CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Information About the California Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations
as they Pertain to Hunting and Collecting Native California
Reptiles and Amphibians - Valid March 1, 2021 - February 28, 2022





CalTip

https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/enforcement/caltip

(Californians Turn in Poachers & Polluters)

is a California Department of Fish and Wildlife confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide Fish and Wildlife with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters.

Anyone who witnesses or is aware of a poaching or polluting violation is encouraged to call a toll-free number 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

1-888-DFG-CALTIP
(1-888-334-2258)

or to submit anonymous tips by texting CALTIP  followed by a space and the message to 847411 (tip411). You can also use Tip411 with the CALTIP  smartphone App available for free on the CalTIP website.




Disinfection of Field Equipment
to Minimize Risk of Spread of Chytridiomycosis and Ranavirus.

Northeast PARC



observation link



Native California Reptiles and Amphibians That Can Be Legally Collected

This information is in no way intended to be subsituted for legal advice.

This is only intended to be a summarized description of the current sport fishing regulations only as they apply to California's reptiles and amphibians (excluding the fish) with some additional comments. Some of the information contained here, including links, may have changed. Consult the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website for the most recent and most complete information.

The information below pertains to the pursuit and collection of native reptiles and amphibians in California by individuals who are residents or non-residents. It does not pertain to all aspects of selling or trading native or non-native reptiles and amphibians.

For information regarding captive propagation of native reptiles go to the CDFW website and read the Native Reptile Captive Propagation Laws and Regulations pdf.

If you have other questions about what you can do with reptiles and amphibians after you collect them, you should contact the CDFW.


(The CDFW uses the phrase "reptiles and amphibians" which I sometimes abbreviate to "herps."
"Herping" refers to the act of hunting for reptiles and amphibians.)


Differences in Common and Scientific Names From Those Used Here

You should be aware that the names used here and by other web sites and field guides sometimes differ from those used by the CDFW. This means, that in order to follow the law, you should be familiar with the names used by the CDFW and consult the CDFW (not me) with any questions.



2021 - 2022 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations  Effective March 1, 2021 - February 28, 2022

These regulations are only good for a one year period. The link above should direct you to the most current California state regulations. If this page is not updated by the time these regulations expire, go to the CDFW web site to find the correct information for the current annual regulations.

There have been no significant changes from the previous year's regulations.

I have reproduced the parts of the regulations that pertain to reptiles and amphibians below.
I have added some emphasis and re-formatted them to make them easier to read online.


(To the best of my knowledge I have copied this information accurately, but I cannot make any guarantees. Read the CDFW regulations yourself to make sure.)




The Lists below show which reptiles and amphibians may be taken with a license. If a reptile or amphibian is not on the list, it can't be taken.

"Any person who is 16 years of age or older must possess a valid sport fishing license when taking any fish, shell fish, reptile, or amphibian in California (Fish and Game Code Section 7145)"

5.05. Amphibians (Page 22)

(a) Only the following amphibians may be taken under the authority of a sport fishing license, subject to the restrictions in this section.  [Definition of "take."]  No amphibians may be taken from ecological reserves designated by the commission in Section 630 or from state parks, or national parks or monuments.

(b) Limit: The limit for each of the species listed below is four, unless otherwise provided. Limit, as used in this section, means daily bag and possession limit.



Salamanders



(1)  Coastal giant salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus)

(2)  Rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa)

(3)  Northwestern salamander (Ambystoma gracile)

(4)  Black salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus),
except Santa Cruz black salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus niger):
See Special Closure (f )(1)

(5)  Clouded salamander (Aneides ferreus)

(6)  Wandering salamander (Aneides vagrans)

(7)  Arboreal salamander (Aneides lugubris)

(8)  California slender salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus)

(9)  Southern California slender salamander (Batrachoseps major),
except desert slender salamander (Batrachoseps major aridus):
See Special Closure (f )(2)

(10)  Dunn’s salamander (Plethodon dunni)

(11)  Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii)




Frogs

(12)  Western toad (Anaxyrus boreas)

(13)  Woodhouse’s toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii)

(14)  Red-spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus)

(15)  Great Plains toad (Anaxyrus cognatus)

(16)  Great Basin spadefoot (Spea intermontana)

(17)  California treefrog (Pseudacris cadaverina)

(18)  Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla)

(19)  Baja California treefrog (Pseudacris hypochondriaca)

(20)  Sierran treefrog (Pseudacris sierra)

(21)  Southern leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus): Limit: No limit.

(22)  Rio Grande leopard frog (Lithobates berlandieri): Limit: No limit.

(23)  American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus):
Limit: No limit


Amphibians Notes

(c) Open season: All year. The season closures in Chapter 3 (District Trout and Salmon District General Regulations and Special Regulations) do not apply to fishing for amphibians with methods other than hook and line (see sections 7.00 and 7.50(a)(3)).

(d) Hours: Amphibians may be taken at any time of day or night.

(e) Methods of take:

(1) Amphibians may be taken only by hand, hand- held dip net, or hook and line, except bullfrogs may also be taken by lights, spears, gigs, grabs, paddles, bow and arrow, or fishing tackle.

(2) It is unlawful to use any method or means of collecting that involves breaking apart of rocks, granite flakes, logs, or other shelters in or under which amphibians may be found.

(f ) Special closures:

(1) No black salamanders (Aneides flavipunctatus) may be taken in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties.

(2) No Southern California slender salamanders (Batrachoseps major) may be taken from the Santa Rosa Mountains in Riverside County.


5.60. Reptiles (Pages 24-26)

(a) Only the following reptiles may be taken under the authority of a sport fishing license, subject to the restrictions in this section.  [Definition of "take."]  No sportfishing license is required for the sport take of any rattlesnake, but bag and possession limits do apply. No reptiles shall be taken from ecological reserves designated by the commission in Section 630 or from state parks, or national parks or monuments.

(b) Limit: The limit for each of the species listed below is two, unless otherwise provided. Limit, as used in this section, means daily bag and possession limit.





Turtles

(1) Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta):
     Limit: No limit.

(2) Pond slider (Trachemys scripta):
      Limit: No limit.

(3) Spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera):
      Limit: No limit.




Lizards



(4) Western banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus),
except San Diego banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus abbotti):
See Special Closure (f )(1)

(5) Desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis)

(6) Common chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater)

(7) Zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides)

(8) Desert spiny lizard (Sceloporus magister)

(9) Granite spiny lizard (Sceloporus orcutti)

(10) Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis):
Limit: Species No. 10 -14 have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate

(11) Common sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus):
Limit: Species No. 10-14 have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate

(12) Common side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana):
Limit: Species No. 10-14 have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate

(13) Western skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus): Limit: Species No. 10-14 have a limit of
twenty-five (25) in the aggregate

(14) Desert night lizard (Xantusia vigilis),
except Sierra night lizard (Xantusia (vigilis) sierrae):
See Special Closure (f )(2):
Limit: Species in subsections (10) through (14) have a limit of twenty-five (25) in the aggregate

(15) Long-tailed brush lizard (Urosaurus graciosus)

(16) Ornate tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)

(17) Baja California brush lizard (Urosaurus nigricaudus)

(18) Desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)

(19) Pygmy short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii)

(20) Great Basin collared lizard (Crotaphytus bicinctores)

(21) Mearns’ rock lizard (Petrosaurus mearnsi)

(22) Baja California collared lizard (Crotaphytus vestigium)

(23) Long-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia wislizenii)

(24) Gilbert’s skink (Plestiodon gilberti)

(25) Tiger whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris)

(26) Southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata)

(27) Northern alligator lizard (Elgaria coerulea)

 

 


Snakes

(28) Northern rubber boa (Charina bottae):
SeeSpecial Closure (f )(3)

(29) Northern three-lined boa (Lichanura orcutti)

(30) Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus),
except Regal ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus regalis):
See Special Closure (f )(4)

(31) Common sharp-tailed snake (Contia tenuis)

(32) Forest sharp-tailed snake (Contia longicauda)

(33) Spotted leaf-nosed snake (Phyllorhynchus decurtatus)

(34) North American racer (Coluber constrictor)

(35) Coachwhip (Coluber flagellum),
except San Joaquin Coachwhip (Coluber (Masticophis) flagellum ruddocki):
See Special Closure (f ) (5)

(36) Striped whipsnake (Coluber taeniatus)

(37) Striped racer (Coluber lateralis),
except Alameda striped racer (whipsnake) (Coluber (Masticophis) lateralis euryxanthus):
See Special Closure (f )(6)

(38) Western patch-nosed snake (Salvadora hexalepis),
except coast patch-nosed snake (Salvadora hexalepis virgultea):
See Special Closure (f )(7)

(39) Glossy snake (Arizona elegans),
except California glossy snake (Arizona elegans occidentalis):
See Special Closure (f )(8)

(40) Gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer): Limit: Four (4)

(41) California kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae): Limit: Four (4)

(42) California mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata),
except San Diego mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata pulchra)
and San Bernardino mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata parvirubra):
Limit: One (1). See Special Closure: (f )(9)

(43) Long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)

(44) Common gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis),
except San Francisco gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia)
and South Coast gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis spp.):
See Special Closure (f )(10)

(45) Terrestrial gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans)

(46) Sierra gartersnake (Thamnophis couchii)

(47) Aquatic gartersnake (Thamnophis atratus)

(48) Northwestern gartersnake (Thamnophis ordinoides)

(49) Checkered gartersnake (Thamnophis marcianus)

(50) Western groundsnake (Sonora semiannulata)

(51) Western shovel-nosed snake (Chionactis occipitalis)

(52) Western black-headed snake (Tantilla planiceps)

(53) Smith’s black-headed snake (Tantilla hobartsmithi)

(54) Sonoran lyresnake (Trimorphodon lambda)

(55) California lyresnake (Trimorphodon lyrophanes)

(56) Desert nightsnake (Hypsiglena chlorophaea)

(57) Coast nightsnake (Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha)

(58) Western threadsnake (Rena humilis)


Rattlesnakes

[As already stated above, the daily bag and possession limit for each of the species listed below is two, except for Crotalus ruber.]

(59) Western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

(60) Mohave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)

(61) Western rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus)

(62) Speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii)

(63) Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes)

(64) Panamint rattlesnake (Crotalus stephensi)

(65) Red diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber):
Limit: Zero (0)  
[This means that you cannot collect or kill this species of rattlesnake without permission.]



Reptiles Notes

(c) Open season: All year.

(d) Hours: Reptiles may be taken at any time of day or night.

(e) Methods of take:

(1) Reptiles may be taken only by hand, except as provided in subsections (e)(2) and (3) below, or by the following hand-operated devices:

(A) Lizard nooses.
(B) Snake tongs.
(C) Snake hooks.

(2) Rattlesnakes may be taken by any method.

(3) Turtles may be taken by hook and line. Fishing methods described in Section 2.00 apply to the take of spiny softshell turtles, slider turtles and painted turtles.

(4) It is unlawful to use any method or means of collecting that involves breaking apart of rocks, granite flakes, logs or other shelters in or under which reptiles may be found.

(f ) Special Closures:

(1) No geckos (Coleonyx variegatus) may be taken in San Diego County south and west of Highway 79 to its junction with County Road S-2, and south and west of County Road S-2 to the eastern San Diego County border.

(2) No night lizards (Xantusia vigilis) may be taken in Kern County.

(3) No rubber boas (Charina bottae or Charina umbratica) may be taken in Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

(4) No ring-necked snakes (Diadophis punctatus) may be taken in San Bernardino and Inyo counties.

(5) No coachwhips (Coluber flagellum) may be taken in the following counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Stanislaus, and Tulare.

(6) No striped racers (Coluber lateralis) may be taken in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

(7) No patch-nosed snakes (Salvadora hexalepis) may be taken in the following counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.

(8) No glossy snakes (Arizona elegans) may be taken in the following counties: Alameda, Fresno, Imperial (west of Hwy 111), Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside (southwest of Hwy 111 and I-10), San Benito, San Bernardino (West of I-215 and Hwy 138), San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Tulare.

(9) No California mountain kingsnakes (Lampropeltis zonata) may be taken in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura counties.

(10) No common gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) may be taken in San Mateo, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, and Ventura counties.


Some Basic Rules and Regulations Pertaining to California's Native reptiles and amphibians.

(Some of these are listed under "General Provisions and Definitions" in the regulations.)

A current California Freshwater Sport Fishing License is needed by any resident or non-resident 16 years of age or older to take, or collect, reptiles and amphibians in California.


Definition of "Take"

1.80. TAKE.

Hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill fish, amphibians, reptiles, mollusks, crustaceans or invertebrates or attempting to do so.

[According to Fish and Game Code Section 86 "Take" means hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill."]


"LICENSE PROVISIONS

Any person who is 16 years of age or older must have a sport fishing license to take any kind of fish, mollusk, invertebrate, amphibian or crustacean in California, except for persons angling from a public pier in ocean or bay waters. A sport fishing license is required to take reptiles, except for rattlesnakes."

IT IS UNLAWFUL TO DO THE FOLLOWING
....
• Fail to exhibit, on demand, all fish, mollusks, crustaceans, reptiles and amphibians and any device or apparatus capable of being used to take them, to any peace officer or authorized CDFW employee (FGC 2012);
....


Definition of "Bag and Possession Limit"

1.17. BAG AND POSSESSION LIMIT.

No more than one daily bag limit of each kind of fish, amphibian, reptile, mollusk or crustacean named in these regulations may be taken or possessed by any one person unless otherwise authorized; regardless of whether they are fresh, frozen, or otherwise preserved. Exceptions: See Sections 7.00, 7.50(a), 27.60(c), and 195, Title 14, CCR.


Definition of "Bullfrog"

1.24. BULLFROG.

Includes only Rana catesbeiana.  [Shown on this web site as Lithobates catesbeiana.]

[You can buy a commercial fishing license, but there is no commercial license for reptiles and amphibians. The Commercial Fishing regulations do not apply to reptiles and amphibians. While there are no limits to the take of Bullfrogs, and you can buy live bullfrogs and bullfrog meat in some markets, I don't find any mention of the legality of commercial take of Bullfrogs in California. I don't know from where these commercial frogs come. They could be imported or bred for consumption.]


1.35 Closed or Closure

Refers to waters or areas closed to all fishing [and herping] unless otherwise authorized.


Definition of "Native Reptiles and Amphibians"

1.67. NATIVE REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS.
Native reptiles and amphibians are those subspecies, and species, including all color phases, of the classes Reptilia and Amphibia indigenous to California. This definition includes all specimens regardless of their origin even if they were produced in captivity.




Possession and Display of License

Herpers no longer have to display their sport fishing license on their outer clothing above the waist. However, their sport fishing license must still be in their immediate possession.

"Every person, while engaged in taking any fish, amphibian or reptile, shall have a valid sport shing license on their person in their immediate possession except when diving as provided in Section 7145 of the Fish and Game Code. (CCR T-14, Section 700)"

(See the California Fish and Game Commission web site for exceptions, such as scientific collecting permits.)



Many species of California reptiles and amphibians cannot be collected without special permits. You are responsible for knowing the current regulations regarding reptiles and amphibians if you plan to catch or collect them. Consult the California Fish and Wildlife Department if you have any questions about this. Be aware that there are also specific regulations governing properties such as regional, county, state, and national parks, and wildlife preserves. A valid fishing license may not give you permission to catch or collect reptiles and amphibians in these areas.



Captive Propagation Regulations
From Native Reptile Captive Propagation Laws and Regulations (pdf file)

California Code of Regulations, Title 14 Excerpts

§40. General Provisions Relating to Native Reptiles and Amphibians.

(a) General Prohibition   It is unlawful to capture, collect, intentionally kill or injure, possess, purchase, propagate, sell, transport, import or export any native reptile or amphibian, or part thereof, except as provided in this chapter, Chapter 2 of this subdivision relating to sportfishing and frogging, sections 650, 670.7, or 783 of these regulations, or as otherwise provided in the Fish and Game Code or these regulations.

(b) For the purposes of this section, “intentionally kill or injure” does not include death or injury that occurs incidental to an otherwise lawful activity. This section does not prohibit the capture, temporary collection or temporary possession of native reptiles and amphibians done to avoid mortality or injury in connection with such activities. The live capture and release of native reptiles and amphibians done to avoid such death or injury may occur only with the department’s written approval.

(c) Except for dried or processed reptile skins, it is unlawful to display, in any place of business where pets or other animals are sold, native reptiles or amphibians which cannot lawfully be sold.

(d) Progeny resulting from pregnant native reptiles or amphibians collected from the wild must be transferred to another person or to a scientific or educational institution within 45 days of birth or hatching. Persons receiving such progeny shall comply with the bag and possession limits specified in sections 5.05 and 5.60.

(e) Reptiles or amphibians which have been in captivity, including wild-caught and captively-bred individuals or offspring, shall not be released into the wild without the written approval of the department.
(Also see section §2121 below.)

Restricted Species Laws and Regulations (regarding Reptiles and Amphibians)

Other species besides native species are also restricted from importation, transportation, and possession, including non-native venomous snakes.

These are some excerpts from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Restricted Species Laws and Regulations Manual 671, revised 9/6/2019, which was the most recent version when I checked February 2021.

You can read the full Laws & Regulations on the CDFW website.


This section pertains to the law against releasing animals into the wild, including reptiles and amphibians:

§2121. Escape or Release of Wild Animals
No person having possession or control over any wild animal under this chapter shall intentionally free, or knowingly permit the escape, or release of such an animal, except in accordance with the regulations of the commission.



Below is a copy of the information regarding reptiles and amphibians from pages 11-13. (All emphasis is mine.)


California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Excerpts

§671. Importation, Transportation and Possession of Live Restricted Animals.

(a) It shall be unlawful to import, transport, or possess live animals restricted in subsection (c) below except under permit issued by the department. Permits may be issued by the department as specified herein and for purposes designated in Section 671.1 subject to the conditions and restrictions designated by the department. Except for mammals listed in Fish and Game Code Section 3950 or live aquatic animals requiring a permit pursuant to Fish and Game Code Section 2271, no permit is required by this section for any animal being imported, transported, or possessed pursuant to any other permit issued by the department. Cities and counties may also prohibit possession or require a permit for these and other species not requiring a state permit.

(b) The commission has determined the below listed animals are not normally domesticated in this state. Mammals listed to prevent the depletion of wild populations and to provide for animal welfare are termed “welfare animals”, and are designated by the letter “W”. Those species listed because they pose a threat to native wildlife, the agriculture interests of the state or to public health or safety are termed “detrimental animals” and are designated by the letter “D”. The department shall include the list of welfare and detrimental wild animals as part of DFG MANUAL NO. 671 (2/25/92) IMPORTATION, TRANSPORTATION AND POSSESSION OF RESTRICTED SPECIES, to be made available to all permittees and other interested individuals.

(c) Restricted species include:

… … … ...

(3) Class Amphibia - Frogs, Toads, Salamanders

A) Family Bufonidae-Toads
1. Genera Rhinella and Rhaebo (formerly Bufo) (giant/marine toad group and all other large toads from Mexico and Central and South America)-(D).

(B) Family Pipidae-Tongueless Toads
1. Genus Xenopus (clawed frogs)-(D).

(C) Family Ambystomatidae-Mole Salamanders
1. Genus Ambystoma (nonnative tiger salamander group)-(D)

(D) Family Eleutherodactylidae-Rain Frogs
1. Eleutherodactylus coqui-common coqu or coqu-(D).

… … … ...

(7) Class Reptilia - Reptiles


(A) Order Crocodilia-Crocodiles, Caimans, Alligators and Gavials: All species (D).

(B) Family Chelyridae-Snapping Turtles: All species (D).

(C) Family Elapidae-Cobras, Coral Snakes, Mambas, Kraits, etc.: All species (D).

(D) Family Viperidae-Adders and Vipers: All species (D).

(E) Family Crotalidae-Pitvipers: All nonnative species (D).

(F) Family Colubridae-Colubrids
1. Dispholidus typus (Boomslang) (D).
2. Genus Thelotornis (Bird, twig, or vine snakes) (D).
3. Genus Nerodia (watersnakes) (D).

(G) Family Helodermatidae
1. Heloderma suspectum suspectum (reticulate Gila monster) (D).

Frequently Asked Questions about Reptile and Amphibian Regulations
These are some questions I have been asked and my interpretation of the answers with links to the regulations, if necessary.  My answers are in no way intended to be subsituted for legal advice.



Do I need a current fishing license just to photograph reptiles and amphibians?


Short answer:

No, if you do not intend to catch them.
(But you might need a license just to hunt for them.)


Long answer:

Yes, you should always have a current fishing license when pursuing reptiles and amphibians for photography to avoid problems with law enforcement should they confront you when you are seeking reptiles and amphibians to photograph.

Most herpers are not content just to watch the reptiles and amphibians they find. They want to catch reptiles and amphibians even if they plan to release them. Sometimes that is the only way to identify what you see. Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) officers have told me that all herpers need a license if they plan to pick up or handle a reptile or amphibian for any reason, including photography, even though they don't plan to collect it. The reason they give makes sense: if you have an animal in your possession, even if it's only temporarily, and a law enforcement officer sees you with the animal in your possession, it can appear to the officer that you are collecting the animal. If you don't have a license, it will be up to you to convince the officer that your intension was to release the animal where it was found. Most people who are collecting an animal illegally will always lie and tell an officer that they were not going to keep it, that they are just taking pictures of it, and this makes it difficult for the officer to determine if you are also lying.

You surely don't need a license to photograph or watch reptiles and amphibians that you encounter without actively hunting for, such as a snake you see crossing a road, or frogs you see in a pond, or lizards basking on rocks. But do you need a license to pursue reptiles and amphibians using methods such as road cruising, flipping rocks and boards, shining lights at night, or just walking around and looking, even if you don't plan to handle them? it is reasonable to assume that you do not need a license if you do not intend to handle reptiles and amphibians you search for. However, you are required by law to have a license to "take" any reptile or amphibian: "A current California Freshwater Sport Fishing License is needed by any resident or non-resident 16 years of age or older to take, or collect, reptiles and amphibians in California". And the CDFW definition of "take" is this: Hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill fish, amphibians, reptiles, mollusks, crustaceans or invertebrates or attempting to do so. By my interpretation (and I'm not a lawyer) you do need a license to search for (hunt or pursue) reptiles and amphibians. I have seen Fish and Game/Wildlife officers checking car occupants for fishing licenses in popular areas for herpers to road hunt at night, but I don't know whether or not they fined anyone who says they're looking for reptiles and amphibians but not collecting them (or only looking for rattlesnakes, invertebrates, owls, or any other nocturnal creatures for which no license is necessary to look for them.) Whether or not your activities are for observation only or are "pursuit" or "collecting" is subject to the interpretation of each enforcement officer, should one happen to see you interacting with a reptile or amphibian. I doubt that one would give you a citation unless they find you in possession of an animal, but it looks like they do have that option.

Since the price of a license for California residents is relatively cheap, my recommendaion is that you play it safe and always buy a license if you intend to search for reptiles and amphibians whether or not you intend to catch or collect them, even if you plan to release them where they were found. Then you can concentrate on herping instead of worrying about the interpretation of confusing legal questions. Most field herpers will argue that this is not reasonable, that it is unfair to require someone who only wants to observe and photograph reptiles and amphibians without touching them to pay for that privilege. Many of the same herpers also argue that a license should not be necessary to catch and release reptiles and amphibians. I have already explained why this is necessary, above.

So why are reptiles and amphibians treated so differently from birds and mammals? Birders don't need a license to hunt for birds, neither do whale watchers, or any other wildlife watchers, and they are all "pursuing" wildlife. But there is no definition of "take" that includes "hunt" and "pursue" that I can find in any of the hunting regulations that apply to any type of game and non-game birds or mammals. These extra restrictions on pursuing reptiles and amphibians might be derived at least partly by the stigma long associated with herpers, even though unregulated commercial collection of native reptiles and amphibians ended in 1977, and reptile and amphibian bag limits were developed in the early 1980s. But due to constant reports in the press of reptile and amphibian smuggling and illegal trafficing in reptiles and amphibians it is generally assumed that anyone pursuing or possessing reptiles and amphibians is doing so in order to collect them whether legally or not, and that most reptiles and amphibians are in danger of disappearing due to over-collection. These common misconceptions are not always true and the hobby of herping has suffered because of them. 


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Can I legally kill rattlesnakes found on my property without a current California fishing license? 


Yes -  Except for one protected species - the Red Diamond Rattlesnake.

(As interpreted from the California Fish and Game code regarding rattlesnakes shown below.)

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Can I legally keep native rattlesnakes in captivity in California?
 

Yes  -  Except for one protected species - the Red Diamond Rattlesnake.

(According to the Restricted Species Laws and Regulations regarding Crotalidae-Pitvipers, all non-native species are prohibited, but nothing is said about native Crotalidae. According to the Freshwater Sportfishing Regulations shown above, all California native rattlesnakes except the Red diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber) can be collected, with a daily bag and possession limit of two.)

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Can I legally keep other kinds of venomous snakes besides native rattlesnakes in captivity in California? 

No (Not without special permission.)

(If it is from a family other than Elapidae, Viperadae, and Crotalidae or it is from the family Colubriae and is not Dispholidus typus or from genus Thelotornis, it might be possible, since it would not be on the list of prohibited venomous snakes, as stated in the Restricted Species Laws and Regulations.)

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Can I legally breed native reptiles and amphibians in California? 

Maybe, it depends on the species.

See Native Reptile Captive Propagation Laws and Regulations (This link downloads a .pdf file.)

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Can I legally bring my pet reptiles and amphibians from another state into California as long as they are not on the Restricted Species list?

Maybe, I don't know. Common sense tells me that you should be able to, since there are so many pets in the state already, and since you can bring in other pets such as cats and dogs, but a lot of online searching has turned up nothing conclusive.


Looking on the California branch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection web pages I could only find information about importing animals into the country, not just California.


The US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant health Inspection Service has a section called Travel with your pet state to state (Interstate) which led me to a California Department of Food and Agriculture page about Livestock & Pet Movement. They have a section labelled Cervidae, Camelidae, Primates, and Other Animals. When you check Restricted Species, it finally lists reptiles and amphibians along with other animals underneath this information:

"Animals that are not regularly domesticated or that are potentially detrimental to California’s native wildlife are regulated by California’s Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 14, section 671 and administered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Anyone importing species that are restricted under this law should contact CDFW’s License and Revenue Branch at (916) 928-5845 or (916) 928-5853 to confirm or obtain the appropriate permit(s). Permits are not issued to import or possess any wild animal for pet purposes."

I don't know if this means that you don't need a permit to bring in your pets or that you can't bring them in because you can't get a permit for them.


The California Department of Public Health Veterinary Public Health Section has a link to Wild Animal Importation with this information:

"Persons and organizations who desire to import certain species of non-human primate, bat, or carnivore into California from other states must first obtain a wild animal importation permit from the Veterinary Public Health Section, California Department of Public Health (Health & Safety Code §121775-121870; California Code of Regulations, Title 17, §30070-30086). Immediately following arrival, CDPH-permitted animals are required to be quarantined in facilities approved by CDPH. Imported animals may be released from quarantine only after being certified by a veterinarian as healthy and free from infectious diseases and upon authorization by CDPH.
Additional permits may also be required from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for designated restricted species."

I do not know if reptiles and amphibians are covered under the term "carnivore" but it's unlikely. Nevertheless, there is no other mention of reptiles and amphibians. Maybe they are excluded, but how can we know?

Try following some of the links and/or call the phone numbers above yourself. If you find the answer, please tell me!

(Why is finding out about importing reptiles and amphibians so hard, but finding out about bringing in your pet water buffalo or yak is easy?)

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Can I legally release a wild-caught reptile or amphiban in California? 

No

(According to the Restricted Species Laws and Regulations and the
Native Reptile Captive Propagation Laws and Regulations.)

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Can I buy or capture reptiles and amphibians and legally release them on my California property to use them to control pests?

(For example: releasing toads or frogs in your yard to control garden pests, or releasing snakes to eat gophers.) 

No

(According to the Restricted Species Laws and Regulations and the
Native Reptile Captive Propagation Laws and Regulations.)


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Can I catch, handle, or collect non-native reptiles and amphibians found living in the wild in California if I have a fishing license?

Only if they are listed in the current sportfishing regulations.


This is not specifically stated anywhere I have found yet, but my reasoning is that since there are several species of non-native amphibians and reptiles included on the sportfishing regulations list of herps that may be taken with a fishing license, (3 frogs and 3 turtles on the 2020 list) that means that all other non-native or invasive herps are prohibited from take, which includes possession, in the same way that all native herps not on the list are prohibited from take. This would discourage people from catching non-natives and taking them to another location where there is a possibility that they could escape and become established.


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Can children 15 years and younger legally catch amphibians and reptiles?

Yes

The CDFW says "Any person who is 16 years of age or older must possess a valid sport fishing license when taking any fish, shell fish, reptile, or amphibian in California (Fish and Game Code Section 7145)"

It also states that: "A child or young adult 15 years of age or younger does not need a fishing license to catch their own limit of fish. They also do not need to put their catches under an adult guardian’s license limit. All of the same regulations apply for them except the requirement to purchase a fishing license."

So anyone under 16 can fish and herp without a license, as long as they follow the regulations.


Rattlesnake Regulations

Fish and Game Code 7149.3. - ARTICLE 3. Sport Fishing Licenses [7145. - 7155.] written by the California Legislature and signed by the State Governor, makes it the law that a license is not needed to collect rattlesnakes:

"Notwithstanding Section 7149, a sport fishing license is not required for any resident to take any rattlesnake (genus Crotalus or Sistrurus)."  
[The inclusion of Sistrurus is not necessary since that genus is not found in California.]

Assembly Bill - AB-1387 February 22, 2019 amends this slightly:

"SEC. 12. Section 7149.3 of the Fish and Game Code is amended to read:
7149.3. Notwithstanding Section 7145, a sport fishing license is not required for a resident to take a rattlesnake (genus Crotalus or Sistrurus).
"


The regulations regarding reptiles (shown above) state that "No sportfishing license is required for the sport take of any rattlesnake, but bag and possession limits do apply."

As it has been explained to me by someone who works with the CDFW, this law regarding rattlesnakes was not written by CDFW, but the CDFW enforces the law and has imposed bag and possession limits on rattlesnakes (including the California Species of Special Concern Crotalus ruber - Red Diamond Rattlesnake, which is listed with a "zero" bag and possession limit. This means you cannot catch, possess, or kill snakes of this species.

Some people interpret the no-license-required regulation to mean that they can collect, kill, or possess as many rattlesnakes as they want but this is not true. For all species of rattlesnakes except Crotalus ruber, the CDFW regulations show a daily bag and possession limit of "two."


My opinion is that the no-license law was passed in order to allow someone without a license to legally remove or kill a rattlesnake on private property in order to protect themself, their family, or their animals, without having to obtain a license first. Rattlesnakes play a valuable role in the ecosystem and they are greatly misunderstood, but they are dangerous animals that can and do occasionally cause physical harm and suffering to people and pets, and the treatment for rattlesnake envenomation can be very expensive, so rattlesnakes need to be treated differently from harmless snakes in the laws.

This law might seem to encourage the unnecessary killing of rattlesnakes, however, if the law did require a license, most property owners would probably not be aware that they would need a license to remove or kill rattlesnakes since they do not need a license to kill other "pests" on their property such as gophers and rodents. And it's also an unfortunate fact that most people will remove or kill any kind of snake they find near their home without checking first to make sure it is dangerous, regardless of whether or not they need a license.


"Sport Take" vs. "Commercial Take"

The only place I have found the term "sport take" in the sport fishing regulations is in regard to rattlesnakes.
"Sport take" is used in contrast to "commercial take" in other documents regarding fish and waterfowl.
I presume that "sport take" is used regarding rattlesnakes to emphasize that commercial take of rattlesnakes is prohibited. Commercial take of other reptiles and amphibians is also prohibited, but since rattlesnakes are the species of reptile or amphibian most likely to be taken commercially and sold for their meat and skin (besides bullfrogs) I presume that is why they emphasized rattlesnakes. Sport take might also be used to differentiated recreational take from killing or removing rattlesnakes in safety situations on private property.

Reptile and Amphibian Stamps or Licenses
In the past, some herpers have lobbied for a reptile and amphibian stamp or a herping license so that the state can know how many licenses are purchased for the collection (or photographing) of reptiles and amphibians. Without such a sysetm, the CDFW has no way of knowing how many licenses they are selling to herpers. Knowing so could help them better allocate funding for reptile and amphibian-related issues, including biologists and field agents. A stamp or special license would also allow some reporting of how many reptiles and amphibians are collected. As it is now, the CDFW has no way of knowing how many herps are taken from the wild. Knowing that could help them change their allowable take list and bag limits.



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