Adult, Contra Costa County, with head elevated high in typical hunting posture.
I was hiking up a mountain trail (Fig.1 above) one summer morning, watching a California Whiptail scurry up the trail a few yards ahead of me, when I saw the lizard move off the trail into some dry grass. In an instant the lizard quickly turned around and raced back across the trail into a shrub, kicking up a small cloud of dust. I turned to see an Alameda Striped Racer with its head held high in hunting mode (Fig. 2 above). The snake eyed me standing between itself and the lizard and abandoned its chase, freezing for a few seconds giving me just enough time to pull out a little point and shoot film camera (it was the 90s...) and snap a few shots before the snake turned and crawled into a hole underneath a nearby fallen log. That was my first Alameda Striped Racer sighting and it was at least a year before I got another opportunity to photograph this very fast and wary snake.
Habitat, East Bay Hills,
Contra Costa County
Habitat, Contra Costa County
Habitat, Contra Costa County
Habitat, Contra Costa County
Habitat, Contra Costa County
Alameda Striped Racer signs, Contra Costa County
Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous) - This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.
Adults are generally 3 - 4 feet long (91 - 122 cm) and ocassionally reach 5 ft. (152cm.)
Hatchlings are about 13 inches long (33 cm.)
A long fast-moving snake with a thin body and a long thin tail, large eyes, a broad elongated head, a slender neck, and smooth scales.
Color and Pattern
Dark brown to black with a wide solid yellow- orange stripe on each side extending from the back of the eye to or beyond the vent.
The stripes are "broad, 1 and 2 half-scale rows wide." (Stebbins)
The underside is cream tapering to orange or pink toward the tail.
Similar to adults.
The Alameda Striped Racer subspecies differs from the more widespread California Striped Racer supspecies in having wider side stripes with more orange coloring, a darker black back, no distinct spotting under the head and neck, no dark line across the scale at the end of the nose, and an uninterrupted light stripe from the nose to the eye.
(The lack of a stripe down the middle of the back can help distinguish this species from several sympatric gartersnake species.)
Life History and Behavior
Diurnal, often seen actively foraging in the daytime with head and forward part of the body held up off the ground searching for prey with its acute vision.
Climbs vegetation and seeks shelter in burrows, rocks, or woody debris.
Very fast-moving and alert, quickly fleeing when threatened, this snake is difficult to get close to.
Like most racers and whipsnakes, this snake will strike repeatedly and bite viciously when threatened or handled.
Diet and Feeding
Eats lizards, small rodents, small birds, frogs, salamanders, small snakes.
Juveniles will consume large insects.
Lays eggs in late spring or early summer which hatch in two to three months.
Open areas in canyons, rocky hillsides, chaparral scrublands, open woodlands, pond edges, stream courses.
This subspecies, Coluber lateralis euryxanthus - Alameda Striped Racer, is endemic to California. It occurs only in a small area on the east side of the San Francisco Bay in western Contra Costa and Alameda counties and possibly the edge of Santa Clara County.
According to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Endangered Species Protection Program fact sheet for the subspecies (http://www.epa.gov/espp/factsheets/alameda-whipsnake.pdf), it is likely that the range of this subspecies has always been very restricted and limited by the extent of the East Bay coastal scrub and oak woodland communities, and that the current range is similar, but is now fragmented into separate populations with little or no contact due to habitat loss. These fragmented populations are: Tilden-Briones, Oakland-Las Trampas, and Mount Diablo-Black Hills populations in Contra Costa County; Hayward-Pleasanton Ridge population in Alameda County; and the Sunol-Cedar Mountain population in Alameda County and into San Joaquin and Santa Clara Counties.
The species Coluber lateralis - Striped Racer, is found only in California and Baja California, Mexico.
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."
Protected as a threatened species by the state of California and the Federal government due to its limited range and available habitat. Listed December 5, 1997. Critical Habitat Designated October 2, 2006.
Human development has fragmented this snake's originally continuous range into five populations. Aproximately 60 percent of this snake's habitat is owned by the public. In 1999 the status of this snake was listed as Declining.
North American Racers, Coachwhips and Whipsnakes
Alameda Striped Racer
Masticophis lateralis - (Hallowell, 1853) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 237 Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus - (Riemer, 1954) - Copeia, p. 45
Coluber - Latin - coluber snake or serpent
lateralis - Latin - of the side - referring to the lateral stripes euryxanthus - Greek - eurys - broad or wide and xanthos - yellow - referring to lateral striping
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.
Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
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.
Thelander, Carl G., editor in chief. Life on the Edge - A Guide to California's Endangered Natural Resources - Wildlife. Berkeley: Bio Systems Books, 1994.
* 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
Joseph Grinnell 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.
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the October 2021 California "Special Animals List" and the October 2021 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either 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.
The Special Animals List shows this snake as Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus - Alameda whipsnake.
The Endangered and Threatened Animals List shows that this taxa is "Synonymous with Coluber lateralis euryxanthus."
NatureServe Global Ranking
The species is: Apparently Secure—Uncommon but not rare in the state; some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.
This subspecies is: Imperiled - At high risk of extinctiion due to very restricted range, very few populations (often 20 or fewer), steep declines, or other factors.