows and spring weather returns. They are capable of climbing steep slopes and may travel over 500 ft. from water. Though slow and plodding, pond turtles are capable of impressive movements, and can cover a mile of stream in several days. Due primarily to habitat loss and degradation, the Northwestern pond turtle is declining throughout its range and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service intends to list both Northwestern and Southwestern species under the federal Endangered Species Act as Threatened Species.
Coe Specific: The Northwestern pond turtle is found throughout the park along the major stream systems. They are apparently just as common in the drier east side of the park as in the west. They may also be seen at some of the park's ponds, especially the larger ones. Those in ponds may be seen throughout the year, basking on logs or rocks on sunny winter days. Turtles inhabiting streams are most likely to be seen in spring and early summer. Some of the best places in the park to see turtles include the east fork Coyote Creek, Orestimba Creek, Tule Pond, and Rodeo Pond.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)
Description: This smallish lizard measures 3 ½ inches (snout-vent length), and is about 6 inches in total length. Coloration can be brown, light gray or black with dark blotches on the back that continue down the tail. Sometimes light markings on the sides of the backs form stripes or irregular lines, and sometimes dark blotching may form irregular bands. The undersides of the legs are yellow. The belly is light in color. Males have bright blue markings on the sides of the belly edged in black and two blue patches on the throat. The scales are keeled and somewhat spiny.
General Information/Ecology: This lizard, familiar to even the novice, is highly visible in a variety of habitats, including suburban gardens and backyards. It is often referred to as "bluebelly", due to the patches of blue on the underside. In natural areas, fence lizards are typically found perched on fallen logs or rocks. There, they often engage in territorial displays which include a bobbing, up and down motion resembling a push-up. Excellent climbers, they are also seen scurrying up and down tree trunks. They attain high population densities and serve as a food source for a number of mammal, snake, and bird species. The presence of fence lizards has been associated with lower incidences of Lyme disease. The blood of fence lizards contains a protein which neutralizes the Lyme disease bacterium; ticks which feed on fence lizards are thus purged of the bacteria and cannot transmit it to humans.
Coe Specific: Fence lizards are abundant throughout the park and are the most numerous lizard species. They are potentially active all year, out basking during sunny, mild winter days in temperatures as low as 60 degrees.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Blainville's Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii)
Description: This is a relatively large, flat-bodied lizard with a wide oval body shape. An individuals snout-vent length can reach 4 inches. Numerous pointed scales stick out along the sides of the body and over the back, though only the horns around the head are rigid. The color is reddish, brown, yellow, or gray, with dark blotches on the back and large dark spots on the side of the neck. The belly is cream, beige, or yellow, usually with dark spots and the belly scales are smooth.
General Information/Ecology: Formerly known as the Coast horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum), this lizard is found along the coast and inland valleys from the Sacramento Valley to Baja California. Though potentially found in a variety of habitats, it prefers shrubby areas with loose soil and native ants, upon which it feeds. Horned lizards are most active in spring, from warm days in March to the onset of summer. By late summer, adults have retreated several inches underground and may not resume activity until spring. Horned lizards vary in coloration, and tend to resemble the surrounding soil. They rely on camouflage rather than fleeing to avoid predators, and their cryptic patterns make them very difficult to detect. They are capable of squirting blood out of their eyes as a defense mechanism, but rarely do so to humans. The Blainville's horned lizard has long been in decline due to a multitude of factors. Widespread habitat loss due to urban and agricultural development has caused lizards to disappear from many lowland areas; overcollecting for the pet trade has decimated populations as well. The appearance of non-native Argentine ants has also hurt this lizard, for the native ants upon which horned lizards feed tend to disappear following the presence of Argentine ants, which horned lizards do not find palatable. The Blainville's horned lizard is now protected in California as a Species of Special Concern, and may not be collected.
Coe Specific: Though found throughout the park, Blainville's horned lizards are most likely to be seen in the central and eastern portions of the park, especially in chaparral areas with loose soil. Look for them on mild to warm spring days. They are less likely to be seen in the southern and western sections of the park. All plant and animal species residing in Coe Park are protected. It is also against California state law to collect Blainville's horned lizards. It is easy to understand why someone would be tempted to catch one and take it home as a pet, but the sad truth is that horned lizards are notoriously finicky eaters and most people cannot provide the type of food they need. As a result, most captive horned lizards live brief lives.
Photo Credit: Jodie Keahey © All Rights Reserved
Western Skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus)
Description: This is a fairly small lizard with smooth scales, a broad brown dorsal stripe and a pair of light brown stripes on its side. Young skinks feature brilliant blue tails which fade as they mature. They can reach 5 to 7 ½ inches in total length as an adult. It has a thick tail, stout body, and small limbs. The neck is thick and the head is small. The dorsal coloration consists of brown, black, and golden-yellow or cream longitudinal stripes extending from the nose to the anterior portion of the tail. The belly is light gray to cream colored with faint green-blue mottling. The tail is blue in juveniles and brownish-gray in adults. Males develop reddish-orange coloration on the chin and sides of the head during the breeding season.
General Information/Ecology: The tail is detachable and may break free if grasped, diverting the attention of a would-be predator long enough for the lizard to take refuge safely. Western skinks can be found in many habitats, but are most closely associated with shady and even moist habitats such as forest openings and riparian areas. Though common, they are secretive and not often seen out in the open, spending much of the day in leaf litter or beneath logs.
Coe Specific: Western skinks are found throughout the park, but are likely more abundant on the west side, where habitat conditions are more optimal for them. They are active at cooler temperatures than many other lizards. Conversely they are less tolerant of hot weather. The best areas to search for them are in edge habitats between forests and grasslands. Trails through forested areas that provide sunlit openings are ideal for skinks. They are often heard before they are seen, running through leaf litter at the approach of a hiker.
Photo Credit: James Gaither
Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata)
Description: Southern alligator lizards are the largest lizards found in the park; their total length may exceed 15 inches. They are characterized by brown-rust color, keeled scales, short limbs, and a large head. Their eyes are pale yellow, and the sides of the body feature small black and white crossbands. The tail can reach twice the length of its body if it has never been broken off and regenerated. The body and tail color can vary from brown to yellow ochre. Adult lizards are marked with dark crossbands, while juveniles are not. The skin texture appears rough, a condition resulting from their keeled scales. Males have large, triangular-shaped heads, giving them a formidable appearance.
General Information/Ecology: Found from Washington to Baja California, Southern alligator lizards occupy a variety of habitats, including suburban yards and garages, but avoid arid areas and rock outcrops. They are tolerant of mesic conditions and are frequently seen in woodlands and forests. They are sometimes found along streams and have been known to dive into water as a means of escape. They are tolerant of cooler temperatures than most lizards, but less active on hot days. They are sometimes seen lying on shaded sections of roads seeking relief from the sun. Like many other lizards, alligator lizards possess detachable tails as a defense strategy. Being large-bodied and short-limbed, alligator lizards are slow in comparison to most lizard species. Their powerful jaws are capable of inflicting a strong bite, so handling these lizards entails a bit of risk. They are voracious predators, eating a variety of invertebrates, other lizards, and even small mammals.
Coe Specific: Southern alligator lizards are common in Coe and are seen fairly frequently in woodlands, oak savannah, and in riparian areas. They are less likely to be found in open grasslands and chaparral. Warmer weather often finds them along shady trails. The subspecies inhabiting the park is the California alligator lizard, E. m. multicarinata. Another species of alligator lizard, the Northern alligator lizard (Elgaria coerula), may also occupy the park, but its presence has yet to be verified.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Tiger Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris)
Description: The tiger whiptail is a large, slender lizard with an impressive network of mottled dark makings on a yellow backgorund. It can reach lengths of 13 inches including the tail. It is slim bodied with a long slender tail, a thin snout, and large symmetrical head plates. The back and sides are gray, tan, or brown. It has eight light-colored stripes that are often very indistinct, with crossbars in adults suggesting a checkered appearance. Often there are reddish patches on the sides of the belly. It has a pale throat with black spots and a forked tongue which it flicks continually. Scales on the back are small and granular and the scales on the tail are keeled.
General Information/Ecology: It is most common in dry, sunny habitats, where it is constantly on the move, foraging for prey. It moves in spurts, is highly alert, and is difficult to approach closely. It is more heat-tolerant than any other lizard in the park and can be seen in hot conditions when other species are inactive. The tiger whiptail is the only whiptail species found in Central California; in the southwest there are a number of different whiptail species, several of which consist of all-female populations. Such populations reproduce through parthenogenesis, wherein females lay viable but unfertilized eggs that are genetically identical to the mother. Tiger whiptails, however, do not reproduce in such fashion, and their population consists of both sexes.
Coe Specific: Tiger whiptails are fairly common throughout the park and can be found in a variety of habitats, though probably most numerous in chaparral or coastal sage scrub. They are absent from heavily forested areas and open grasslands, preferring the protective features of scattered shrubs. The subspecies present at Coe is Aspidocelis tigris munda, the California whiptail.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
California Legless Lizard (Anniella pulchra)
Description: Legless lizards are slender, gray colored lizards with yellow bellies and shiny scales. Their unique coloration, small size (4 ½ to 7 inches), and eyelids set them apart from snakes, which lack eyelids. They do not have external ear openings. Also unlike most snakes, it has the ability to purposely detach its tail to trick predators. Dorsal coloration varies from metallic silver, beige, dark brown, to black. Ventral coloration varies from whitish to bright yellow.
General Information/Ecology: Unlike most reptiles, they are viviparous, bearing live young. They are found primarily in areas of loose soil such as sand or loam, often in conjunction with leaf litter. They "swim" through loose soil, spending much of their time beneath the surface, and are not often exposed. They may be more surface active at night, preferring to forage beneath leaf litter during the day. As a result, they are not often encountered even in areas where they may be common.
Coe Specific: Though rarely reported, legless lizards are known to exist in Coe and may even be common in areas of suitable habitat. Their small size and cryptic activity patterns are such that few people notice them. Due to their rather stringent habitat requirements it is possible that legless lizards have a spotty distribution within the park, occurring only in areas of low relief that contain loose soil and leaf litter. The upland terraces and flood plains of larger creeks such as Coyote Creek, Orestimba Creek, and Red Creek might constitute good habitat for this species.
Photo Credit: Bill Bouton
Rubber Boa (Charina bottae)
Description: Rubber boas are medium-sized snakes 18 to 30 inches long with a uniform brown color, a blunt, rounded tail, and small eyes with vertical pupils. It has small scales that are smooth and shiny which give the snake a rubber like look and texture. This is a thick-bodied snake with a blunt tail that is similar in appearance to the head. The dorsal surface is uniformly tan, brown, olive, gray, charcoal or rosy pink. The underside is yellow or cream and may have dark mottling.
General Information/Ecology: They are found along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to Southern California, where they commonly inhabit forested areas near water. They are absent from arid or rocky areas and are intolerant of high temperatures. In contrast, they are among the most cold-tolerant snake species, active at low temperatures and even in rainy weather. They can both climb and swim well; they are also excellent burrowers, and spend much time underground. In addition, they are mostly nocturnal, though they are sometimes seen abroad on cloudy days. Thus, rubber boas are not often encountered. Like all boas, they kill their prey by constriction. Small mammals comprise the bulk of their diet. Rubber boas are among the most docile of snakes and never bite when handled.
Coe Specific: Rubber boas are known to exist in Coe, but are seldom seen due to their nocturnal activity pattern and largely underground existence. Most if not all reports of the species are from the west side of the park, in forested areas such as Pine Ridge. The drier conditions on the east side of the park may not be suitable for this species. It may not occur east of the Coyote Creek watershed. The subspecies present in the park is the Pacific rubber boa, C. b. bottae.
Photo Credit: Todd Pierson
Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis)
Description: Sharp-tailed snakes are small, slender, solid-colored snakes in shades of brown to copper, ranging from 8 to 18 inches in length. The most distinguishing characteristic of this snake is the sharp spine-like scale at the tip of its tail which is the protruding tip of the last vertebra. Adults are gray or brownish red above with alternating crossbars of black and cream or light gray underneath. Sometimes there is a yellowish or reddish line on the upper sides.
General Information/Ecology: They are found along the Pacific Coast from southern British Columbia to Central California. They prefer moist habitats, and are frequently found near streams and forested canyons. They are more cold tolerant than most snakes, and are primarily nocturnal and thus seldom seen even where they are common. They are sometimes discovered in suburban gardens. They are dietary specialists, feeding heavily upon slugs. Their recurved teeth are ideally suited for such prey. They are seasonally active during the wet season, and retreat underground or beneath cover during the dry season. The spiny tail tip is thought to be used like an anchor when securing prey.
Coe Specific: This snake is probably quite common throughout much of the park, but is cryptic, secretive, and seldom seen. It is most likely to be seen in wooded drainages, and may be more numerous on the west side of the park than the east.
Photo Credit: Paul Liebenberg © All Rights Reserved
Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
Description: This is a small, slender snake which is typically dark gray above and reaches 8 to 30 inches in length. The neck features a thin orange band, and the underside is a vivid orange or salmon color. Although usually grayish in color, it may range from nearly black to tan. The head coloration is usually slightly darker than the rest of the body and tends to be blackish. The presence and configuration of black spots on the abdomen can be used to distinguish subspecies. The pupils are round.
General Information/Ecology: The ring-necked snake is a widely distributed species found along the West Coast and throughout the East, from Florida to Canada. When disturbed, ring-necked snakes frequently reveal their orange undersides. This may serve to dissuade predators, for orange coloration is frequently associated with toxic properties. Yet while ring-necked snakes possess warning colors, they contain no toxic properties. They occupy a variety of habitats, but are most closely associated with moist areas. They seem to require moist soils to compensate for evaporation and water loss. They are secretive, spending little time out in the open, preferring to remain beneath surface objects. They consume a generalized diet and are mildly venomous, though their bite is not at all dangerous to humans.
Coe Specific: Ring-necked snakes are found throughout the park and are probably very common, even if seldom seen. Though more abundant in moist areas, they have also been seen in chaparral. The subspecies present in Coe, D. p. amabilis, the Pacific ringneck snake, is one of recognized 12 subspecies.
Photo Credit: Randomtruth
Racer (Coluber constrictor)
Description: Racers are slender, medium-sized snakes reaching 2 to 5 feet in length. Adults are solid colored, in shades of olive, beige, or brown. Juveniles, on the other hand, are blotched, and resemble small, wide-eyed gopher snakes. The mature racer has very smooth shiny scales with a divided anal plate. The head is narrow but still wider than the neck with very distinct brow ridges. The belly is white, light tan, or yellow in color. The male can be distinguished from the female in that the tail is longer with a wide base, sometimes even a bulge.
General Information/Ecology: Racers are one of the few snakes found from coast to coast, and the 11 subspecies exhibit much regional variation. Racers favor open habitats such as grasslands and oak savannah, where they are highly active, spending much of their time foraging, often with their head raised. They are among the fastest of snakes. They are strictly diurnal and inactive at night, for their retinas contain only cones. They are dietary generalists, taking a wide variety of prey items. In spite of their scientific name, they do not kill prey by constriction but subdue it and swallow it immediately. If cornered they are aggressive and will not hesitate to strike repeatedly.
Coe Specific: Racers are common in Coe and frequently seen on warm spring days in the open areas of the park. The subspecies inhabiting the park is C. c. mormon, the Western yellow-bellied racer.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Striped Racer (Coluber lateralis)
Description: The striped racer is a slender, medium-sized (2 ½ to 5 feet) snake. It is dark brown to black colored, with a pair of cream to yellow stripes running down each side of the back. Its head is broad and long and it has a slender neck. It has large eyes and smooth scales. The stripes are relatively narrow. The underside is cream or pale yellow tapering to pink toward the tail. It is a fast-moving snake with a long thin body and tail.
General Information/Ecology: Also known as the California whipsnake, the striped racer can be found in California and Baja California. It is found primarily in dry areas with shrubs or trees, and is especially prevalent in chaparral. An active forager, it is often seen with its head elevated, scanning for prey. Striped racers are regarded as the fastest snakes in California. They are also agile, for they climb well and readily ascend trees. Though a variety of prey items have been recorded, lizards constitute the bulk of their diet. Prey is neither constricted nor envenomated but captured and swallowed immediately.
Coe Specific: Striped racers are common in appropriate habitat and seen frequently throughout the park. They are most likely to be encountered in areas of chaparral or coastal sage scrub. The subspecies inhabiting Coe is C. l. lateralis, the California striped racer. An endangered subspecies, the Alameda striped racer (C. l. euryxanthus) is found north of the park in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Photo Credit: Randomtruth
Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)
Description: Although most gopher snakes are between 3 to 6 feet in length, individuals as long as 9 feet have been documented. They are light brown in color and feature a series of blotches along the length of the back and tail. It has heavily keeled scales, a narrow head that is slightly wider than the neck, and a protruding rostral scale on the tip of the the snout that is bluntly rounded. The body pattern consists of a pale brown to yellow background with brown to black dorsal blotches, usually darker near the head. This combination of color and pattern helps the snake blend in with its natural background.
General Information/Ecology: Gopher snakes are among the largest snakes and are common throughout their range across the western U.S., Canada, and Mexico. They occupy a variety of habitats, but are most commonly seen in grasslands or oak savannah and sometimes found in suburbs. They are active foragers with a varied diet, though small mammals typically comprise the bulk of the diet. Gopher snakes usually subdue prey through constriction. They are capable of climbing, and are accomplished burrowers. When disturbed, gopher snakes often vibrate their tails in the manner of rattlesnakes. This action, along with their similar coloration and patterning, may be an example of mimicry, a defense strategy that may lead potential predators to mistake gopher snakes for rattlesnakes and give them a wide berth. Unfortunately, this strategy backfires when people mistake gopher snakes for rattlesnakes and kill them out of ignorance.
Coe Specific: Gopher snakes are common throughout the park and likely abundant in open habitats. They are the largest snakes in the park and frequently seen, especially on warm spring days. The subspecies found in the park is P. c. catenifer, the Pacific gopher snake.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae)
Description: This is a fairly large snake, ranging from 2 ½ to 6 feet long, and usually feature a pattern of alternating dark brown/black and white crossbands throughout the length of the body. Highly variable in appearance. On the underside the light bands become wider. All shades of black, brown and chocolate patterns are known with a ground color ranging from brilliant white to nearly coal black. It has smooth, shiny, unkeeled scales. The head is barely wider than the neck.
General Information/Ecology: Common kingsnakes are found from coast to coast in the southern half of the U.S. They are common in a wide variety of habitats and exploit a general diet which often relies heavily upon reptiles and their eggs. Prey is killed by constriction. Kingsnakes are held in high reputation by many for their habit of preying upon rattlesnakes. Kingsnakes may be immune to rattlesnake venom due to properties in their blood serum. Kingsnakes are adept at both climbing and swimming, and have lived over 43 years in captivity. Wild snakes likely live significantly shorter lives.
Coe Specific: Common kingsnakes are found throughout the park and are seen on a regular basis, especially in spring and early summer. The subspecies present in the park is L. g. californiae , the California kingsnake.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
California Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata)
Description: California mountain kingsnakes are striking serpents that range from 2 to 4 feet long. Their distinctive color and patterning of alternating black, white, and red crossbands are unlike those of any other snake in the region. It is a medium sized, slender snake with a head not much wider than the neck. It is covered in smooth shiny scales. The red bands can vary in color from blood red to orange, to pink. A red band surrounded by two black bands is called a triad. The crossbands are arranged in triads of color in the order of black, red, black, separated by white. The head and snout are black, followed by the first white band on the head.
General Information/Ecology: It has been speculated that this color and pattern evolved long ago as a mimic to the pattern of poisonous coral snakes, which do not exist in Central California. Nevertheless, they are sometimes mistaken for coral snakes by park visitors. Mountain kingsnakes can be found in the coastal states from the Columbia River region south to Baja California. They are found primarily in wooded or brushy habitats, especially those with sunlit areas and rock outcrops, and frequently occur in canyons with streams. They climb well, and persist on a varied diet that is composed mostly of reptiles. They are secretive and only active on the surface for short periods of time, particularly in spring and early summer. Much of the year is spent underground or in rocky crevices.
Coe Specific: The California mountain kingsnakes inhabiting Coe appear to be an intergrade form between two subspecies, the Coastal mountain kingsnake (L. z. multifasciata) of the Santa Cruz and Santa Lucia Mountains and the Saint Helena mountain kingsnake, (L. z. zonata) found north of San Francisco Bay. This intergrade form is apparently among the largest of all, with individuals approaching four feet in length. They are possibly present throughout the park, but nearly all reports have come from the west side, particularly the Pine Ridge area. This may be due more to the abundance of people in the area than the actual number of snakes present. Because they are only active for brief periods of time throughout the year, they are seldom seen and may be present and even common in areas where they have not been reported.
Photo Credit: Natalie McNear
Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)
Description: This is a medium-sized snake from 1 ½ to 4 feet long, common garter snakes are dark brown in color and usually feature a stripe down the length of the back.The head is barely wider than the neck. It has keeled dorsal scales. The top of the head is dark - black, dark gray, or brownish. There is sometimes a bit of red on the sides of the head. The underside is bluish gray and it may become darker toward the tail, or may become paler. They typically have three light stripes that run along the length of their body on a black, brown, gray, or olive background. The stripes can be white, yellow, blue, greenish, or brown. One stripe runs down the center of the snake's back, the other two stripes run alongside this central stripe. Sometimes the stripes are absent or poorly defined. Some garter snakes have alternating rows of dark spots that run along the stripes, making the stripes look more like checkerboard patterns of light, rather than lines. The eyes are relatively large compared with other gartersnake species.
General Information/Ecology: The common garter snake is perhaps the most extensively studied snake in North America, and it may be the most widely distributed as well, found from coast to coast north well into Canada. They are active at lower body and air temperatures than almost any other snake. They are found in many different habitats, but are partial to water and often frequent ponds and streams. They swim well, and frequently enter water to forage for prey or escape danger. They have a generalist diet, with a long list of potential prey items. They are apparently immune to the potent toxins of newts of the genus Taricha, and are perhaps the only species that regularly eats newts. This immunity, and the strong poisons present in newts, is the product of a long-running evolutionary arms race between the two species. Like Western terrestrial garter snakes, the bite of common garter snakes is also mildly toxic, and reactions increase in intensity relative to the duration of the bite.
Coe Specific: Common garter snakes are common throughout the park, but are most likely to be found at or in ponds. They can be distinguished from the other two garter snake species in the park by both the presence of red flecking on the sides (not seen in Western aquatic garter snakes) and some red coloration on the head (Western terrestrial garter snakes lack red heads). In addition, most common garter snakes in this region have bellies that are bluish-gray, while the bellies of the other two species range from white to yellow. The subspecies inhabiting Coe is T. s. infernalis, the California red-sided garter snake.
Photo Credit: Sue Dekalb © All Rights Reserved
Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans)
Description: This is a medium sized snake that can reach 1 ½ to 3 ½ feet in length as an adult. Color and pattern is highly variable but there is usually a yellow dorsal stripe and a yellowish stripe along the bottom of each side. It is typically dark brown, with a yellow stripe down the length of its back. The sides are flecked with red. A gray and light tan checkerboard pattern conspicuous in juveniles, darkens and becomes obscure with age. The underside is yellowish to bluish-gray with varying amounts of reddish markings. Moderately slender body with keeled scales. The pupils are round.
General Information/Ecology: The Western terrestrial garter snake enjoys a wide distribution across the western U.S. and Canada. These garter snakes have a varied diet and are found in a variety of habitats. Though sometimes found in streams, they are less aquatic than other garter snake species and tend to seek refuge on land rather than swim. This snake is mildly venomous, its toxins capable of producing temporary swelling in the region surrounding the bite. It is not at all dangerous, however.
Coe Specific: The subspecies inhabiting the park is T. e. terrestris, the Coast garter snake. It is common throughout the park, often seen near streams but also encountered well away from water, unlike the other two garter snake species in Coe. It is seldom found in ponds. It can be distinguished from the other two garter snake species in the park by the presence of red flecking on the sides (not present in Western aquatic garter snakes) and absence of red on the head (common garter snakes have at least some red scales on the head).
Photo Credit: Patrick Dockens
Aquatic Garter Snake (Thamnophis atratus)
Description: This is a medium sized snake that can reach 1 ½ to 3 ½ feet in length as an adult.The Western aquatic garter snake is dark brown to black with a yellow/orange stripe down the middle of its back. This snakes dorsal coloration varies greatly. It can be a pale gray with alternating rows of darker blotches on the side, or dark brown with borders that are less distinct, or nearly all black. There is usually a yellow dorsal stripe. The throat and underside of this snake are whitish to yellow in color. There is a prominent parietal spot.
General Information/Ecology: Found along the Pacific Coast from Baja California to southern Oregon. As its name implies, it inhabits aquatic habitats such as ponds and streams, as well as adjacent upland habitats. It is highly aquatic and an excellent swimmer, taking to water and diving at the approach of danger. It is often seen swimming in the middle of ponds with its head elevated. It persists on a diet of amphibians and fish. It is tolerant of cool weather and is sometimes seen out on sunny winter days.
Coe Specific: This snake is very common and readily observed in streams and ponds throughout the park. It is more common in fish-free ponds where its chief prey, amphibians, is abundant. Ponds with fish tend to have fewer snakes because non-native fish greatly reduce or eliminate amphibian populations. The subspecies present in the park, T. a. atratus, is the Santa Cruz garter snake. This snake can be distinguished from the other two garter snake species in Coe by its whitish/yellow throat and the absence of red on the sides and head.
Photo Credit: Natalie McNear
Night Snake (Hypsiglena torquata)
Description: This is a small snake that reaches between 1 and 2 feet as an adult. They are smooth scaled snakes with striking bronze/copper colored eyes that have vertical pupils. The dorsal coloration consists of a gray to light brown color with dark blotching on the neck and a spotted pattern on the back. The darker brown color also extends from the eyes onto the neck and forms a blotch at the base of the head. This dark eye-line contrasts with the light (white or cream) colored labial area. They have a solid, pearly-white ventral coloration that is usually iridescent.
General Information/Ecology: They range from the southwest north along the Pacific Coast to Washington. They are secretive and primarily nocturnal, with vertical pupils to aid in night vision. They are accomplished burrowers inhabiting a variety of habitats, but tend to be more common in dry areas. Its primary prey consists of reptiles and amphibians, which are killed through envenomation. Night snakes possess venom which they inject through their rear fangs as they clasp onto prey. The venom of pit vipers such as rattlesnakes is delivered through enlarged fangs at the front of the mouth. Despite its toxic properties, the venom of night snakes is mild and not the least bit dangerous to humans. Due to their nocturnal activity pattern night snakes are rarely seen.
Coe Specific: Night snakes are probably present throughout the park, yet are rarely reported. They may be more numerous on the drier east side of the park, but they have been sighted in the western section as well. The subspecies present in Coe is H. t. nuchalata, the California night snake.
Photo Credit: Randomtruth
Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)
Description: This is a large, wide-bodied snake that can sometimes grow to lengths in excess of 5 feet, though most adults are 3 to 4 feet long. Though variable in appearance, they are generally brown to beige colored with brown blotches on the back and dark brown/black rings on the tail. Diagnostic features are the triangular head and, of course, the rattle on the tail, which in juveniles consists of a button. Pupils are elliptical. Scales are keeled. Usually with a light stripe extending diagonally from behind the eye to the corner of the mouth.
General Information/Ecology: Familiar to even the novice, the Western rattlesnake is found throughout the western U.S., as well as Mexico and Canada. Rattlesnakes are found in a variety of habitats, including streams, and are capable of swimming. They are most frequently seen out in the open on warm spring days. On hot days or in summer they are more likely to be found seeking refuge in shaded areas. They may be active at night during hot weather. Their diet is varied but is usually composed of warm-blooded prey. Rattlesnakes often ambush their victims, locating them by smell before striking. Venom is injected through a pair of hollow fangs located at the front of the mouth. The venom acts quickly, and the hobbled prey is followed and consumed once immobile. They take prey as large as squirrels and rabbits. Rattlesnakes are less frequently encountered in fall and winter, when they retreat to hibernation sites prior to emergence in spring. Captive rattlesnakes have lived nearly 30 years. The venom is potent and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible following a bite. Antiquated snakebite kits and remedies are largely useless and may be more damaging than the bite itself and should not be relied upon. Fortunately, some bites are “dry”, meaning that no venom was injected, but all rattlesnake bites should be taken seriously and treated by a physician.
Coe Specific: Rattlesnakes are common in the park and frequently seen in spring and summer. They are not often seen in fall and very rarely encountered during winter or on cold or rainy days. They are less active on hot (85+ degrees) days but may be found resting in shaded locations. The subspecies found in the park, C. o. oreganus, is fortunately not aggressive but its venom is potent and medical attention should be sought immediately in the aftermath of a bite. Rattlesnakes usually rattle before striking, but this is not always the case; a rattlesnake that is accidentally stepped upon may simply strike instead of rattle. In order to prevent accidental snakebite it is important to watch where you step when hiking and never place your hands beneath logs, rocks, in burrows or atop ledges where you can’t see them. Accidental snakebite incidents are extremely rare in the park; of the handful of known rattlesnake bites, almost all were the result of people foolishly attempting to handle the snake.
Photo Credit: Natalie McNear
Western Black-headed Snake (Tantilla planiceps)
Description: This is a very small snake that reaches 5 to 15 inches in length as an adult. It is uniquely colored, with a solid light brown body and a black head. There is a faint light collar between the black head and the body color. The belly is whitish with a red, pink, or orange stripe running down the center. The scales are smooth and shiny and the small head is barely distinct from the neck.
General Information/Ecology: Ranging from Baja California to Central California, the snake’s northern range limits occur here in the Diablo Range. The snake has been found in a variety of habitats, from grassland and chaparral to oak/pine woodlands. It persists on a diet of insects and arthropods, and spends much of its time underground. In addition, most of its surface activity is thought to be nocturnal, so black-headed snakes are rarely seen, even where present. It is unclear whether the western black-headed snake is truly rare or, perhaps more likely, rarely seen. In any case it is among the least well-known and researched snakes in North America.
Coe Specific: The Western black-headed snake has been reported in the park, and may even be common, but due to its habits is rarely observed. As a result, this snake could be seen anywhere in the park, but open habitats seem to be preferred. This northern population may be continuous or relictual.
Photo Credit: Joseph Belli © All Rights Reserved
More Reptiles and Amphibians
The species in the following table might be found in the park, but it is highly unlikely. Their existing ranges are close to the boundaries of the park so it is possible that they could be found here.
|Common Sagebrush Lizard
|Common Side-blotched Lizard
|Northern Alligator Lizard
Common Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus)
Description: A fairly small lizard that reaches between 5 and 6 ¼ inches as an adult and closely resembles the Western fence lizards. They differ in being smaller and having less prominent pointed scales than fence lizards, and mottled blue rather than solid blue throat patches on males. It has keeled and pointed dorsal scales of equal size on the back, sides, and belly. Color is brown, gray, or black with dark blotches or irregular bands on the body and tail. The belly is light in color. There is usually a bar of black on the shoulder and rusty coloring on the armpits and sometimes on the sides of the body and the neck. Males have blue markings on the sides of the belly edged in black and two blue throat patches often connected with a white band. Females have faint or absent blue markings on the belly.
General Information/Ecology: Despite their common name, sagebrush lizards have been found in a wide variety of habitats throughout their range across the western U.S.
Coe Specific: This species has yet to be verified within the boundaries of the park but has been recorded at other locations in the Diablo Range such as Mt. Diablo, Mt. Hamilton, and in the vicinity of San Benito Mountain to the south. In this area the species may be restricted to montane environments and have a disjunct population. It is certainly possible, given this species strong resemblance to the ubiquitous Western fence lizard, that sagebrush lizards have been mistaken for fence lizards and unreported. If sagebrush lizards do exist in Coe, they most likely persist in areas of higher elevation with open forests such as Pine Ridge and Blue Ridge.
Photo Credit: Todd Pierson
Common Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana)
Description: This is a fairly small lizard reaching about 4 to 6 3/8 inches as an adult. They are light brown in color, with a dark blotch behind the front legs and granular scales on the back. There is often a double row of dark spots or wedges on the back, edged with white on the rear. A narrow white stripe extends from the outside corner of each eye onto the shoulder. Males are more colorful than females having blue speckles on the upper surfaces. Females are blotched on top with brown and white, often with stripes, and have a less well defined blotch on the sides.
General Information/Ecology: Side-blotched lizards are common throughout the deserts and arid lands of the West. They are associated with several habitat types, from arid washes and dry grasslands to chaparral, but are not at all common in oak savannah. Where they occur they are almost always the most abundant lizards species present.
Coe Specific: This species has never been reported within the park but is present on natural lands at the edge of the San Joaquin Valley east of the park. It is probable this species occurs on the Simon Newman Ranch east of Coe, but highly unlikely that it will be found in the park. If it does exist in Coe, likely locations include San Antonio Valley and Paradise Flat.
Gilbert's Skink (Plestiodon gilberti)
Description: This is a fairly large, plain-patterned brown to olive colored lizard with smooth scales. The tail in juveniles may be either blue or red; breeding adults often feature red heads. it is a heavy bodied lizard with small legs that reaches 7 1/8 to 13 inches in length as an adult. It has a small head, thick neck, and a smooth, shiny body with cycloid scales. The tongue is forked, and is frequently protruded. The long tail is easily detached.
General Information/Ecology: This species occurs in lower elevations from Central California south to Baja California and just into Nevada and Arizona. It occupies a variety of habitats, but it is rarely observed out in the open. When it is found it is usually beneath cover.
Coe Specific: This species has yet to be recorded within the park but could still be discovered. Its secretive nature may allow it to persist in areas unseen. It appears to favor drier areas than its relative, the Western skink. If present, it is most likely to be found in the eastern section of the park. A report from the Redfern Resource inventory conducted during the 1990’s needs to be verified.
Photo Credit: bwmaddog21
Coachwhip (Coluber flagellum)
Description: This is a long, slender, fast-moving snake that can attain impressive lengths approaching 8 feet, but most do not exceed 5 or 6 feet in length. The tail is extremely thin and whip-like. They vary greatly in color and size from region to region, but most are yellow, brown, or reddish. Broad crossbars may be present. They have smooth scales, a large head, and a thin neck. They have large eyes with rounded pupils with large scales above the eyes. The snake receives it name from the braided appearance of the scales on the tail which resemble the whip used by stagecoach drivers.
General Information/Ecology: Coachwhips are found from coast to coast across the southern U.S. Coachwhips are found in dry, open environments, where they are active predators, often seen with raised head searching for prey. They are active at hot temperatures when most other species would be seeking refuge from the heat, apparently slow to lose water from their bodies. They are the fastest snake on the continent, capable of slithering at 6 km per hour. If cornered or handled they can be aggressive, striking repeatedly.
Coe Specific: Coachwhips have never been documented in Coe and in all likelihood do not exist within the boundaries of the park. They have been sighted east of the park at the edge of the San Joaquin Valley in areas such as Corral Hollow southeast of Livermore. They have also been seen just south of Hollister and in Pinnacles National Monument. The nearby subspecies, C. f. ruddocki, is in decline and is listed as a State Species of Special Concern. In the unlikely event that this species is found within the park, possible locations include dry, open areas such as Paradise Flat, San Antonio Valley, and the Orestimba Wilderness.
Photo Credit: Todd Pierson
Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans)
Description: Glossy snakes are medium sized snakes that average 2 ½ to 4 feet in length as an adult. They are tan to light brown above, with faded coloring. The belly is cream or white and unmarked. They resemble small, dull-colored gopher snakes, but their scales are smooth and glossy. It has a narrow, pointed head and the eye has a round pupil.
General Information/Ecology: They are found throughout the southwest, mostly in arid environments with loose soil. The San Joaquin Valley lies at the northern edge of their range. They are primarily nocturnal, spending most of the day underground, and they are excellent burrowers.
Coe Specific: This species has yet to be recorded in the park and is probably not present. It has been recorded in both the Panoche hills southeast of Coe and in the vicinity of Corral Hollow southeast of Livermore, but has never been reported west of the park. It is likely that conditions in the park are not dry enough to support this species. If it is ever found, it could turn up in the flat areas on the east side of the park.
Photo Credit: Randomtruth
Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)
Description: This is a slender snake that reaches 1 ½ to 3 ½ feet in length as an adult. This snake has smooth, shiny scales and a head barely wider than the body. It has a long pointed snout with a countersunk lower jaw. The pupils are round. While there is considerable variation in pattern and color, generally this snake is banded or blotched with black, white, and usually red, saddles. They somewhat resemble kingsnakes, with red, white, and black bands across the body and white flecking on the sides. The saddles do not ring the body. There is no pattern on the underside.
General Information/Ecology: Long-nosed snakes are found in dry regions of the western U.S and Mexico. These snakes are primarily nocturnal, especially in hot weather, and are interestingly quite tolerant of cool weather, an unusual feature for a reptile associated with an arid environment. They are adept at burrowing, and prey on lizards and small mammals.
Coe Specific: Long-nosed snakes have never been documented within the park and it is unlikely they occur in Coe. They have been found east of the park as well as south of Hollister. If they are present in Coe, areas such as the San Antonio Valley and other locations on the east side of the park contain the most likely habitats.
Photo Credit: Randomtruth
Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa)
Description: This medium sized salamander averages 3 ½ to 8 inches in length. It has dry granular skin with no costal grooves. They are light brown to black above with a yellow to orange belly. The color of the lower eyelid is dark and the irises are yellowish. The eyes are small and do not reach the outline of the head as seen from above. The skin of both males and females is lighter colored during the mating season.
General Information/Ecology: Rough skinned newts belong to the genus Taricha and are very closely related to California newts (Taricha torosa). Though the two species are closely related and interfertile, they rarely breed. The two species are very difficult to tell apart; the major morphological differences are that rough-skinned newts have dark colored lower eyelids in contrast to the pale eyelids of California newts. Additionally, when viewed from above the eyes of rough-skinned newts fail to reach the outline of the head, unlike California newts. Like California newts, rough-skinned newts possess tetrodotoxin, a formidable poison. One person has died after eating one on a dare, and rough-skinned newts are believed to possess stronger toxic properties than California newts. Rough-skinned newts occur along the Pacific Coast from southern Alaska south to Monterey Bay. They are more closely tied to moist coastal forests than California Newts, and while they are present in the Santa Cruz Mountains it is unlikely that they occur within the drier boundaries of Coe Park.
Coe Specific: If they were to be discovered here, it would almost certainly be in the moister west side of the park.
Photo Credit: Bill Bouton
Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea)
Description: This medium sized lizard can reach 8 ¾ to 13 inches in length. They have a distinct skin fold on their sides, separating the keeled scales on the back from the smooth ventral scales. The ventral scales are edged laterally with a dark line. It has a somewhat triangular head with a pointed snout, and brown or darkly pigmented eyes. These large lizards are brown to rust colored with irregular crossbands on the sides of the body and a dark eye.
General Information/Ecology: Northern alligator lizards are found from southern British Columbia south, reach the southern edge of their distribution south of San Francisco Bay. Like Southern alligator lizards, they are partial to cool temperatures, favoring even moister environments. They are occasionally active during rain, highly unusual for a temperate lizard.
Coe Specific: The status of this species in the park is uncertain. Lying near the southern edge of its known range, Coe Park may be just beyond the range of this species. The Diablo Range may not contain enough moist microenvironments needed for this species to persist, and thus it may only occur in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco. If it does exist in the park, it is probably restricted to the wetter west side, in the cool forested canyons of the Coyote Creek watershed. Few people realize there are potentially two species of alligator lizard present in the park; fewer still can distinguish Northern alligator lizards from Southern alligator lizards, for they are quite similar in appearance. Two features separating them are: 1) crossband patterns on the sides of the body. These are solid in Southern alligator lizards and broken or irregular in Northern alligator lizards. 2) Eye color. Southern alligator lizards have bright yellow eyes, while the eyes of Northern alligator lizards are darker and brown in color.
Photo Credit: Meggar
Western Spadefoot (Spea hammondii)
Description: This is a medium-sized toad with adults reaching up to 2 ½ inches from snout to vent. The skin is loose with small vertebral tubercles. The head is as wide as the body, having a rounded snout with an upward tilt. The eyes are pale gold with verticle pupils. Forelimbs and hindlimbs are short and stout, with the foreleg having dorsal tubercles. The feet have well-developed webbing between the toes. A glossy black spade, shaped like a wedge or teardrop, is present in each hind foot. The dorsal ground color ranges from light green to gray with scattered darker splotches. A pair of light-colored spots is generally present, one on each side of the anus. Body tubercles can be orange to somewhat red. Ventrally, the color is whitish to creamy-yellow.
General Information/Ecology: Western Spadefoot toads are found from north-central California down to Baja California. They are denizens of dry and arid habitats, adapted to life in a land of little rain. Primarily a creature of inland valleys and foothills, spadefoot toads have declined steadily over the years due to habitat loss, primarily to irrigated agriculture. They breed in late winter in vernal pools as well as stock ponds, and tadpoles can transform quickly, sometimes in less than six weeks. Adults come to water during damp winter nights to breed; much of the rest of the year is spent underground, usually in burrows they dig with the help of the tiny black "spade" on their hind feet. They are primarily nocturnal, possessing vertical pupils.
Coe Specific: This species is almost certainly absent from Coe; surveys of potential breeding ponds failed to document their presence here. They have been recorded on a neighboring property, the Simon Newman Ranch to the east, as well as on the floor of the Central Valley. The species is also found just south of Hollister.
Photo Credit: Takwish
We owe a debt of gratitude to Jackson Shedd for revising and verifying the list of Coe Park amphibians and reptiles. Jackson is an amateur herpetologist, bird-watcher, author, and wildlife artist who currently lives in Chico, California.