CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California







Reptiles and Amphibians of the Greater Sacramento Area

 






range map
Area covered here is marked in red.




observation link

 

These are the native and well-established alien herps that inhabit the Greater Sacramento Area, which for our purposes includes the areas surrounding the city that include the lower foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Sacramento Valley west to about Davis - mostly in Sacramento, Placer, and El Dorado counties. Although it's not a geographically isolated area, it is one of the most populated areas of the state so I think it's a good area to cover. I have also included a few animals found in less populated areas in the foothills of the mountains at the eastern edge of the area covered here.

Not every animal shown here is present in every part of the area covered here.
Look at the range map and the description for each species for a better idea of where it occurs.
Click on the Latin name link to see more pictures, videos, and information about a particular animal.


Snakes

Most snakes in the area are active during warm and sunny weather, typically from late February through October and maybe early November, and remain underground at other times. They may also come out to get some sun on sunny days in late Fall and Winter.

Pacific Gophersnake
Pituophis catenifer catenifer
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video
Snake Snake Snake Range Map
Range shown in Red and Gray
  Adults are typically 4 to 5 ft. long.
Hatchlings are around 15 inches long.

A large, thick bodied, slow-moving snake with a head slightly wider than the neck and large rough scales.

Brown or tan with dark markings on the back and often rusty coloring on the back and head.










Diurnal. Nocturnal on hot nights.

Probably the most commonly seen snake in this area.

Found in many habitats - grassland, chaparral, agricultural, riparian, woodlands, from sea level to the mountains.
Eats mostly small mammals, birds, eggs.

Females lay eggs June to August. Young hatch August to October.

Often confused with rattlesnakes, but the tail is long and thin with no rattle.
See here.
     
Western Yellow-bellied Racer
Coluber constrictor mormon
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video

Video

Video
Videos
Snake Snake Snake Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are typically 2 to 3 feet long. Hatchlings are 8 to 11 inches long.

A long slender fast-moving snake with a large head and eyes and a long thin tail.

Brown, greenish, or grey without markings. Young are brown with dark brown markings.











Diurnal.

Common.

Found in open sunny areas including meadows, grassland, chaparral, open woodlands, and riparian areas, in arid and moist areas. Not found at very high elevations.
Eats lizards, small mammals, birds, snakes, eggs, frogs, and insects.

Females lay eggs in early summer. Young hatch in late summer and fall.
     
California Kingsnake
Lampropeltis californiae
(formerly Lampropeltis getula californiae)
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video
Snake Snake Snake Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are typically 3 to 4 ft. long.

A large, thick bodied, slow-moving snake with a head slightly wider than the neck and smooth scales.

Color is black or brown with light bands circling the body.












Diurnal and Nocturnal.

Common.

Found in a wide range of habitats:
forest, woodland, chaparral, grassland, wetlands, agricultural land, deserts, brushy suburban areas, from sea level to mountains.
Eats small mammals, lizards, snakes (including rattlesnakes) eggs, frogs, birds, and large invertebrates.

Females lay eggs May to August.
     
California Mountain Kingsnake
Lampropeltis zonata
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video of similar species
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Snake range map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are tyically 24 to 30 inches long. Hatchlings are 7 to 11 inches long.

A slender snake with a rounded body and almost no neck.

Black, red, and white or yellowish bands circle the body. Often some of the black bands cross over the top of the red bands.










Diurnal. Nocturnal during hot weather.

Secretive and not often seen. Only found in the foothinlls and mountains.

Found in coniferous forest, mixed woodlands, chaparral, manzanita, coastal sage scrub, typically around rock outcops near streams in the mountains.
Eats lizards, small mammals, birds, amphibians, and sometimes snakes.

Females lay eggs June and July which hatch August and September.
 

California Nightsnake
Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha nuchalata
(formerly Hypsliglena torquata nuchalata)
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video
Snake Snake Snake Range Map
Range shown in Purple
  Most adults are about a foot long, rarely over 16 inches. Hatchlings are abpit 7 inches long.

A small slender snake with a narrow head and smooth scales.

Light gray, light brown, beige, tan, or cream in color with dark brown or gray blotches on the backs and sides and a dark band on the neck and another through the eyes.








Nocturnal.

Secretive and not often seen.

Found in a variety of habitats, including chaparral, suburban lots and gardens, meadows and grassland, from sea level into the mountains.
Eats mostly lizards and their eggs, plus small snakes, amphibians, and other small vertebrates.

Females lay eggs from April to September.


 
Sharp-tailed Snake
Contia tenuis
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video
Snake Snake Snake Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are typically 8 to 12 inches long. Hatchlings are 3 inches long.

A small thin snake with a flattened head.

Gray or rusty red in color. The head is typically reddish on top, light gray on the sides with a black stripe through each eye. The underside is pale with alternating black crossbars. Sometimes there is a yellow or red stripe on the upper sides. Juveniles are red with dark lines on the side.







Common but secretive. Not often seen crawling on the ground, but sometimes found inside houses.

Found in moist areas in woodland, forests, grassland, chaparral, often near streams or water.

Typically found underneath wood or rocks or leaf litter in moist areas, often in suburban yards.
Eats slugs and their eggs and small salamanders.

Females lay eggs in June or July which hatch in fall.


 
Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake
Diadophis punctatus pulchellus
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video
Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake Range Map
Range shown in Purple and adjacent Gray
  Adults grow up to 34 inches long.

A small thin snake with smooth scales.

Color is gray, dark olive, or black with a narrow orange band around the neck. The underside is pinkish-red or coral-colored with small black spots. This underside is often displayed when a snake is feeling threatened.










Diurnal and nocturnal.

Common but secretive and rarely seen crawling on the ground.

Found in moist habitats including wet meadows, rocky hillsides, gardens, farmlands, grassland, chaparral, mixed coniferous forest and woodlands.
Eats small salamanders, tadpoles, frogs, snakes, lizards, worms, slugs, and insects.

Females lay eggs in the summer which hatch mostly in the fall.
     
California Striped Racer
Coluber lateralis lateralis
(formerly Masticophis lateralis lateralis)
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video
Snake Snake Snake Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are typically 3 to 4 feet long.

A slender very fast-moving snake with large head and eyes and smooth scales.

Dark brown or grey with one pale stripe on each side. No stripe on the back.













Diurnal and conspicuous.

Common in the foothills.

Found in a variety of open areas including canyons, rocky hillsides, chaparral, open woodlands, pond edges and stream courses from sea level to the mountains.
Eats small mammals, lizards, frogs, and snakes

Females lay eggs in late spring and early summer. Eggs hatch in late summer and fall.

Found in the West Bay, South Bay, and North Bay.
 
 
Mountain Gartersnake
Thamnophis elegans elegans
Not Dangerous to Humans
video
Video
snake snake snake range map
Range shown in Red and Gray
  Adults are 18 - 43 inches long.

A slender snake with a faint neck and keeled scales.

Color is dark olive or black with no red markings. There is a pale stripe on each side and one on the back.












Diurnal.

Common around water.

Found mostly around streams and lakes in grassland, woodland, and coniferous forest.
Eats fish, amphibians, birds, mice, lizards, snakes, worms, leeches, slugs and snails.

Young are born live from July to September.
 
 
Sierra Gartersnake
Thamnophis couchii
Not Dangerous to Humans
video
Video
Sierra Gartersnake Sierra Gartersnake Sierra Gartersnake Sierra Gartersnake California Range Map
Range shown in Red
  A medium-sized slender snake with a head barely wider than the neck, a narrow snout, small eyes, and keeled dorsal scales.

Adults are 18 - 38 inches long.

This snake is variable in appearance.
The ground color is olive brown, dark brown, or blackish, and there are dark blotches on the back and upper sides which are obscured when the ground color is very dark.

A light dorsal stripe may be present, but it is not distinct, except on the neck.
LIght lateral stripes may or may not be present on the 2nd and 3rd scale rows.



Northern populations of this snake have mottled black coloring below.
Populations in streams draining into the Sacramento River all tend to lack lateral stripes.

Active during daylight.
A highly-aquatic snake - more likely than most garter snake species to be found in the water. Can also be found basking at the edge of water or lying on mats of floating vegetation.

Can be active 10 months of the year at lower elevations, but as few as 3 - 3.5 months per year at very high elevations.
Able to crawl on stream bottoms.

Common near water in the foothills.

Associated with water - seasonal creeks, large mountain rivers, meadow ponds, and small lakes, in montane coniferous forests, oak woodlands, chaparral, pine juniper, and sagebrush. Prefers areas with rocks and vegetation.

Eats mainly fish and amphibians and their larvae, including frogs, tadpoles, and aquatic salamander larvae.


 
Giant Gartersnake
Thamnophis gigas
Not Dangerous to Humans
  Giant Gartersnake Giant Gartersnake Giant Gartersnake Giant Gartersnake  Range MapCurrent Range shown in Red
(Former range shown in Red and Yellow)
  Uncommon and declining. Found only near water in the Sacramento Valley.

A large snake with with keeled dorsal scales and a head slightly wider than the neck.

The largest species of gartersnake, adults are 36 - 65 inches long.

Ground color is brown or olive to black.
The underside is light brown or light grayish.

There is typically a yellowish dorsal stripe, a light yellowish stripe on each side, and two rows of dark blotches on the sides.  Snakes at the northern end of the range in the upper Sacramento Valley tend to have distinct stripes and a dark ground color. Snakes in the San Joaquin Valley may also have indistinct stripes or no stripes, creating a checkered appearance.

Feeds primarily on aquatic fish, frogs and tadpoles.

HIghly aquatic.
Active during daylight, and at night in hot weather. Emerges from overwintering sites in March.

Basks on vegetation near water in spring, and utilizes animal burrows and vegetation piles during hotter weather.

Found primarily in marshes, sloughs, drainage canals, and irrigation ditches, especially around rice fields, and occasionally in slow-moving creeks.
Prefers locations with vegetation close to the water for basking.




 
Valley Gartersnake
Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
Not Dangerous to Humans
video
Video
Valley Gartersnake Valley Gartersnake Valley Gartersnake Common Gartersnakes California Range Map
Range shown in Orange
  A medium-sized slender snake with a head barely wider than the neck and keeled dorsal scales.

Adults grow 18 - 43 inches in length.

Ground color is a dark olive-brown or black with no red markings.

There are 3 well-defined light stripes on the back and sides:
The dorsal stripe is yellow, orange, or white.

The lateral stripes may be paler. Underside is pale with few markings, and is sometimes darker in the center.



Active in daylight. Chiefly terrestrial - not as dependant on water as other gartersnake species, but more likely to be found near water.

Diet includes: invertebrates such as slugs, leeches, snails, and earthworms; fish; amphibians - tadpoles, frogs, (and probably salamanders); snakes and lizards; birds; and small mammals.

Common.

Inhabits streamsides, springs, mountain lakes, in grassland, meadows, brush, woodland, and coniferous forest.



 
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Crotalus oreganus oreganus
(formerly Crotalus viridis oreganus)
Venomous and Potentially Very Dangerous!
  Snake Snake Snake Range Map

Range shown in Red and Gray
Video
Video
Snake Snake Snake
  Adults are typically 3 to 4 feet long.

A heavy-bodied snake with a large triangular head and thin neck, and large keeled scales, and a tail tipped with a rattle that is shaken to produce a loud sound when the snake is feeling threatened. Young snakes have no rattle and cannot make a sound.

Color is brown, olive, or black, with dark brown blotches outlined by light pigment on the back, and dark bars on the tail.
Nocturnal and crepuscular in hot temperatures, and also diurnal during moderate temperatures.

Common and conspicuous.

Found in many habitats, including seaside dunes, scrub, grasslands, rocky hillsides, chaparral, open woodlands, and agricultural fields.

No longer present in most developed areas.

Eats small mammals, birds, lizards, snakes, and frogs.

Young are born live from August to October.


 
Long-nosed Snake
Rhinocheilus lecontei
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video
Snake Snake Snake Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are typically 16 to 30 inches long. Hatchlings are 7 to 11 inches long.

A slender snake with smooth scales, only a faint neck and a head with a long pointed snout.

Color is white with red and black saddles that do not entirely circle the body. Some snakes lack red coloring.










Nocturnal and crepuscular but occasionally seen active in daylight.

Uncommon in this area.

Found in semi-arid grasslands, shrublands, and prairies.
Eats mostly lizards and their eggs plus small snakes, small mammals, birds, and insects.

Females lay eggs from June to August.

         

Alien Snake Species - Established Snakes Not Native to California

Southern Watersnake
Nerodia fasciata
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)

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.
Not Dangerous to Humans
  snake snake snake range map
Range shown in Red dots
  Adults are typically 22 to 40 inches long.

A heavy-bodied snake with large keeled scales.

Color is yellowish to reddish-gray with many dark crossbands. Juveniles are paler with a stronger pattern. Very old snakes may be almost entirely dark.











Diurnal and Nocturnal.

Uncommon.

Found in and around permanent bodies of water, especially those bordered by woods.

Eats fish, frogs, salamanders, and crayfish.

Young are born live.

Not a native snake. So far, in the greater Sacramento area, this species is known to be established only in and around Lake Natoma in the city of Folsom, Sacramento County.

 
 
 
Common Watersnake
Nerodia sipedon
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)

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.
Not Dangerous to Humans
Video
Video
Video
Northern Watersnake Northern Watersnake Northern Watersnake Northern Watersnake California Range MapRange shown in Red dots
  Adult, Placer County. Adult, Placer County.
© Richard Porter
Juvenile, Placer County.
© Richard Porter
  Adults grow from 12 - 55 inches in length.

Dorsal and ventral patterns are variable.
Color can be brown, gray, brownish-black, or reddish, darkening with age.
Older adults are often all dark in color without any markings.
The head is typically one color and is gradually more rounded and more flat on top than the head of Nerodia fasciata.

The body is usually marked with dark blotches and dark crossbands ring the neck.

The underside is white, yellow, or gray with crescent or half-moon-shaped markings that are dark and sometimes tan or yellowish in the center.
Spots may be in a double row or in a striped pattern.
Little is known of the natural history of this snake in California. In its natural habitat, they are active both day and night, and are usually seen in the morning or late afternoon when they are basking in sunny areas on stumps, rocks, logs, or vegetation next to water. Activity takes place from April to October in the northern part of its range, and earlier in the spring and later in the fall in the southern range. They hibernate during winter in burrows, crevices, or rock piles near or close to water, sometimes in den shared with other snake species.

Diet consists of small aqatic vertebrates such as fish, frogs, salamanders, small mammals, and even small birds, and invertebrates such as various kinds of worms, leeches, and crayfish. Snakes typically hunt for food along the edge of shallow water.

This snake lives just about anywhere near fresh water - rivers, creeks, canals, lakes, ponds, oxbows, reservoirs, bogs swamps and marshes. It also inhabits brackish and saltwater habitats in some locations.

In Placer County, they have been found along the edge of a large freshwater marsh.
 
 
Lizards

Most lizards in the area are active during warm and sunny weather, typically from late February through October, and remain underground at other times. They are most often seen during daylight sunning themselves on rocks, branches, fences, or walls, or running on the ground.

Northwestern Fence Lizard
Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis
Video
Video
Northwestern Fence Lizard Northwestern Fence Lizard Northwestern Fence Lizard Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are about 2.5 to 3.5 inches long, not including the tail.

A fairly small lizard with keeled scales.

Brown, gray, or black with dark blotches on the back. Sometimes light markings on the sides of the back form vague stripes.


Recognizing differences between Fence Lizards and Sagebrush Lizards.
Diurnal.

The most common and conspicuous lizard in this area.

Found in many different open, sunny areas, including woodlands, grasslands, chaparral, waterways, pond edges, houses and fences.











Eats small bugs including crickets, spiders, ticks, scorpions, and even tiny lizards.

Females lay eggs that hatch July to September, when very tiny lizards can be seen running around.

Typically seen basking in the sun on fences, walls, branches, and rocks.


     
Forest (California) Alligator Lizard
Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata
Video
Video
Lizard Lizard Lizard Range Map
Range shown in Red and Gray
  Adults are about 3 to 7 inches long, not including the tail, and can be up to 16 inches long including the tail.

An elongated lizard with large scales, a large head, short legs, and a fold along the bottoms of the sides. The tail can be very long, but often it is re-grown and stubby.

Brown, grey, or yellowish above, often with orange or red coloring on the middle of the back. Usually there are dark bands on the back, sides, and tail.

Juveniles are long and thin and a copper color with no dark markings on the back. They are sometimes mistaken for a small ground skink (which does not occur in this area.)


Diurnal.

Common.

Found in grassland, open forest, chaparral, oak woodlands. Typically prefers drier areas than the San Francisco Alligator lizard.
Eats a variety of small bugs, slugs, snails, and worms, and sometimes small lizards and mammals and birds and their eggs.

Females lay eggs from May to July which hatch in late summer and early fall.

Typically seen moving on the ground or basking on rocks or fallen branches.

Moves with a snake-like undulating motion.
     
Blainville's Horned Lizard
(Formerly Coast Horned Lizard)
Phrynosoma blainvillii
Video Video Lizard Lizard Lizard Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are 2.5 to 4.5 inches long, not including the tail.

A flat lizard with a very wide oval body, large pointed scales protruding from the body and the short flat tail, and very large pointed horns around the back of the head. Unlike any other lizard in our area.

Brown, reddish, or yellowish with dark blotches on the back.








Diurnal.

Uncommon. Gone from much of its previous range due to loss of habitat and harvester ants.

Found in areas with loose sandy soil and low vegetation, including grassland, forests, woodlands, and chaparral.
Eats mosly large harvester ants plus the occasional spider, beetle, termite, fly, bee, or grasshopper.

Females lay eggs from May to June which hatch from August to September.

Typically seen in open spaces on the ground or running across a road, often around anthills or ant trails.


 
Northern Brown Skink
Plestiodon gilberti placerensis
Video
Video
of smiliar subspecies
Northern Brown Skink Northern Brown Skink Northern Brown Skink Range Map
Range shown in Purple and adjacent Gray
  Adults are 2.5 to 4.5 inches long, not including the tail.

A large lizard with a heavy body, small head and thick neck, small legs, and smooth shiny scales.

Olive or brown in color with some dark markings on the back that begin as dark stripes and fade with age. Older adults have a dark network of markings on the back. Young skinks have distinct light and dark stripes and a reddish or pink tail.

Males develop red coloring on the throat during the breeding sason.



Diurnal.

Secretive and not often seen moving around.

Found in grassland, chaparral, woodlands, and pine forests, typically where there is moisture nearby.

Eats small bugs.

Females lay eggs in the summer.

Typically found underneath rocks or other surface debris.

 
 
Skilton's Skink
Plestiodon skiltonianus skiltonianus
Video
Video
Lizard Lizard Lizard Range Map
Range shown in Red and Gray
  Adults are about 2 - 3 inches long, not including the tail. Typically 7.5 inches long with the tail.

A small lizard with a slim body, a small head with a thick neck, small legs, and smooth shiny scales.

Dark brown on the head and back with two light stripes on the edge of the back, dark stripes down the sides, and light strips on the edge of the belly. Juveniles have a bright blue tail that fades as they age. Old adults often have no blue on the tail. Adults develop red or orange coloring on the head and throat during the breeding season.


Diurnal.

Common but secretive and not often seen moving around.

Found in grassland, woodlands, forests, sagebrush, chaparral, especially in rocky areas near streams and open sunny areas.

Sometimes, when this lizard moves quickly through leaf litter or short grass, only the blue tail is seen, and this is often mistaken to be a small blue snake.
Eats small bugs, including spiders and sow bugs.

Females lay eggs in June and July which hatch in July and August.

Typically found underneath rocks or other surface debris.
 
 
California Whiptail
Aspidoscelis tigris munda
Video
Video
Lizard Lizard Lizard Range Map
Range shown in Orange
  Adults are about 3 to 5 inches long, not including the tail.

A long slim lizard with a long thin tail, a thin snout, and large plates on the head.

Gray, tan, or brown in color, with dark spots or bars on the back and sides that form 8 faint or indistinct brown stripes. The overall appearance when seen moving at a distance is of dark and light spots all over the body. Juveniles have distinct stripes and bright blue tails.







Diurnal.

Common and conspicuous, but not found in urban and suburban areas. Favors hot, dry, open areas with sparse vegetation, including woodland, chaparral, and riparian areas.
Eats small bugs including spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and termites. Also known to eat small lizards.

Females lay eggs from April to August.

Very active, moving quickly on the ground with abrupt starts and stops.
 
 
Mediterranean Gecko
Hemidactylus turcicus
Not Native to California
Video
Video
lizard lizard lizard range map
This lizard continues to expand its range in California.  Black dots on the map indicate some of the areas where it has been found and could be established. Click for a larger view.
  1.75 to about 2.5 inches long, not including the tail. 4 to 5 inches long with the tail.

A small, slightly flattened lizard with conspicuous large bumpy tubercles on the skin and large eyes with vertical pupils.

Two color phases. Light phase is pale pinkish white with dark blotching and spotting sometimes forming indistinct bands. Dark phase is dark brown or gray with darker markings and bands. The tail is ringed with dark and light bands.







Nocturnal.

Becoming increasingly common in this area.

An alien species. Native to the Mediterranean region. Typically spread from place to place in shipments of goods and lumber.

Found living in or near human dwellings, but probably also found in surrounding habitats. Recorded from a few locations in Southern California, but probably established in many more areas, and spreading.
Eats a variety of small invertebrates.

Females lay eggs from April to August.


Typically seen on the outside wall of a building at night under a light, where they catch flying insects. May also be seen on walls indoors.
Turtles

Most turtles in the area are active during warm and sunny weather, typically from about late February through October, but sometimes they are active all year.

Northwestern Pond Turtle - Actinemys marmorata
Video
Video
Pacific Pond Turtle
© Jackson Shedd
Pacific Pond Turtle© Adam Clause Pacific Pond Turtle© Patrick Briggs range map
Range shown in Red (and maybe Purple)
  The shell is typically 3.5 to 8.5 inches long. Hatchlings are abut 1 inch long.

A dark brown, olive, or black turtle with a low unkeeled shell, usually with a pattern of lines or spots radiating from the centers of the scutes.

The head and neck are light in color with dark mottling.
Diurnal.

Fairly common, but declining.

Found in ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, marshes, and irrigation ditches with abundant vegetation in a variety of areas including wooland, forest, grassland, and parks.

Rarely seen away from water. Often seen basking just above the water.







Eats aquatic plants, bugs, worms, frog eggs and tadpoles, salamander eggs and larvae, crayfish, carrion, and occasionally frogs and fish.

Females crawl onto land and lay eggs between April and August.
 
 
Red-eared Slider
Trachemys scripta elegans
Not Native to California
Video
Video
Turtle Turtle Turtle Range Map
Range shown in Red
  The shell is 3.5 to 14.5 inches long.

The shell is olive, brown, or black in color with streaks and bars of yellow or eye-like spots. The skin is green to olive brown with yellow markings and a prominent broad red stripe behind the eye.






Diurnal.

Common, but not native.

Found in sluggish rivers, ponds, shallow streams, marshes, lakes, reservoirs, and urban park ponds.
Females crawl onto land and lay eggs between April and July.

Eats crustaceans, mollusks, fish, insects, snails, tadpoles, and aquatic plants.

May be active on sunny days in winter.
 
 
Texas Spiny Softshell
Apalone spinifera emoryi
Not Native to California
  Turtle Turtle Turtle Range Map
Range shown in Red
  The shell is 5 to 21 inches long.

A flat turtle with a rounded, leathery shell without visible scutes and a long snout with open nostrils on the end.

The shell is olive, brown, or gray in color, sometimes with dark markings that fade with age. The head and limbs are olive to gray with dark markings and two light stripes mark each side of the head.









Diurnal.

Rare and not native to this area.

Found in permanent rivers, agricultural canals, drainage ditches, artificial lakes, and ponds.
Eats insects, crayfish, worms, snails, fish, frogs, and tadpoles.

Females crawl onto land and lay eggs between May and August that hatch between August and September.
 
Snapping Turtle
Chelydra serpentina
Not Native to California
Please email me if you see this species in the wild in California, and send pictures if you can.
video
Video
Eastern Snapping Turtle Eastern Snapping Turtle snapping turtle Eastern Snapping Turtle locations in Calfiornia
Red dots = Some locations of Snapping Turtle
sightings in California
  8 - 18.5 inches in shell length

A large freshwater turtle with a massive head with huge hooked jaws, a long tail, a saw-toothed crest, and a shell that looks like it is too small to fit the body.
The legs are large with webbed toes and heavy claws.
The tail is longer than half the length of the carapace.

Average weight is around 45 lbs, but some captives have weighed in at over 75 lbs.

The skin is gray, black, yellow, or tan, with tubercles on the neck.
White flecks occur on some individuals.



The color of the shell ranges from black, brown, or olive to tan. The shell is often covered with mud or algae, which helps camouflage the turtle. The shell is heavily serrated on the rear edge, and scutes may have a pattern of radiating lines.

Active most of the year, becoming dormant in areas with cold winters, generally in late October.
Remains dormant either burrowed into the mud bottom, or under overhanging banks, root snags, stumps, brush, logs, or other debris.

Aquatic, found in or near water.
An excellent swimmer.
Sometimes seen basking on or under the surface in shallow water.
Often rests buried in the mud with its eyes and nostrils exposed in water shallow enough that it can raise its long neck up to allow the nostrils to break the surface and breathe without moving out of the mud.

Females crawl onto land, sometimes travelling over great distances, to dig a nest where they lay a clutch of eggs.
Egg laying takes place mostly in June and July (but can occur any time between May and October).
The eggs hatch in 9 - 18 weeks.
 
 
Western Painted Turtle
Chrysemys picta bellii
Not Native to California
Please email me if you see this species in the wild in California, and send pictures if you can.
video
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turtle turtle Western Painted Turtle range map
Range shown in Red
  2.5 to 10 inches long.

A small turtle with red markings on the bottom and no red markings on the sides of the head.

The shell is black, brown, or olive in color with a network of faint light lines, and olive, yellow, or red borders on the shields. The head and limbs are olive or black with yellow lines.









Diurnal.

Uncommon. The most widespread species of turtle in North America, but not native to California.

Aquatic. Found in ponds, marshes, lakes, ditches, and quiet streams.
Eats almost anything it can find, including insects, worms, snails, crayfish, fish, amphibians and tadpoles, carrion, and aquatic vegetation.

Females lay eggs on land between May and August.
 
 
Frogs and Toads

Frogs and toads in the area can be active most of the year, except during very hot and very cold weather. However, even during hot and dry weather, some species can be seen floating in water.

Sierran Treefrog  
Pseudacris sierra
(formerly Hyla regilla - Pacific Treefrog)
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frog picture Frog Frog range map
Range shown in Orange
  Adult frogs are 3/4 to 2 inches long.

A small frog with smooth skin, a large head and eyes, round pads on the toe tips, and a wide dark stripe through the middle of each eye.

Most frogs are green or brown in color overlaid with irregular dark markings, but some frogs are, gray, reddish, or cream in color.
Diurnal and Nocturnal.

The most commonly seen frog in this area. If you hear frogs calling at night, it is usually this species.

Found almost anywhere there is water for breeding, including forest, woodland, chaparral, grassland, pastures, streams, and urban areas.
Eats a wide variety of invertebrates, including flying insects.

Females lay eggs in water some time between November and July. Eggs hatch into tadpoles in 2 to 3 weeks. The tadpoles live in water then transform into tiny frogs and move onto land 2 to 2.5 months later.

Active most of the year except during extreme cold and extreme heat when it stays in moist shelters.









California Toad
Anaxyrus boreas halophilus
(formerly Bufo boreas halophilus)
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california toad california toad california toad range map
Range shown in Red and Gray
  Adults are 2 to 5 inches long.

A large squat toad with dry warty skin.

Color is greenish, tan, reddish brown, gray, or yellowish with irregular dark blotches and a light-colored stripe down the middle of the back. Warts on the back are often on dark blotches.
Diurnal in cool weather, Nocturnal in hotter weather.

Common where found but less common in urbanized areas.

Found in a varitey of areas including marshes, springs, creeks, ponds, small lakes in woodland, forest, and grassland.

The only species of toad found in our area.
Eats a wide variety of invertebrates.

Females lay eggs in water some time between January and July, depending on the location, rainfall, and snowmelt. Eggs hatch into tadpoles in about a week or two. Tadpoles live in the water then transform into tiny toads and move onto land in about 1 to 1.5 months.

Active mostly late Winter through Fall except during extreme cold and extreme heat when it stays in moist shelters.









 
California Red-legged Frog
Rana draytonii
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Frog Frog Frog range map
Range shown in Orange and Purple
  Adults are about 2 - 5 inches long.

A medium-sized frog with smooth skin and a visible line on the sides of the back and a wide dark marking behind each eye.

Reddish-brown, brown, gray, or olive in color with small black flecks and spots on the back and sides and dark bands on the legs. Red coloring underneath the rear legs.
Diurnal and Nocturnal.

No longer present in much of its former habitat, including almost all populations in the area covered here.

Found mainly in and near ponds in a variety of habitats, including forest, woodland, grassland, coastal scrub, and streamsides, but sometimes found far away from water.
Eats a variety of invertebrates, and ocasionally small vertebrates such as fish, mice, frogs, and salamander larvae.

Females lay eggs in water some time from November to April depending on the location. Eggs hatch into tadpoles in about a month. Tadpoles live in the water then transform into tiny frogs and move onto land 4 to 6 months later, or sometimes not until the following summer.

Mostly active late Winter through Fall.






 
 
American Bullfrog
Lithobates catesbeianus
(formerly Rana catesbeiana)
Not Native to Calfornia
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frog picture Frog Frog Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are 3.5 to 8 inches long. The largest frog found in our area.

A large frog with smooth skin and no lines on the sides of the back, and conspicuous eardrums.

Light green to dark olive green in color with irregular dark spots and blotches. Juveniles have many small dark spots.
Diurnal and Nocturnal.

Common, but not native to our area.

Found in permanent water - lakes, ponds, sloughs, reservoirs, marshes, slow rivers, irrigation canals, cattle tanks, and slow creeks, in almost any habitat which is open and sunny, including grassland, farmland, prairies, woodland, forests, and chaparral.
Eats anything it can swallow, including invertebrates, mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.

Females lay eggs in water typically between May and August. Eggs hatch into tadpoles 3 to 5 days. Tadpoles live in water and grow very large, not turning into small frogs and moving onto land until anytime between a few months and a year to two years.

Mostly active late Winter through Fall.









 
Foothill Yellow-legged Frog
Rana boylii
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frog picture Frog Frog range map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are 1.5 to about 3 inches long.

A small frog with bumpy skin and no dark markings between or behind the eyes and a faint light mark across the top of the head.

Color is gray, brown, or olive, and either plain or with irregular dark mottling. Yellow under the rear legs.
Diurnal and sometimes nocturnal.

Rare: gone from most of its former range in this area.

Found in rocky streams and rivers with open, sunny banks, in forest, woodland, and chaparral.
Eats a wide variety of aquatic, flying, and terrestrial invertebrates, including spiders, snails, and grasshoppers.

Females lay eggs in still water of creeks and rivers from April to July, depending on when the water flow has slowed down sufficiently. Eggs hatch into tadpoles in about a week to 5 weeks. Tadpoles live in water then transform into tiny frogs and move onto land 3 to 4 months.

Mostly active late Winter through Fall.







 
 
Western Spadefoot
Spea hammondii
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frog picture Frog Frog range map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are 1.5 to 2.5 inches long.

A fat squat spadefoot with large eyes with vertical pupils.

Color is greenish, brown, gray, or cream. Typically there are reddish spots, dark markings and 4 irregular light stripes on the back.
Nocturnal.

Uncommon and rarely seen. Spends most of its life underground.

Found in open areas with sandy or gravelly soils in various habitats, including mixed woodlands, grasslands, coastal sage, chaparral.

Eats a variety of invertebrates, including beetles, moths, crickets, flies, ants, and earthworms.

Females lay eggs in water some time between January and May after heavy rainfall creates temporary pools of water. Eggs hatch into tadpoles in about 3 to 6 days. Tadpoles live in water then transform into tiny spadefoots and move onto land in 4 to 11 weeks, depending on how long it takes for the pool to dry up.

Surface active only during rains, typically January to May in our area.







 
African Clawed Frog
Xenopus laevis
Not Native to California
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Frog Frog Frog  range map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are 2 to almost 6 inches long.

A medium-sized frog with smooth skin, a flattened body, and a small head with a blunt snout and upturned eyes with no lids.

Olive to brown in color with irregular dark markings.

Rarely leaves water, but will move overland on rainy nights when ponds dry up.

Nocturnal and diurnal.

Rare and alien to our area. A native of Africa. So far, known only from ponds in Golden Gate Park in our area.

Found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including slow streams and drainages, marshes, ponds, drainage ditches, flood channels, cattle tanks, sewage plant ponds, and golf course ponds.

In the area covered here, known only from Davis.






Eats anything it can catch, including aquatic invertebrates, fish, and amphibians and amphibian larvae.

Females lay eggs in water any time between January and November, mostly in April and May. Eggs hatch into tadpoles in 2 or 3 days. Tadpoles live in water and transform into tiny frogs in 2.5 to 3 months or more.


 
 
Salamanders

Most salamanders in the area are active on the surface only during the rainy season, typically October or November to May, and remain underground at other times.
Salamander larvae remain active in water throughout the summer. They are most often seen in moist areas underneath objects on the ground.

California Slender Salamander
Batrachoseps attenuatus
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Salamander Salamander Salamander Range Map
Range shown in Red
 

Adults are about 3 to 5.5 inches long, including the tail.

A tiny slender salamander with tiny legs that are not easily seen, making it look much like a worm.

Color is dark brown or black with a wide red, brown, yellow, or tan colored stripe on the back with a herringbone pattern.

The only small wormlike Salamander species found in our area.






Nocturnal.

Common in the foothills but secretive.

Often found underneath surface objects in yards and gardens in suburban and urban areas.

Found in moist locations in a wide variety of locations, including chaparral, woodland, grassland, forests, urban yards, vacant lots, marshes, and beach driftwood.
Eats a variety of small invertebrates, including springtails, small beetles, snails, mites, spiders, and isopods.

Females lay eggs in moist terrestrial places in October and November. Young emerge from the eggs fully formed in about 2.5 to 3 months.

Typically seen under rocks, logs, or other surface debris, but also found under garden vegetation, and sometimes seen crawling across wet sidewalks on rainy days and nights.
 
 
Hell Hollow Salamander
Batrachoseps diabolicus
  Hell Hollow Slender Salamander Hell Hollow Slender Salamander Hell Hollow Slender Salamander Hell Hollow Slender Salamander Range MapRange shown in Red
 

Adults grow from 1 - 1/4 to 1-7/8 inches long from snout to vent.

A small slim salamander with a relatively broad head and slightly defined neck.
Short limbs, a long slender body with a narrow head and a long tail, and conspicuous costal and caudal grooves give this species the worm-like appearance typical of most Slender Salamanders.

Limbs are fairly long, and hands and feet are large compared to most Slender Salamanders.
Fingers/toes are long and distinct, with expanded tips.


Coloration is dark dorsally with a brownish stripe that is usually brighter at it's edges and continues onto head.
There is extensive pale speckling on both the dorsal surface and the grey ventral surface.

Active on rainy or wet nights when temperatures are moderate, generally from November to March or April.
Retreats underground when the soil dries or when air temperature gets below freezing.

Eats small invertebrates.
A sit-and-wait predator, using a projectile tongue to capture prey.

 
 
Arboreal Salamander
Aneides lugubris
Video Video Salamander Salamander Salamander Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are about 2 to 4 inches long not including the tail, which can be up to 3 inches long.

A medium-sized salamander with a large head and a tail that is often coiled.

Adults are brown with small cream to yellow spots on the body that can be tiny or large in size, and dense or sparse. Young are black with light speckles.
Nocturnal.

Common in the foothills but secretive.

Found in moist places on land, mostly in oak woodlands, but also coastal dunes, forests, and urban areas.

Often found in yards and gardens in suburban and urban areas.
Eats a variety of small invertebrates, including millipedes, worms, snails, ants, termites, swo bugs, moths, and centipedes, and sometimes small salamanders.

Females lay eggs in moist terrestrial places in late spring and early summer. Young hatch fully-formed in August and September.


 
Yellow-eyed Ensatina
Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica
Video Video Salamander Salamander Salamander Range Map
Range shown in Yellow
  Adults are 1.5 - 3.2 inches long not including the tail, up to 6 inches long with the tail.

A medium-sized salamander with smooth skin, dark eyes with a yellow patch on top, a tail that is constricted at the base, and visible grooves on the sides between the legs.

Orange or brown in color with lighter orange marking the upper eyelids,tail, sides of the head, and base of the limbs. Young have many light speckles on the body.





Nocturnal.

Common in the foothills.

Found in moist shaded areas in forests, oak woodlands, mixed grassland, and chaparral.

The subspecies Sierra Nevada Ensatina is found at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Eats a wide variety of invertebrates, including spiders, beetles, crickets, sowbugs, centipedes, millipedes, worms, snails, and termites.

Females lay eggs in moist terrestrial places typically in April and May. Young hatch fully-formed, probably in the fall.

Typically seen under rocks, logs, or other surface debris, but sometimes seen crossing roads on rainy nights.
 
 
Sierra Newt
Taricha sierrae
Poisonous - Very Dangerous if Eaten
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Sierra Newt Sierra Newt Sierra Newt Range Map
Range shown in Orange
  Adults are about 3 to 3.5 inches long, not including the tail, and up to 8 inches with the tail.

A stocky, medium-sized salamander with rough skin, no grooves on the sides between the legs, and dark eyes with a yellow patch on top. When living in the water during the breeding season, the skin becomes smooth and the tail is wider.

Brown above, and pale orange or yellow below and on the head below the eyes.






Diurnal.

Common in the foothills.

Found in wet forests, woodlands, chaparral, and grasslands.


Eats a variety of small invertebrates, including worms, snails, slugs, sowbugs, and insects, along with amphitian eggs and larvae, and sometimes small vertebrates.

Females lay eggs in water between December and April, depending on location and habitat. Eggs hatch into larvae in 2 to 7 weeks. Larvae live in the water then transform into tiny newts and move onto land in several months.

Often seen crawling on the ground in daylight during wet weather.


 
California Tiger Salamander
Ambystoma californiense
Video
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Salamander Salamander Range Map
Range shown in Red
  Adults are 3 to 5 inches long, not including the tail, and up to 8.5 inches with the tail.

A large salamander with smooth skin, and a large wide head with small eyes.

Shiny black with large yellow spots and bars on the back and sides.
Nocturnal.

Uncommon and declining. Secretive and rarely seen. Possibly no longer found in this area.

Found in grassland, oak savanna, and at the edges of mixed woodland, where there is access to temporary breeding pools.

Surface active only during the rainy season, typically November to May, hiding underground at other times.







Eats a variety of invertebrates.

Females lay eggs in water from November to May after rainfall has created temporary breeding pools. Eggs hatch in 2 to 4 weeks. Larvae live in water for 4 to 5 months before transforming into tiny salamanders and moving onto land.

Typically seen crossing roads on rainy nights in winter.








 



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