CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





Feral Pet Herps Reported in California

 






Report an Invasive Species Sighting to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife




observation link

 

This page will list names and, if I have them, show pictures of herps common in the pet trade which I know have been found in the wild in California, but which are not on my list of Non-native Reptiles and Amphibians Established in California. Most of these feral pets have been found in residential areas where herps are commonly kept in captivity. In most cases it is not possible to know if they were abandoned or if they escaped. Some have been found in public open space areas, which indicate abandonment.

I cannot cover every species of reptile and amphibian commonly kept as a pet in California, because nearly any pet herp can escape or be abandoned, but if you think I am missing an important one, let me know. Many of these were reported to me by users of this web site who found an animal in their yard and asked me to identify it for them, but some of them I have read about elsewhere.

These herps most likely either escaped or were illegally released by irresponsible owners. The pet trade in herps is booming and unless fewer herps are purchased by more responsible pet owners there will be many more abandoned and escaped herps found in the state. This could lead to more alien herp species established in the state. While it's fun to keep track of them as I am doing here, it is never good for our native wildlife when non-native competing species take hold in their habitat, and it is usually fatal for the abandoned animals, which don't know how to survive in unfamiliar habitat.

Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of many of these animals, and some of the pictures I have been sent are of animals which were killed by humans or their cats and dogs and I don't want to show their mangled dead bodies (although it might be a good warning to pet owners showing what can happen to pets that escape or are abandoned.) If I do not have pictures, I will try to link to another page on the internet where you can see pictures of these herps. I will continue to add more names and pictures as I receive them.

If you find a pet herp in the wild in California, even if you identify it here or elsewhere, l'd like to hear about it and add it to this list if it's not already here, so please send me email about it.

If you capture an exotic herp in the wild and want to find out what you can do with it, try contacting a local pet organization, herp society or pet rescue organization to find out if they can find someone to adopt it.  Some veterinarians who work with exotic pets may also be a good source of information.

Anapsid.org maintains a great list of herp societies and reptile and amphibian rescue organizations.


California Department of Fish and Wildlife .pdf About Problem Pets

California Department of Fish and Wildlife information about how to prevent introductions of Invasive Species


Lizards
 
Bearded Dragon - genus Pogona
Several species of this lizard, originally from Australia, are common pets. They have been bred in a number of different color variations. I have received reports of them found in yards, usually after they were killed by the family dog.
Find more information at The Bearded Dragon.

lizard
lizard
lizard
This bearded dragon was found in a San Diego County yard after somebody cleared some brush. © Edith McGee This bearded dragon was found outside a house in Redondo Beach.
© Leah Beebe
lizard lizard  
  This bearded dragon was found
in a back yard in San Diego
 
   
Spiny-tailed Iguana - Ctenosaura hemilopha
Native to southern Baja California, Mexico. Sometimes found loose in the state.
In his 1972 guide to California's herps, Robert Stebbins reported that they were found in Fullerton where they might be reproducing.

lizard Cape Spiny-tailed Iguana Cape Spiny-tailed Iguana
  © John T. Snow © John T. Snow
 
Blue-tongued Skink - genus Tiliqua
I have received a report that this large Australian lizard sometimes available in pet stores was found in someone's yard.
 
Monitor Lizards - genus Varanus
I have received a few requests to identify various species of Monitor Lizards that were found in someone's yard. Monitor lizards are sometimes kept as pets. Some species growto a very large size that can be difficult to maintain in captivity, and for this reason they are probably dumped into the wild.

Some pet species include:
Savanna Monitor - Varanus exanthematicus,
Nile Monitor - Varanus niloticus,
Water Monitor - Varanus salvator.

lizard lizard lizard
Wild Bengal Monitor lizard in India This monitor lizard was found abandoned and tied to a fence in Los Angeles County.
© Cassandra
 
Brown Anole - Anolis sagrei
I have received reports of these lizards seen running wild in yards in Southern California. They were reported as established in one area of California in 2014. The two photos on the top left are lizards found in California.
Brown Anoles are often purchased in pet stores not as pets, but to feed lizard-eating snakes. They are native to Cuba and the Bahamas and are established in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, and possibly California, in the Palm Springs area. Their appearance can vary considerably between animals, but unlike Green Anoles, they do not have a green phase, they are always some shade of brown. The color of the extended dewlap of males is orange with a yellow border.

lizard lizard lizard
lizard lizard lizard
lizard lizard lizard
 
Green Anole - Anolis carolinensis
Green Anoles are now established in some areas in Southern California. They are commonly found in pet stores. They are native to the southeast USA and farther south where they are often called "chameleons" because they can change their color from bright green to brown. They are sometimes sold as food for lizard-eating snakes. The color of the extended dewlap of an adult male is pink.
lizard lizard lizard
lizard lizard lizard
 
Green Iguana - Iguana iguana
Native to Central and South America this lizard is a common pet. Adults growup to several feet in length. Juveniles are bright green.
lizard lizard lizard
lizard lizard lizard
Above are all adults from Florida. Top right is a juvenile from Florida. This big adult male was found as seen here on a California country road, most likely abandoned by someone when he got too big and too difficult to deal with.
 
House Gecko - Hemidactylus spp.
Various species of House Geckos are often seen for sale in pet stores.  Any of them may turn up anywhere. They are typically seen on walls under lights at night eating small invertebrates that are attracted to the light. They are often purchased not as pets, but to feed lizard-eating snakes. Some pet stores are known to have thriving populations of the geckos roaming freely inside and out. There are many species which are not easy to tell apart. The Common House Gecko and the Indo-Pacific House Gecko are both native to South and Southeast Asia and are known to be established in Florida, Texas, and Hawaii. There is also a species that has become established in Baja California, at least in the Cape Region, possibly elsewhere.

lizard lizard lizard
lizard lizard lizard
 
Texas Horned Lizard - Phrynosoma cornutum
This lizard is very similar in apparance to our native Blainville's (Coast) Horned Lizard. It is occasionally kept as a pet and released when unwanted, probably because they are very difficult to maintain. It has become established in the east, and could do so in California.

lizard lizard lizard
 
Wall Lizards - genus Podarcis
lizard lizard lizard
One species, Podarcis siculus, has been established in southern California, and it is likely that more of these popular pet lizards have escaped or have been released. Wall Lizards have become established in several other states in the U.S.A. and on Vancouver Island.
The lizards above are all from San Pedro in Los Angeles County.
 
Veiled Chameleon - Chamaeleo calyptratus
lizard lizard lizard
These chameleons are native to the southwestern Arabian Peninsula are are kept as pets. Sometimes they get loose or are set free The lizard above was found in San Diego County, where there may be an established population. © Dave Shaw Captive adult.
 
Jackson's Chameleon - Chamaeleo jacksonii
lizard lizard  
Jackson's Chameleons are popular pets. There is at least one established population in Morro Bay, and they have been found in La Jolla, but they sometimes escape or are abandoned and are found in other areas.
 
Uromastyx or Spiny-Tailed Lizards (many species)
lizard    
Uromastyx are popular pets that originate in North Africa, the Middle East, and Iran. They are mostly herbivorous.
The one shown above showed up in a southern California yard.
 
Beaded Lizard - Heloderma horridum
lizard lizard  
A very large rough-skinned venomous lizard with huge claws related to the Gila Monster. I have seen them in pet stores, though their sale may now be restricted. This male was found living in a hole next to some trash cans in the hills above Lake Elsinore and was removed by a reptile re-locator. © Jeff Mellinger
 
Blue Spiny Lizard - Sceloporus cyanogenys  (= Sceloporus serrifer cyanogenys)
Blue Spiny Lizard Blue Spiny Lizard Blue Spiny Lizard
Native to southern Texas and northeastern Mexico and sold in pet shops. In his 1972 guide to California's herps, Robert Stebbins reported that they were found at the base of the Palms to Pines highway south of Palm Desert in Riverside County.
Wickipedia Entry
   
Snakes
Snakes are master escape artists and excellent climbers that can squeeze into small spaces. Anyone who has kept them will have an escape story. (A snake of mine once escaped into my garage in November. I found it in March after it returned to warm up next to the heating element on top of a lizard cage. Either that or it was trying to figure out how to get in the cage to eat the lizard.) So just about any species of snake kept as a pet could be found outside of its cage. Unfortunately, that includes exotic venomous snakes which are popular with some keepers.
     
Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum
snake snake snake
  snake  
Milk snakes are common pets. I have received several reports of milksnakes found in yards, and one on a hiking trail. Unfortunately, this harmless snake is often mistaken for the venomous coral snake, which does not occur in California, and it is killed for no good reason.

Milksnakes are variable in appearance, but most have black, white, and red, or orange, bands. One common pet, the Sinaloan Milk Snake, has very wide orange bands.
 
Corn Snake - Elaphe guttata
Corn snakes have been very common in the pet trade for many years. There are many color and pattern variations, including albinos, which are pink or orange. Corn snake breeders have created many different morphs, including albinos. I have received requests to identify normal and albino corn snakes that were found on the loose, so make sure to search online for photos of albinos when you search for pictures of corn snake morphs.

snake snake snake
This Corn Snake was found unexpectedly on an Encinitas front porch. It turned out to be the escaped pet of the boy next door. © Doug Gilmore Corn Snake from the Florida Keys. Albino Corn Snakes are popular pets that come in a variety of colors and patterns. This one was found in San Mateo County © Bob Peterson
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   snake  
This escaped Corn Snake was a big surprise when it was found in a bathroom inside a house in Santa Clara County. © Erik This is the less-common striped variety of albino Corn Snake. It was found under some back yard bricks in San Diego County. © Alberto Galindo  
 
Beauty Rat Snake - ake Beauty Snake - Orthriophis taeniurus
I have received several reports of this snake in the wild in California in Ventura County and in Contra Costa County and have heard that they were also in Santa Ana, along with Chinese Rat Snakes - Ptyas korro.

Both snakes shown to me were very large - probably 6 - 7 feet in length. The species may growup to 10 feet in length. This leads me to suspect that they are dumped into the wild after they grow too large to take care of, similar to the fate of many Burmese Pythons and Boa Constrictors.

snake
snake
The Contra Costa County snake shown above was photographed in the picture on the right about a year after it was photographed in the picture on the left, and I have had a report of a different one seen a year or two before that. © Gailene Nelson
 
Ball Python - Python regius
Ball Pythons are popular pet snakes that both captive bred and imported. It is a small python with a docile temperament that rolls itself into a ball when it is threatened or stressed.

snake snake snake
Ball Python found abandoned in a Los Angeles County park  © James Wang Ball Python found abandoned in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County in February.
© David Van Valkenburgh
 
Boa Constrictor (Red-tailed Boa) - Boa constrictor
Native to South America north to Mexico, and a very popular pet snake. Sometimes they escape or are released when their owners tire of them. They have been found in backyards and even out in the country where they were released.

snake snake
snake
Rihanna with a Boa Constrictor, for identification purposes.
© Mariano Vivanco/GQ's 25th Anniversary issue
© 2015 Vanity Fair Magazine
(On Jennifer Lawrence to show size. Ms. Lawrence is 175 cm total length (60 inches) total length. (SVL length is not known.)
Rock 'n' Roll icon Alice Cooper
with a Boa Constrictor.
snake snake  
Guitarist Slash with a Boa Constrictor
© Thomas Miller
Found on a driveway in Ventura County.
 
 
Burmese Python - Python molurus bivittatus
This popuar pet has not become established in California as it has been in south Florida, but escapees have been seen in California.
Some pictures I have taken of the Indian subspecies can be seen here.

snake snake snake
Large adult in a zoo Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent 1981
© Richard Avedon
(Shown with Nastassja Kinski for size comparison purposes)
  snake  
  Pro wrestler Jake The Snake Roberts
with one of the Burmese Pythons he used in the ring
 
 
Amethystine Python (Scrub Python) - Morelia amethistina
Another popular pet python.
 
Watersnakes - Genus Nerodia

Florida Watersnake - Nerodia fasciata
Common Watersnake - Nerodia sipedon
Diamond-backed Watersnake - Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer

Not Native to California
It is unlawful to import, transport, or possess any Watersnakes of the genus Nerodia in
California except under permit issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

(California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Excerpts, Section 671)

Don't confuse Watersnakes (Nerodia) with native Caifornia Garter Snakes (Thamnophis.)
Most gartersnakes have stripes on the sides and sometimes on the back.

If you find an aquatic snake in California that you think is a Watersnake (Nerodia), please send pictures
of it to the California Nerodia Site, which is tracking the distribution of this potential threat to native fish and wildlife.
Southern Watersnake Northern Watersnake Northern Diamond-backed Watersnake
Adult Florida Watersnake Los Angeles County © Jonathan Hakim Adult Common Watersnake,
Placer County.
Adult Diamond-backed Watersnake, in water, Travis County, Texas
Southern Watersnake Northern Watersnake Northern Diamond-backed Watersnake
Adult Florida Watersnake,
Sacramento County
Juvenile Common Watersnake,
Lumpkin County, Georgia
Adult Diamond-backed Watersnake, Hidalgo County, Texas
Turtles and Tortoises
     
Box Turtle - Terrapene ornata
turtle turtle turtle
I received a report of a box turtle on the loose in someone's yard.
     
Red-eared Sliders - Trachemys scripta elegans
These are so common that they are probably the turtle you are most likely to see in California waters. They are established and breeding, but they are also still available in the pet trade, and certainly, more and more of them are released every year when they get too big for their owners to take care of them. I have also received reports of escaped pets wandering in suburban areas.


There are many other species of pet turtles that have been released in the state, including a number of Asian species, but turtles are difficult to approach to correctly identify and photograph. I will add more as I discover them.

turtle turtle turtle
Adults from California and Texas
 
Mohave Desert Tortoise - Gopherus agassizii
Desert Tortoises were once very common pets, back when you could go out to the desert, pick one up, and take it home. Some people I have talked to remember having one that just roamed around the house. Many of these were released when they were no longer wanted, probably because they live so long - 50 to 80 years, according to one source. I found one once in a park in San Francisco that had recently died.

Desert Tortoise Desert Tortoise Desert Tortoise
Adults from California
 
Texas Tortoise - Gopherus berlandieri
Native to southern Texas and northeastern Mexico. Once sold in pet shops, maybe they still are. Owners sometimes released them into the desert when they no longer wanted them.

Texas Tortoise Texas Tortoise Texas Tortoise
Adults from Texas.
 
African Spurred Tortoise - Centrochelys sulcata
(also called African Spur Thigh Tortoise or Sulcata Tortoise)
  Tortoise  
Kept as pets, sometimes found in the wild. The one shown above was found in a yard in Santa Cruz.
 
Leopard Tortoise - Geochelone pardalis
Kept as pets and sometimes found in the wild. Once reported to be established at Mission Trails park in San Diego County.
Pacific Pond Turtle
Juvenile, Africa
 
Alligator Snapping Turtle - Macrochelys temmincki
This species of snapping turtle is different from the Snapping Turtle - Chelydra serpentina, which has been established in California.
 
Map Turtles - genus Graptemys
Several species are common in the pet trade. Sometimes found released into the wild. Map turtles are small turtles with a raised ridge or keel on the middle of the top of the shell.
turtle turtle Pacific Pond Turtle
Map turtles photographed in Alabama. Adult found in a California pond
© Laura Hamilton
  Pacific Pond Turtle  
  Adult on bottom, Red-eared Slider on top.
© Laura Hamilton
 
Frogs and Toads
 
Fire-bellied Toad - genus Bombina
I have received a few requests from people who have found this Asian toad in their yard to identify the species for them. This toad is commonly sold in pet stores, and is a popular pet.

frog
frog  
© Brian Merget  
Salamanders
 
Fire-bellied Newt - genus Cynops
A couple of species are common in the pet trade:
Cynops orientalis - Chinese Fire-bellied Newt
Cynops pyrrhogaster - Japanese Fire-bellied Newt

I have heard that this species has been released into the wild in southern California and in the Bay Area and could be established, but I have not gotten confirmation yet.

salamander
salamander  
© Michael Peters  
Crocodilians
     
American Alligator - Alligator mississipiensis
Every once in a while the media gets excited about an alligator found in a local pond or lake as if they were some kind of dangerous monsters. Juveniles were once kept as pets, but as they grew large, they were often dumped into a local lake. Some of them survive for a while until they are removed.

Reggie, an alligator that once inhabited Lake Machado in Harbor City, L.A. County, before he was finally captured and sent to the L.A. Zoo in 2007, even has his own Wickipedia Page.

alligator alligator alligator
Adult, Florida Adult, Texas Juveniles, Florida
     

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