|Currently Undescribed California Reptiles and Amphibians||Species that Might Inhabit California but Remain Unconfirmed||Herp Rumors, Unconfirmed Sightings,
and Unsolved Mysteries
|Unique Taxa Once Reported in California, No Longer Recognized|| Also see: Alien Species in California
and Feral Pets in California
|Currently Undescribed California Amphibians and Reptiles That Might Represent Unique Taxa|
|Vandenberg AFB Slender Salamander
Batrachoseps sp. nov.
|In May of 2006 two slender salamanders 9 inches in length were found under a plywood board at an abandoned house at Pt. Arguello on Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County. Their legs and feet were larger than those of Batrachoseps nigriventris, the only species of Slender Salamander known to occur in the area. One specimen was taken to an expert at UC Santa Barbara who described it as fitting the description of Batrachoseps pacificus, the Channel Islands Slender Salamander.
Since the salamanders were found across the ocean 25 miles from the nearest of the Channel Islands, they might be offspring of B. pacificus that were transported to the location by the Native American Chumash people or by the livestock industry, or they might be described as a different species altogether pending further study.
|Santa Cruz Cave Salamanders
Dicamptodon ensatus -
California Giant Salamander
|UC Santa Cruz biologist Barry Sinervo has discovered and studied a paedomorphic form of California Giant Salamander that is found in a system of caves in Santa Cruz County. These aquatic salamanders are all patternless and grey in coloration, possibly from consuming food in the cave that has no pigment. (A cave salamander fed pigmented food in the laboratory became darker in color.) Sinervo and his students collected larval salamanders from inside the cave and just outside the cave, then raised them in captivity. The cave salamanders stayed in the aquatic phase while 19 of 20 salamanders from outside the cave transformed into the terrestrial phase. (Cope's Giant Salamander - Dicamptodon copei, is a similar species that is also fixed on the paedomorphic form.)
In a letter dated January 2006, Sinervo says that it is likely that these salamanders represent a genetically distinct population segment that is different from surface populations just outside the cave. He needs to analyze the DNA of more salamanders in order to determine how distinct they are, but due to the drought present before 2016 which caused no water to flow into the caves, specimens have not been available. Protecting the unique environment in the caves should be a priority until the lineage of the salamanders can be determined.
Articles about this population have been published in a number of Santa Cruz sources, including the Santa Cruz Sentinal in 2006, which is apparently no longer online, and those listed below, but none have ever shown a picture of the salamanders.
Daily Breeze article 3/7/16
Hilltromper Santa Cruz article 1/21/16
|Hydromantes sp. -
Owens Valley Web-toed Salamander
(AKA Oak Creek salamander)
|Although Hydromantes salamanders from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are currently grouped with Hydromantes platycephalus, they differ in color and habitat. In 1985, Macy and Papenfuss identified what they believed to be a new species of Hydromantes on the "Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada at least from the area around Owens Lake to Big Pine" which they named the Owens Valley Web-toed Salamander.
Macey, J. Robert and Theodore Papenfuss."Herpetology." The Natural History of the White-Inyo Range Eastern California. Ed. Clarence Hall. University of California Press, 1991.
|Crotalus oreganus ssp. - Catalina Island Rattlesnake||Some naturalists believe that rattlesnakes on Santa Catalina Island are distinct from those on the mainland and will be recognized as a different subspecies once DNA studies are completed. You can see some pictures of them here. LA Times Article 11/28/09
|Crotalus oreganus ssp. - "Carrizo Yellow" form||According to Todd Battey, author of SoCal Herps, an electronic field guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Southern California, Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes that occur from the Carrizo Plains south along the western side of the San Joaquin Valley differ from others of the subspecies in having a yellow dorsal coloration, a large dose of mojavetoxin in the venom, and fewer large scales between the supraoculars. This form is called the "Carrizo Yellow" form and may be distinct enough to be considered a separate subspecies.
Examples can be seen here and here.
|Crotalus (Sayersus) funki sp. nov.
Crotalus helleri idyllwildi subsp. nov.
|In August 2016 Raymond Hoser** published a description of two new forms of rattlesnakes found in California***
referencing a study by Pook et al (2000):
"Pook et al. (2000) also produced evidence to show significant lineages that warranted taxonomic recognition, including central Californian C. oreganus Holbrook, 1840 and a population of C. helleri from California, distinct from both nominate C. helleri and C. callignis. However in the sixteen years that have elapsed since that study, neither taxon has been formally named."
Both of these taxa are probably just regional variants that do not warrant any special treatment.
Below are excerpts from the descriptions. The full descriptions can be read online here.
Crotalus (Sayersus) funki sp. nov.
This species has been "...treated as a regional variant of C. oreganus. It is readily distinguished from that species by the presence of a distinct whiteish-yellow band or stripe running across the head between eyes and distinct black borders of the darker brown dorsal body blotches, versus neither in C. oreganus, or at best only indistinct for one or other or both traits."
"Distribution: The general area from San Francisco and Alameda County California in the north, along the coastal strip, including nearby hills to south of San Louis Obispo County, California, USA, in a broad swathe covering most of the southern Coast Ranges, with the possible exception of the far southernmost areas, where C. helleri occurs. The distribution of this taxon is bounded by the allopatric distribution of C. oreganus to the north and C. helleri to the south and broadly mirrors that of putative nominate Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata (Blainville, 1835)."
Crotalus helleri idyllwildi subsp. nov.
This subspecies "...is readily separated from other C. helleri by the very dark brownish-grey pattern on the dorsum, broken with very distinctive narrow light yellowish-white markings, forming a somewhat reticulated pattern. By contrast, normal C. helleri helleri (or C. helleri callignis) from elsewhere are characterised by a much lighter overall colouration consisting of a yellowish brown colouration on the upper body, punctuated with large and irregular dark brown blotches running along the midline. Rarely dark C. helleri helleri do occur, but these are characterised by dark colouration all over, as opposed to having the bright markings on the darker body background as seen in C. helleri idyllwildi subsp. nov.."
This subspecies is known only from the hills around Idyllwyld on Mount San Jacinto, Riverside County, California.
** Hoser is an Australian herpetologist whose work is so controversial that, according to Wickipedia (accessed 12/8/16), "In 2013 a group of international herpetologists published a paper in the Herpetological Review, a peer-reviewed publication of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. The paper, which included the names of over 60 of the world's academic herpetologists as supporters, and many of the major societies including the World Congress of Herpetology, set out to put a stop to the 'taxonomic vandalism' of Hoser and another self-publishing herpetologist, Richard Wells. It dismissed as unscientific, and lacking in evidence, scientific rigor, or credibility, the huge number of names coined by Hoser since 2000, mostly in his self-published, self-edited, single-authored Australasian Journal of Herpetology, and provided authors with the original or alternative, more acceptable, names. The paper also dealt with a smaller number of names coined by Wells." ... "In 2013, the British Herpetological Society and the Netherlands Association for Herpetoculture adopted resolutions censuring Hoser for naming reptiles without scientific evidence or peer review and what they deemed as 'vanity publishing.' "
*** New Rattlesnakes in the Crotalus viridis Rafinesque, 1818 and the Uropsophus triseriatus Wagler, 1830 species groups (Squamata:Serpentes:Viperidae:Crotalinae).
RAYMOND T. HOSER
Australasian Journal of Herpetology 33:34-41. ISSN 1836-5698 (Print) Published 1 August 2016.
|Thamnophis hammondii ssp. -
Santa Catalina Garter Snake
|The Two-striped Gartersnakes occurring on Santa Catalina Island have been classified as a separate subspecies by some researchers, but recognition of this subspecies is not common.
|Thamnophis sirtalis ssp. -
South Coast garter snake
|Southern California populations of T. sirtalis along the coastal plain from Ventura County to San Diego County might be recognized as a distinct taxon, the South Coast Gartersnake, pending an official published description.
More information and pictures can be found on our T. s. infernalis page.
|Species of Amphibians and Reptiles that Might Inhabit California
but Remain Unconfirmed
The following are species of reptiles and amphibians which might occur within the state boundaries of California, but which have not been confirmed or need taxonomic analysis. None of these is on a California list yet.
Also see our page of Non-native Reptiles and Amphibians Introduced Into California which includes some unconfirmed introduced species.
|Chilomeniscus stramineus -
The strong possibility of this snake turning up in suitable habitat west of the Colorado River where it occurs in Arizona and Baja California, and undocumented reports of the snake in California, including personal communications with an amateur herpetologist who is experienced with the species who claims to have found it near the Algodones Dunes, have led me to include the snake as possibly occurring in Calfiornia.
|Callisaurus draconoides myurus -
Northern Zebra-tailed Lizard
|This subspecies of Callisaurus draconoides (which is not recognized by everyone) occurs in Nevada not far from the California border north of Honey Lake, where it might occur in washes along the border near Smoke Creek.
|Plestiodon skiltonianus utahensis - Great Basin Skink
||Jonathan Q. Richmond, and Tod W. Reeder, in their 2002 paper * list one specimen as E. s. utahensis, Great Basin Skink. It comes from the San Diego State University collection (SDSU 3816) utahensis CA, Inyo Co., Independence Creek at Gray’s Meadow campsite. 36 47.2N, 118 15.2W) an area fairly far south of the Nevada border on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just east of Independence. The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley has specimens of P. skiltionianus (with no subspecies indicated) from Inyo County including Gray's Meadow and another location east of Independence the White Mountains, and the White Mountains. If the SDSU specimen identification is correct, it is possible that this subspecies ranges in an isolated region east of Independence and in the White Mountains.
* Jonathan Q. Richmond, and Tod W. Reeder. EVIDENCE FOR PARALLEL ECOLOGICAL SPECIATION IN SCINCID LIZARDS OF THE EUMECES SKILTONIANUS SPECIES GROUP (SQUAMATA: SCINCIDAE) Evolution, 56(7), 2002, pp. 1498–1513
|Anaxyrus Nelsoni -
|"Bufo boreas nelsoni - Stejneger - Nevada Toad" was listed as "recorded from Resting Springs, Inyo County, in a list of Amphibians and Reptiles in California published in 1917.
(Joseph Brinnell and Charles Lewis Camp. A Distributional List of the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. University of California Publications in Zoology Vol. 17, No. 10, pp. 127-208. July 11, 1917)
|Anaxyrus (Bufo) woodhousii australis - Southwestern Woodhouse's Toad
||Some authors* show that the toads inhabiting the southern part of the state are this subspecies, not A. w. woodhousii, as we show on this web site, and they show that the toads inhabiting the area near the Nevada border are A. w. woodhousii. Old museum records that show subspecies information with the records list the southern populations as A. w. woodhousii, but some recent research analyzing advertisement call variation ** has indicated that the southern California toads are more closely related to those in south-central Arizona, which are A. w. australis.
* Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Amphibians of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.
** Brian K. Sullivan, Keith B. Malmos, Mac F. Given. Systematics of the Bufo woodhousii Complex (Anura: Bufonidae): Advertisement Call Variation. Copeia, Vol. 1996, No. 2 (May 16, 1996), pp. 274-280
|Yellow Mud Turtle - Kinosternon flavescens
(Pictures Here and Here)
|In his 1972 field guide California Amphibians and Reptiles, Robert Stebbins wrote that the Yellow Mud Turtle "has been reported at Yuma, Arizona, and can be expected in California along lower Colorado River."
|Amphibian and Reptile Rumors * Unconfirmed Sightings * Unsolved Mysteries|
These are some of the rumors that I have come across regarding new and undescribed herps from around the state or sightings of known species in areas where they are not known to occur. Some involve old discoveries that were never identified, others are just speculation about what should or could appear in a certain spot based on rumors of undocumented finds, or hunches, or just crazy speculation.
Please email me if you know of any other interesting California herp rumors.
|Charina umbratica - Southern Rubber Boa||There is a lot of speculation that this species should occur in the San Gabriel Mountains, since it occurs east of them in the San Bernardino Mountains and west of them in the Mt. Pinos area, with a large gap inbetween. Since the San Gabriel Mountains have been extensively surveyed, it is not likely rubber boas are found in them, but not impossible. After all, it was not until the early 1990's that a new species of salamander was discovered in several locations in the San Gabriels. There is a slim possibility that the boa is there but has gone undetected.
There is a specimen in the San Diego Natural History Museum (19332) that was collected on the road at Bouquet Reservoir in 1958, but by an examination of body length and scale counts it was determined to have been a snake that originated in the Sierra Nevada and was probably released. (The dorsal scale count was higher than the maximum for any of the dwarf boas in the transverse ranges and the body was estimated to be longer than the maximum length.) The habitat in that area is also dryer than preferred by the species and the elevation of around 3,000 ft. is lower than would be expected. (R. Hoyer)
|Charina bottae - Northern Rubber Boa||There is a large gap in the documented range of this species along the central coast between southern Monterey County and and the Mt. Pinos area, except for a locality in Montana De Oro in San Luis Obispo County, and photo vouchers of its existence there were only made in 2008. There is reason to believe it occurs in these ares, including suitable habitat and anecdotal evidence, but no other specimens or vouchers have been documented yet.
|Lampropeltis zonata -
California Mountain Kingsnake
Rumors and theories have been around for a while regarding a mountain kingsnake that was found in the White Mountains. In 2006 I heard that there were 3 specimens found there that looked like snakes from the Sierra Nevada mountains. I haven't yet seen any published information about this, but I might have missed it. If you know of anything and can send it to me, please do so.
(I have also read rumors that there could be Lampropeltis pyromelana in the White Mountains.)
Santa Catalina Island
The previously-uncertain presence of Lampropeltis zonata on Santa Catalina Island was confirmed when an Island Fox was videotaped preying on a California Mountain Kingsnake on Catalina Island on April 26th, 2015. A still photo was posted on Facebook and might still be available.
(Robert W. Hansen, Richard Cazares, & Alexus Cazares. Herpetological Review 46(4), 2015)
||William Flaxington sent me an amusing Herp Review article from 1981** that contains a discussion of "...more than a dozen historical accounts given orally in 1877 by Jose Francisco Palomares, an early pioneer in California, and recorded by the historian Thomas Savage (Temple, 1955)." The article estimates that the incidents probably occured some time in the 1820s.
One of Palomares' accounts describes an incident where a Native American man named Ygnacio died as the result of an "ajolote" which is a colloquial term for a worm lizard (known as Bipes in Baja California) a small elongated snake-like or worm-like animal with two short front legs with clawed fingers. Worm lizards, according to Mexican mythology, will burrow into the rectum of a person who is lying or sitting on the ground or who has their pants pulled down with their anus exposed, ready to defecate. Palomares' story is based on this mythology. (This myth has continued into the present day. It was told to me in 2001 in Baja California Sur when I was looking for Bipes.) Ygnacio was heard crying "Ouch! Ouch! the snake, he crawl in!..." then he was found squatting with the tail of an ajolote emerging from his anus. The animal was yanked out with the help of some burning firewood that was applied to Ygnacio's thighs. The animal was described as having two little legs with hands similar to human hands with short sharp claws. Ygnacio died from bleeding from his wounds a day later.
Although the rectum-burrowing bejavior of the ajolote described in the story is based on an absurd myth that was probably made up by a bunch of drunks to scare people, it has been speculated that Palomares and the men might have actually found a Bipes in Central California and their story was then probably embellished with the standard myth. The area they were in was "somewhere near Little Panoche Creek...in the Panoche Hills in what is now western Fresno or adjacent San Benito County, California" an area that consists of rolling sandy hills that is "well suited for a burrowing animal like Bipes."
Soon after the 1981 Herp Review article was published, Herpetologist Robert W. Hansen and a colleague did further investigation in the area of the Panoche Hills where the ajolote was reported. They asked sheep tenders and others in the area if they'd seen a lizard without legs. If they replied yes, he showed them an adult Gilbert's skink, which is found in that area, and invariably they confirmed it was what they had seen.
It's possible the ajolote described by Sr. Palomares was a Gilbert's skink, not a Bipes, but the burrowing behavior he described is still doubtful. (Perhaps one day some fearless herpetology student will conduct a controlled scientific study to confirm or deny this burrowing behavior.)
** (John W. Wright and William M. Mason. Bipes in Alta California. Herpetological Review 12(3), 1981)
|Aneides flavipunctatus - Speckled Black Salamander||Robert Stebbins, in his 2003 Field Guide, mentions a record from Feather River, Butte County that requires confirmation. Is it really a Black Salamander so far out of range; was the specimen incorrectly labelled; or could it be another species? Maybe it's a Hydromantes found in a large gap in the distribution of that genus.
|Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi -
|No blotched Ensatina have been confirmed from a large part of the Transverse Ranges west of the east side of the San Bernardino Mountains, but Robert Stebbins, in his 2003 Field Guide, mentions reliable sightings of blotched Ensatina reported from Coldbrook Campground below Crystal Lake, and in the vicinity of Bouquet Reservoir in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Since tiger salamander larvae were often used as bait by fishermen, so it's possible that a transformed tiger salamander was the salamander found near Bouquet Reservoir that was thought to be a blotched Ensatina. It's also possible they saw an Arboreal Salamander with large spots at either location.
|Possible new Hydromantes species||In September 2015 I was asked to identify a picture of an apparent Hydromantes salamander that was found in a cave in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in an area where Hydromantes salamanders are not known to occur. It does not resemble Hydromantes brunus or Hydromantes platycephalus, the Hydromantes species that occur closest to the cave where it was found. A number of university biologists were then notified and they obtained authorization to bioinventory the cave, but their searches have failed to locate another salamander. (As of 6/19, I have not heard of another salamander being found there, yet.)
|Mount San Gorgonio Salamanders||Ensatina are known from mid elevations on Mt. San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains, but According to Stebbins in his 1972 California field guide (page 56) Ensatina have also been found at 10,000 ft. elevation in rocky habitat on Mt. San Gorgonio. I have not been able to find a museum record for this and the location is not mentioned again in Stebbins' 1985 or 2003 field guides, maybe because the specimens were lost or unavailable. His 1985 guide lists an elevation high of 8,000 ft, but the 2003 guide lists a high of 11,000 ft (3,350 m) higher than the Mt. San Gorgonio record.
I have a copy of a letter written by Barney Tomberlin, the man who collected the Ensatinas, to Robert Stebbins dated 22 July, 1965. Tomberlin tells Stebbins that in June 1963, when he was on a fire crew buiding a trail on the mountain, he obtained three specimens of Ensatina near the summit of Ten Thousand Foot ridge. It appears from the map that each salamander was found under different boulders that were so large they had to be lifted with large pinch bars. He says "To the best of my rememberance, they were not blotched." The salamanders were sent to the Fort Worth Zoo and they arrived in good condition, but apparently they were lost over time.
I hiked up to the location in June 2009 and found it to be mostly rocks and trees, as you can see in the pictures below which show the general area.
|Mystery White Mountains Blotched Salamander||Robert Stebbins, in his 2003 Field Guide, mentions an unconfirmed sight record for a blotched Ensatina in Perry Aiken Canyon on the east side of the White Mountains. It could be a Sierra Nevada Ensatina, or maybe a new Ensatina subspecies, or a new species of Batrachoseps, or even the Owens Valley Hydromantes. The mystery remains.
|The Trinity Alps Giant Salamander||This one is a favorite of the Cryptozoology sites. No specimen has ever been found, but several reputable sources have claimed to have seen them in lakes and streams in the Trinity Mountains since the 1920's. It was speculated that they could be related to the Asian Giant Salamanders of the family Cryptobrachidae. It has been described as 5 - 9 ft. long, as the size of a Hellbender, and as the size of an alligator, and one man reported the measurement of one he caught while fishing as 8 feet 4 inches long. The stories were tempting enough to send a number of biologists on expeditions to find them, including Robert C. Stebbins, Thomas Rodgers, and Nathan Cohen in 1960, but they all failed to find any of the salamanders. In 1997 Kyle Mizokami, who also researches Bigfoot, undertook another expedition but failed to find any of the salamanders.
Apparently, after searching for it and failing to find it, Robert C. Stebbins was skeptical of the existence a giant salamander in the Trinity Alps. As told to me in January 2021 by Al-Hajji F. H. Minshall:
""On one occasion, while working with both gentlemen [R. C. Stebbins and S. B. Ruth] on the initial population/distribution study for Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum at Ellicott Pond, Aptos, Santa Cruz Co., CA in 1971 Dr. Stebbins mentioned his search for the "giant salamander". His conclusion was that the sightings were based on a large, half-sunken, vaguely "salamander-shaped" log.""
The Cryptid Zoo
|Sacramento River Giant Salamander||This is another example from the Cryptozoology sites. Apparently, in 1939 or 1940, a herpetologist nemed George C. Myers examined a 25 to 30 inch salamander that was caught in a river near Walnut Grove in the net of some fishermen who then kept it in a bathtub. He described it as brown with irregular well-defined yellow spots on the back. Myers described it as a member of the Asian Giant Salamander family. He also mentioned the possiblility that it could be an escaped Asian Giant Salamander which were known to have been shipped to the area. (They were most likely shipped as food as they are a popular food in China. Walnut Grove had a large Chinese population until 1915 when its Chinatown burned down and was replaced by a Japanese American community until the people were thrown in prison camps during the second world war.)
The Lord Geekington
|Argus Mountains Salamander||"Darwin Tiemann, a well-known naturalist, reported finding a salamander here [Argus Mountains] in the 1950s or 1960s. It could be a new species."
US Dept. of the Interior BLM California Desert Conservation Area.
Final Environmental Inpact (sic) Statement and Proposed Plan.
Appendix. Volume B
Appendix III Wilderness
Wilderness Study Area 132 - Great Falls Basin
("Wilderness Study Area 132 is located on the eastern slope of the Argus Mountains, adjacent to the China Lake Naval Weapons Center.")
|Xenopus laevis sp.||There has been some speculation that more than one form of Xenopus laevis has been established in California. This has not been confirmed by molecular testing, and all Xenopus laevis found in California so far have been morphologically identical to X. l. laevis.|
|Unique Taxa Once Listed As Present in California that are No Longer Recognized|
These are not old names for currently-recognized taxa found in California, but unique forms that were once recognized or proposed for recognition and included in publications, but were not included in future publications.
There are likely to be more examples that I have not yet listed here.
|Aneides lugubris farallonensis - Farallon Island Arboreal Salamander||(Stebbins, 1954) South Farallon Island|
|Batrachoseps pacificus catalinae - Santa Catalina Slender Salamander
||(Stebbins, 1966) Santa Catalina Island|
|Tantilla planiceps transmontana - Desert Black-headed Snake||(Stebbins, 1966) Spotty distribution in southern California including Palm Springs and Anza-Borrego regions.|
|Lampropeltis getula yumensis -
Yuma King Snake
|(Stebbins, 1966) Extreme southeastern California along Mexico border and Colorado River.
|Clemmys Marmorata - Western Pond Turtle - Afton Canyon Pond Turtle||(Stebbins, 2003) "It may be a distinct taxon."|
|Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
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