A large Desert Threadsnake found crossing a road at night was captured then released, wriggling rapidly across the rocky desert ground until it finds a hiding place. This shows how fast a threadsnake is capable of moving when frightened, but not necessarily its typical behavior.
Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous) - This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.
Adults 7 - 16 inches long (18-41 cm). Hatchlings are around 4 - 5 inches long (10 - 12.7 cm).
A very thin snake with a blunt head and tail.
The tail is tipped with a small spine.
Eyes are nonfunctional dark spots visible under translucent plates.
The scales are shiny and cycloid.
Belly plates are not enlarged.
The lower jaw is countersunk.
This snake can be mistaken for a large worm.
Color and Pattern
Coloring is brown, purple, or pink.
Similar Snakes in California
There are two subspecies of Western Treadsnake in California. There is also a very similar non-native blindsnake that has been introduced into Southern California and is gradually increasing its range in the state - the Brahminy Blindsnake.
Nocturnal. Occasionally found crawling exposed on surface at night. Sometimes seen crawling on paved roads at night. Hides in cracks and under surface debris in daytime. Sometimes found under rocks, boards, or other surface debris where the soil is slightly moist.
When threatened, this snake often writhes around, forming a tight coil while releasing pungent fluids from the cloaca. These fluids serve to repel defensive attacks by the ants and termites on which it feeds. May also play dead.
Diet and Feeding
Eats ants and termites and their larvae and pupae, and occasionally other small insects.
When hunting for food, burrows under roots, rocks, and into ants nests.
Slender body allows them to forage in their ant and termite prey's burrow systems.
Mates in the spring, lays eggs July - August.
Females tend to the eggs, and may use communal nests.
Inhabits areas where the soil is suitable for burrowing: brushy mountain slopes, deserts, rocky hillsides, washes near streams.
This subspecies, Rena humilis cahuilae - Desert Threadsnake, is found in southeastern California east of the peninsular ranges into southwest Arizona, south into Sonora and Baja California.
Finding information about the ranges of the subspecies of Rena humilis is difficult, because they are not recognized by many herpetologists. Some field guides show no subspecies. Some show the range of R. h. humilis extending as far north of Needles, while others show it ranging to just north of the Riverside County border at the Colorado River, as I have decided to show on my map, although I am not certain that it is accurate.There is almost no information about the other subspecies found in Mexico so I have not tried to show them on my map.
The species Rena humilis - Western Threadsnake, is found from Southern California east through southern Arizona and New Mexico, into southwestern Texas, and south into Mexico and Baja California, Mexico.
(Several subspecies are sometimes recognized, but I don't know their exact ranges outside of California.)
Notes on Taxonomy
Some herpetologists do not recognize subspecies of Rena humilis. Those who do recognize four subspecies in the United States, and five in Mexico.
In 2009, Adalsteinsson, Branch, Trape, Vitt & Hedges (Molecular Phylogeny, Classification, and Biogeograpy of Snakes of the Family Leptotyphlopidae (Reptilia, Squamata). Zootaxa. 2240: pp. 1 - 50) placed this species in the genus Rena, making it Rena cahuilae.
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.
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.
This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.