CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





Feral Pet Amphibians and Reptiles in California

Be a Responsible Pet Owner

DON'T LET IT LOOSE, CALIFORNIA! - CDFW
 






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




observation link

 


This is a list of common, mostly non-native, pet amphibians and reptiles which I have learned have been found in the wild in California, but which are not on my list of Established Non-Native Species of Amphibians and Reptiles in California because they are not necessarily part of an established breeding group. (Some are established, most are not yet established.) There are certainly many more species of which I am not aware.

Most of these feral pets have been found in well-populated residential areas where herps are commonly kept as pets. In most cases it is not possible to know if the pets were abandoned or if they escaped. Some have been found in public open space areas not near populated areas, which most likely indicates abandonment by irresponsible owners.

Feral native species kept as pets have also been found released into the wild, but these are harder to discover unless they are found where they should not occur, or unless an unusual variant created in the pet trade is found in the wild. So far I have only learned about the native California Kingsnake and the native Mohave Desert Tortoise occuring where they should not, but there are likely more native species of pets abandoned in the wild.

I cannot cover every species of amphibian and reptile that is 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 those shown here 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.

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 non-native herp species established in the state. While it's interesting to keep track of them as I am doing here, it is never good for our native wildlife when non-native species take hold in their habitat and compete with them, and it is often fatal for animals abandoned in unfamiliar habitat where they struggle to survive. So far no imported pet trade snakes have been found to be breeding and forming populations in the wild in Calfornia besides the watersnakes, but there are several species of frogs and lizards that have, with an increasing number of exotic geckos becoming established, mostly in southern California. Many of these have spread through transport, not abandonment.


If you find a pet herp in the wild in California, l'd like to hear about it and add it to this list if it's not already here. If you have pictures of animals on this list that have been found in the wild that are not illustrated here, please email them to me so I can use them here.

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 amphibian and reptile rescue organizations.

Preventing Invasive Species Introductions - California Department of Fish and Wildlife
 
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 several reports of them found in yards, sometimes after they were killed by the family dog, including a few shown below.

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 lizard
This bearded dragon was found
in a back yard in San Diego
This adult Bearded Dragon was photographed as it was lying on a hiking trail in San Mateo County where it was most likely abandoned by an irresponsible pet owner. © Marcia Seyler Captive adult
  lizard  
  Wild adult in its natural habitat,
Queensland, Australia
 
     
Spiny-tailed Iguana - Ctenosaura hemilopha

Native to southern Baja California, Mexico. Sometimes found loose in the state. Juveniles are bright green.


In his 1972 guide to California's herps, Robert Stebbins reported that Ctenosaura were found in Fullerton where they might have been reproducing, but are no reports I know of that the population still exists. I have received email from a random source who reports large brown iguanas running wild in Ridgecrest in the 1970s which could be Ctenosaura or Iguana.

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 one of these large Australian lizards, sometimes available in pet stores, was found in someone's yard in California.
Monitor Lizards - genus Varanus
I have received a few requests to identify various species of Monitor Lizards that were found in someone's yard or observed in the wild. Many monitor lizards are kept as pets, but some species grow to a very large size that can be difficult to maintain in captivity, and for this reason they escape or they are released into the wild illegally.

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

lizard lizard lizard
This monitor was observed basking at the edge of some water in Escondido, San Diego County © Josue Castaner This monitor lizard was found abandoned and tied to a fence in Los Angeles County.
© Cassandra
  lizard  
  Wild Bengal Monitor lizard in India  
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 and since they they have been spreading to other locations. 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 many 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 that is sometimes found in the wild in California. They are well-established in South Florida.

Adults grow to several feet in length. Juveniles are bright green.

Coast Horned Lizard lizard lizard
Adult, found in a park in Orange County. © Tadd Kraft 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. Juvenile, Florida.
lizard Green Iguana lizard
Adult, Florida Adult, Florida
lizard lizard  
Adult, Florida  
House Gecko - Hemidactylus spp.
Various species of House Geckos are often seen for sale in pet stores.  Any of them may turn up anywhere. Some have become established in southern California. 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 horned 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 in a few locations.

lizard lizard Texas Horned Lizard
Adult, New Mexico
Adult, Arizona Adult, Texas
Wall Lizards - genus Podarcis
One species of Wall Lizard, 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 in the state. (I have not been able yet to confirm a rumor that they have been established in Pacifica, in San Mateo County.) Wall Lizards have also become established in several other states in the U.S.A. and on Vancouver Island and the Vancouver area of British Colombia. The lizards shown above are all from the San Pedro population established in Los Angeles County.

lizard lizard lizard
 
Veiled Chameleon - Chamaeleo calyptratus
These chameleons are native to the southwestern Arabian Peninsula are are often kept as pets. Sometimes they get loose or they are abandoned in the wild.

lizard lizard lizard
The lizard above was found in San Diego County, where there may be an established population derived from escaped pets. © Dave Shaw Captive adult.
 
Jackson's Chameleon - Trioceros jacksonii
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.

lizard lizard  
 
Uromastyx or Spiny-Tailed Lizards (many species)
Uromastyx are popular pets that originate in North Africa, the Middle East, and Iran. They are mostly herbivorous.

  lizard  
This Uromastyx was found up in a yard in southern California.

Beaded Lizard - Heloderma horridum
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.

lizard lizard  
This adult male was found living in a hole next to some trash cans in the hills above Lake Elsinore. It was removed by an experienced reptile re-locator. © Jeff Mellinger
 
Blue Spiny Lizard - Sceloporus cyanogenys  (= Sceloporus serrifer cyanogenys)
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


Blue Spiny Lizard Blue Spiny Lizard Blue Spiny Lizard
Adults, Starr County, Texas. Adult, Hidalgo County, Texas.
 
Common Leopard Gecko - Eublepharis macularius
Leopard geckos are very common pets. A large gecko, measuring up to 11 inches in length (28cm), they are native to rocky areas in dry grassland and desert regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, northwest India and parts of Iran. Sometimes released pets are found in the wild in California, though they have not been established anywhere yet that I know of.

  lizard  
Adult, found in the wild in San Diego County © Frederic Jewett

     
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 milk snakes 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. The snakes shown above are milk snakes that I photographed in the wild, but many snakes in the pet trade are from Mexico and Central America, and look much diffrent from these. Milk snakes are highly variable in appearance. Most have black, white, and red, or orange, bands, but some lack the white bands. One common pet, the Sinaloan Milk Snake, has very wide orange bands. Albino milksnakes are popular in the pet trade and should also be expected to have been released into the wild.
Corn Snake - Elaphe guttata
Corn snakes have been very common in the pet trade for many years. Corn snake breeders have created many different color and pattern variations for the pet trade including albinos, which are pink or orange.

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
Wild Corn Snake found in 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 Coast Mountain Kingsnake
This normally colored and patterned 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 This adult Corn Snake, seen lounging by a pool, has inhabited a Sacramento backyard for more than a year.
  Coast Mountain Kingsnake  
  This albino designer Corn Snake was found under a bush in Placer County.
© James Heirigs
 
Beauty Rat Snake - (Beauty Snake, Cave Racer) - Elaphe taeniura (Orthriophis taeniurus)
I have received several reports of this species of snake seen in the wild in California in Ventura County and in Contra Costa County and have heard that they have also been seen in Santa Ana, along with Chinese Rat Snakes - Ptyas korro.

Both beauty snakes shown to me in pictures were very large - probably 6 - 7 feet in length. The species grows up to 10 feet in length. This leads me to suspect that pet snakes are dumped into the wild after they grow too large to take care of, which is similar to the fate of many large pet snakes such as Burmese Pythons and Boa Constrictors, neither of which are established in California, but they are established in Florida.

It appears that there have been a few snakes of this species loose in Contra Costa County.

In 2015 I received a report of a Beauty Rat Snake that had been found dead on a road in Lafayette, Contra Costa County, a few years previously.

In 2016, I received a report of a large Beauty Rat Snake that was seen in Pleasanton, Contra Costa County.
I also received several reports of a snake in Lafayette over a four year period.

snake
snake
Photos © Gailene Nelson

The Lafayette Beauty Rat Snake

The Beauty Rat Snake shown in pictures above was photographed in Lafayette, Contra Costa County.
The picture on the left was taken in 2014. The picture on the right was taken in the same yard in March 2015.
This snake found itself a nice niche and survived in the area for at least 5 years.

In May 2015 I received another email about what was probably the same snake from a different person in the same neighborhood.

In May 2018 I received another report with video from showing what was probably the same Beauty Rat Snake from the same area in Lafayette, one block away, including sightings of shed skins found in an attic, where it was apparently taking shelter.

Finally in May 2019 I was told that a Beauty Rat Snake was captured in the exact same area in Lafayette. It was more than 10 feet long. A picture of that snake is shown below. Unless there is more than one full-grown Beauty Rat Snake in the same area, the captured snake is surely the same snake that has been observed since at least 2014, now back in captivity where an exotic pet snake belongs.

snake
© Nancy Gerber
Ball Python - Python regius
A small python with a docile temperament that rolls itself into a ball when it is threatened or stressed, the Ball Pythons is one of the most popular pet snakes. It's both captive bred and imported. The large number of them in captivity and their low energy requirements and ability to utilize various habitats give them a high potential to become an invasive species.

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
Colombian Boa (Northern Boa) - Boa imperator
These are very common in the pet trade. Like the Ball Python, they have a high potential to become an invasive species, but so far they have only become established near Miami, Florida.

  snake  
  This escaped or released Boa Constrictor was found on a driveway in Ventura County. © Thomas Miller  
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 in the wild can be seen here.

snake snake  
Large adult Burmese Python in a zoo  
 
Amethystine Python (Scrub Python) - Morelia kinghorni (or amethistina)
Another popular pet python.
snake snake snake
Adult in the wild,
Queensland Australia
Juvenile in the wild,
Queensland Australia
Adult found at night in a rainforest
in Queensland Australia
     
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)


The California Watersnakes Site reports on news, publications, and
sightings related to non-native watersnake species (Nerodia) in California.

If you see a watersnake in the wild in California at a location not mentioned on the
California Watersnakes Site, please report it to California Nerodia Watch at iNaturalist.

(Don't confuse Watersnakes (Nerodia) with native California gartersnakes. Most gartersnakes
have stripes on the sides and sometimes on the back. Watersnakes have no stripes.)

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 - Genus Terrapene
Wild illegally-released or escaped individual box turtles are sometimes found in California, usually in someone's yard. Several species are found in the pet trade.
turtle turtle turtle
Woodland Box Turtle Desert Box Turtle Desert Box Turtle
   
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. I've talked to people who used to keep them and let them roam around inside the house. Some of these tortoises were released into the wild when they were no longer wanted, probably because they live so long - 50 to 80 years, according to one source. There is even an established population of Desert Tortoises living in Anza-Borrego State Park, outside of their native range. They became establised as the result of the intentional release of tortoises in the late 1960s, according to an unverified source.

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)
Kept as pets, sometimes found in the wild.

  Tortoise  
This one 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 map turtle on bottom, Red-eared Slider on top. © Laura Hamilton  
     
Malaclemys terrapin - Diamondback Terrapin
Diamond-backed Terrapins are popular in the pet trade, so abandoned pets show up sometimes in California waters.

  Red-eared Slider© 2011 Todd Pierson  

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  
     
Osteopilus septentrionalis - Cuban Treefrog
This species is one of the treefrog species sometimes kept as a pet. There are a few records of them found in California which were probably escaped pets, but they have also been found on nursery plants which may have been imported from nurseries in Florida where this frog is an established invasive species. The transportation of Cuban Treefrogs and their eggs on nursery plants is a possible method of introduction of this species into the state, though it is not known if they can survive in the dryer, less humid environment.

So far (10/20) I have only seen three iNaturalist records for this species from Fresno, Ramona, and San Diego.

Cuban Treefrog Cuban Treefrog Cuban Treefrog



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 seen a report that this species has been released into the wild in southern California where it has been established, but could get no confirmation. It has also been found in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and in a regional park in Contra Costa County in the East Bay, but I don't know if the newts found in those places represent part of a breeding population or individual waifs.

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 it 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
     
Native California Species Kept as Pets Sometimes Show Up in the Wild
Where They Shouldn't Be Found
snake Desert Tortoise
This striped morph California Kingsnake was found in a park in Chico, Butte County, not far from where a non-native Corn Snake was found a month later. The striped pattern is not typically found in Butte County. It is more typical of snakes found near the coast in San Diego County. Therefore I assume that this, like the Corn Snake, was an abandoned pet, probably one bred in captivity. © Kurt Geiger The Mohave Desert Tortoise was once a popular pet native species. There is a population of them that was intentionally established in the state, which you can learn more about above.
     

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