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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Baja California Coachwhip - Coluber fuliginosus

(Cope, 1895)

(= Masticophis fuliginosus, - Masticophis flagellum fuliginosus)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Coluber flagellum California Range Map
Range in California: Blue




observation link





Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip
Dark phase adult, San Diego County, © Todd Battey. Specimen courtesy of Bob Applegate.
Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip
Dark phase sub-adult, San Diego County, © Todd Battey
Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip
Adult, 3030 ft. San Diego County © William Flaxington Dark phase adult, San Diego County, © 2004 Dick Bartlett
Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip
Dark phase juvenile, San Diego County,
© Todd Battey. Specimen courtesy of Bob Applegate.
Adult with some un-shed skin, San Diego County © Stuart Young
  Baja California Coachwhip  
  Adult, southwestern San Diego County
© Sam Fellows
 
     
Baja California Coachwhips from Baja California
Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip
Light phase Adult, Baja California Sur
Baja California Coachwhip Baja California Coachwhip  
Dark phase adult, Baja California Norte © Chris Gruenwald
 
   
Habitat
Baja California Coachwhip Habitat Baja California Coachwhip Habitat Cope's Leopard Lizard Habitat
Habitat, coastal southern
San Diego County
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, San Diego County
   
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Length
Adults are normally 24-52 inches long (62-132 cm.)

Appearance
A slender fast-moving snake with smooth scales, a large head and eyes, a thin neck, and a long thin tail.
(There is no well-defined stripe lengthwise on the body in this species.)
Large scales above the eyes.
17 rows of scales at midbody.
The braided appearance of scales on the tail (like a whip) gives this species its common name.
Color and Pattern
There are two color phases (from Stebbins, 2003)

1) Dark phase: Dark brown or dark gray to black above. Light edges on dark scales may give the appearance of light lines on the sides, more prominent toward the front of the body.
Sometimes appears to be all black.

2) Light phase: Dark or pale yellow, tan, light gray or silvery above with dark zigzag crossbands on the body and wider dark bands on the neck.

Only the dark phase has been found in California.

The venter is light in color with brown spots.
Life History and Behavior

Activity
Active in the daytime.
Good climbers, able to climb bushes and trees. Seen moving quickly even on hot sunny days, but often seen basking on roads in early morning or resting underneath boards or other surface objects.
Frequently run over by vehicles and found dead on the road, partly due to the tendency of this snake to stop and eat road-killed small animals.
Crawls into the hollow stumps of plants such as agave for refruge.
Defense
Often strikes agressively when threatened or handled.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small mammals including bats, nestling and adult birds, bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, and carrion.
Hatchlings and juveniles will eat large invertebrates.

The ability to tolerate high temperatures enables this snake to hunt heat-dependant lizards when they are active. High speed allows it to run down the fast-moving lizards.

Hunts crawling with head the held high above the ground, occasionally moving it from side to side to aid in binocular vision and depth perception.

The prey is overcome and crushed with the jaws or crushed beneath loops of the body then eaten without constriction.
Breeding
Mating has been observed in northern Baja California in late April.
Eggs have been observed in early August. (Grismer, 2002)

Habitat
A habitat generalist in Baja California, inhabiting scrub, coastal sand dunes, rocky arroyos, thorn forests, marshlands, and sandy flats.
In California, found mainly in open areas such as grassland, shrubland, and coastal sand dunes.

Geographical Range
Occurs in California only in a small area of southern San Diego County near the Baja California border.

Elsewhere, occurs throughout Baja California.

Full Species Range Map
Notes on Taxonomy
North American snakes formerly placed in the genus Masticophis have been changed to the genus Coluber based on a 2004 paper * by Nagy et al. Utiger et al. (2005, Russian Journal of Herpetology 12:39-60) supported Nagy et al. and synonymized Masticophis with Coluber. This has not been universally accepted. The most recent SSAR list has hinted that the genus Masticophis might be re-instated: "Burbrink (pers. comm.) has data to reject Nagy et al.’s hypothesis but we await publication of these data before reconsidering the status of Masticophis."

Grismer recognized C. fuliginosus as a distinct species in 2002. The snake is still recognized as a subspecies of Coluber flagellum, C. f. fuliginosus, by some authorities.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Masticophis flagellum fuliginosus - Baja California Coachwhip (Stebbins, 1985, 2003)
Masticophis flagellum piceus
- Red Racer (Dark phase = Western Black Racer) (Stebbins, 1966)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Designated a California Species of Special Concern

"...mainly threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation, and road mortality due to development, as well as the inherent demographic threats associated with a very small geographic range."

(Robert C. Thomson, Amber N. Wright, and H. Bradley Shaffer. California Amphibian and Reptile Species of Special ConcernUniversity of California Press, 2016.)

Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Coluber North American Racers, Coachwhips and Whipsnakes Linnaeus, 1758
Species

fuliginosus Baja California Coachwhip (Cope, 1895)
Original Description
Masticophis flagellum fuliginosus - (Cope, 1895) - Amer. Nat., Vol. 29, p. 679

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Coluber - Latin - coluber snake or serpent
fuliginosus
- Latin - fuligo - soot or black and -osus - fullness of (probably referring to the dark morph of this species)

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
Masticophis flagellum fuliginosus - Baja California Coachwhip

Masticophis fuliginosus - Baja California Coachwhip

Related or Similar California Snakes
C. f. piceus - Red Racer
C. f. ruddocki - San Joaquin Coachwhip
S. h. hexalepis - Desert Patch-nosed Snake
S. h. mojavensis - Mojave Patch-nosed Snake
S. h. virgultea - Coast Patch-nosed Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

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

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

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

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.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

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

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.

Grismer, L. Lee. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California, Including Its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortés. The University of California Press, 2002.

McPeak, Ron H. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California. Sea Challengers, 2000.

* Z. T. Nagy, Robin Lawson, U. Joger and M. Wink. Molecular systematics of Racers, Whipsnakes and relatives (Reptilia: Colubridae) using Mitochondrial and Nuclear Markers. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research (Volume 42 pages 223–233). 2004

Robert C. Thomson, Amber N. Wright, and H. Bradley Shaffer. California Amphibian and Reptile Species of Special Concern. University of California Press, 2016.

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the April 2018 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List, both of which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.



Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking G5 Secure—Common; widespread and abundant.
NatureServe State Ranking S1S2 Critically Imperiled - Imperiled
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife SSC Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN Not listed

 

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