CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





Threadsnakes (Blindsnakes) found in California

 










observation link

 

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous) 
Threadsnakes and Blindsnakes do not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Threadsnakes are small thin snakes that resemble large worms. The skin is smooth and appears shiny and wet. No actual eyes are present, only dark eye spots where eyes would normally be.

This snake is most often found hiding underneath objects in the daytime, or crawling across roads on warm nights.Checking the range map is the best way to determine which of the two subspecies present in California you have.

snake snake
Desert Threadsnake
Rena humilis cahuilae  
snake snake
Southwestern Threadsnake
Rena humilis humilis
map     
Orange: Desert Threadsnake (Blind Snake) - Rena humilis cahuilae

Red: Southwestern Threadsnake (Blind Snake) - Rena humilis humilis
 
Brahminy Blindsnake - Ramphotyphlops braminus

This is a non-native blindsnake that has been introduced into Chula Vista in San Diego County and other locations in southern California. It has spread around the world including the Hawaiian Islands and Florida, often in shipments of tropical plants, a fact which gives the species an alternate common name - the Flower Pot Snake.

It can be distinguished from the native threadsnakes by the placement of the dark eye spot, by the appearance of the rostral scale, by counting certain scales and by its shorter tail.
(I don't have any illustration of the tails yet.) More information about identifying the species including some illustrations can be found below.

The Brahminy Blindsnake also tends to be much darker than the native threadsnakes, although some native threadsnakes can also be very dark, so this cannot be used alone to identify the species.

snake snake
map
California locations of introduced populations of
Brahminy Blindsnake - Ramphotyphlops braminus



Keys * to the three types of small worm-like blind snakes found in California
  Desert Threadsnake

Rena humilis cahuilae  

Southwestern Threadsnake
Rena humilis humilis
Brahminy Blindsnake

Ramphotyphlops braminus
Dorsal Scale Rows 5 lightly pigmented 7 or more heavily pigmented  
Dorsal Scales 285 or more usually fewer than 285  
Scale Rows Around Tail 12    
Scale Rows at Midbody 14 14 18 - 20
Rostral Scale Large, pointed on top Large, pointed
on top
Large, inverse U shaped on top, with parallel markings that look like stitches
Dark Eye Spot Centered in the
ocular scale
Centered in the
ocular scale
In the upper portion of the ocular scale. The top of the ocular scale often crosses over the upper edge of the eye spot. 
Length 4 - 16 inches
(10 - 41 cm)
4 - 16 inches
(10 - 41 cm)
2.5 - 7 inches
(14 - 18 cm.)

* Based on information from:


Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Robert Powell, Joseph T. Collins, Errol D. Hooper, Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. 1998

Dr. Gregory B. Pauly, personal communications.



Click on photo to enlarge
The Rostral Scale

One way to tell the difference between these two very similar species is to look at the large scale on the front of the nose (the Rostral Scale.)

The native threadsnakes have a large rostral scale that is pointed up between the eyes in a triangular shape.

The Brahminy Blindsnake has a large rostral scale that points up between the eyes in an upside down "U" shape. The rostral scale also has edge lines that look like stitches and parallel lines inside the scale that look like rows of stitches. These lines of "stitches" are absent on the Threadsnakes and the edges of their rostral scale are straight, not "stitched."


The Dark Eye Spot

Another characteristic to look at is the dark eye spot. The eye spot on the Western Threadsnake is centered in the ocular scale, a large scale around the eye. On the Brahminy Blindsnake the eye spot is in the upper portion of the ocular scale, and the top of the ocular scale often crosses over the upper edge of the eye spot. The ocular scale also appears more pointed on the bottom than on the Western Threadsnake which is wider and flatter on the bottom..

If you think you found a Brahminy Blindsnake in California:

Please notify Dr. Gregory B. Pauly at gpauly@nhm.org. Dr. Pauly is Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and is part of a team that is documenting the rapid introduction and establishment of this species into Southern California with the help of people who contact this website and other citizen science projects. If you can, take pictures and send them to him, including close-ups of the eyes and nose if possible. Also, please hold on to the snake if you can. Someone may need to collect and examine it to confirm that it is a Brahminy Blindsnake which is similar in appearance to the native Western Threadsnake. 

It's not easy to see tiny details on these little snakes, especially when they are squirming around, so if you are still in doubt of the species after checking the identification information, please contact Dr. Pauly anyway. You are welcome to contact me at this web site also if you need to.


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