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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Chilomeniscus stramineus - Variable Sandsnake

(= Chilomeniscus cinctus - Banded Sand Snake)
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Variable Sandsnake Possible RangePossible Range in California: Red




observation link






Possibly occurring in California

Variable Sandsnake
Adult, Baja California del Sur Adult, Baja California del Sur Adults of two pattern types,
Baja California del Sur
Variable Sandsnake Possible Habitat
Variable Sandsnake Possible Habitat  
Reported habitat just west of the Colorado River,
near the Algodones dunes, Imperial County
 
   
Similar Snakes
Comparison chart of the 3 subspecies of Chionactis in California,
along with the similar sympatric species - Sonora semiannulata,
and the similar possibly sympatric species - Chilomeniscus stramineus.

 
Description

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

Size
One of the smallest Southwestern U.S. snakes: adults 7 - 11 inches (17.8-28 cm).

Appearance
A small rounded snake with smooth, unkeeled, shiny scales, a narrow head, a flat snout, nasal valves, counterset lower jaw, small upturned eyes, and a concave abdomen.
The internasal scales are separated by large rostal scales.
Color and Pattern
Black or brown dorsal saddles on the back, usually completely encircle the body on the short, stout tail.
Ground color is cream, yellowish, or reddish orange to strawberry.
Cream to pale yellow abdomen.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Active at night, or during heavy rains, seldom surfacing during the day. A good and persistent burrower. Smooth scales, flat shout, concave abdomen, and nasal valves are adaptations that allow for a quick swimming movement through loose sand.
Commonly found on desert roads on hot summer nights.
Diet and Feeding
Eats invertebrates, including grasshoppers, cockroaches, and centipedes, often foraging just under the surface of the sand.
Breeding
Wild snakes have been found gravid with eggs in June and July.

Possible Occurance in California
The possibility of Chilomeniscus turning up in suitable habitat west of the Colorado River where it occurs in Arizona and Baja California, and personal communications with an amateur herpetologist experienced with the species who claims to have found it near the Algodones Dunes, have led me to include the species as possibly occurring in Calfiornia.

Philip Brown, in his 1997 guide to California Snakes * states that he did not include Chilomeniscus in his book because there are no specimens of this snake in the major museum collecitions and because eminent scientists and collectors have failed to find it in California. However, he mentions that some people still feel that it could be present in the Algodones Dunes or Winterhaven area.

The history of Chilomeniscus in Calfornia, according to Brown:
In 1861 Edward Drinker Cope in 1861 described a new species of Chilomeniscus which was collected by Dr. George H. Horn from the Owens Valley. In 1917, Grinnell and Camp mention two specimens of Chilomeniscus that were collected in California. One was the Owens Valley specimen, the other was a mutilated specimen which they found near Fort Yuma California. Chilomeniscus showed up in some sources as present in California, including Wright and Wright, 1957, and Schmidt and Davis, 1953, but Stebbins did not include it in his guides in 1954, 1966, and 1985. In 1963, Banta and Leviton, who did a study on the genus Chilomeniscus, concuded that the Owens Valley specimen was "probably in error."

* Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997, pp. 180 - 181.

Habitat
Dry deserts with sand or loamy soil, including sandy or gravelly washes, creosote bush flats, arroyos, and areas grown with mesquite and saguaro, and ocotillo.

Geographical Range
Found in southwestern Arizona, south along the coast into Mexico, and throughout much of Baja California.

Full Species Range Map
Notes on Taxonomy
Grismer et al. (2002 Herpetologica 58: 18-31) found Chilomeniscus cinctus, C. punctatissimus, and C. stramineus to represent morphotypes of a single species.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Chilomeniscus cinctus
- Variable Sand Snake (Stebbins 2003)
Chilomeniscus cinctus
- Banded Sand Snake (Stebbins 1954, 1966, 1985)
Chilomeniscus cinctus
(Cope 1861)
Banded burrowing snake
Burrowing snake
Arizona ground snake
Horse snake
Red and black ground snake
Sonora ringed snake

Formerly known as Chilomeniscus cinctus - Banded Sand Snake
Variable Sand Snake
Chilomeniscus stramineus Western Sand Snake

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids
Genus Chilomeniscus Sandsnakes
Species

stramineus Variable Sandsnake
Original Description
Chilomeniscus - Cope, 1860 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 12, p. 339
(Chilomeniscus cinctus
Cope, 1861 Banded Sand Snake)
Chilomeniscus stramineus
- Grismer, et al. (2002, Herpetologica 58:18-31)

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name

Chilomeniscus - Greek - cheilos - margin, lip or brim and Greek - meniskos - little moon or crescent == ref. shape of the rostral scale

(cinctus -
Latin - belted, girdled -- ref. body bands)

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

stramineus - Latin - stramin - straw, made of straw

from Jaeger, Edmund C. A Source-book of Biological Names and Terms Third Edition. Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1962.

Related or Similar California Snakes in the Same Potential Habitat
C. o. annulata - Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake
S. s. semiannulata - Variable Groundsnake
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.
Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


There are no significant conservation concerns for this animal in California.

Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN

 

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