A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Snake Noses, Tails, and Eyes


observation link


Snake Noses

Some snakes have enlarged scales at the tip of their nose which help them dig through the hard-packed earth of underground burrows in search of their prey, and which often give them their common name.
Desert Patch-nosed Snake Mohave Patch-nose Snake Coast Patch-nosed Snake Spotted Leaf-nosed Snake
Desert Patch-nosed Snake Mohave Patch-nose Snake Coast Patch-nosed Snake
Spotted Leaf-nosed Snake
Texas Patch-nosed Snake Spotted Leaf-nosed Snake Saddled Leaf-nosed Snake Saddled Leaf-nosed Snake
Texas Patch-nosed Snake
Spotted Leaf-nosed Snake Saddled Leaf-nosed Snake
Saddled Leaf-nosed Snake
The snout and head of some snakes is adapted to help them burrow under the ground.
Long-nosed Snake Long-nosed Snake Chihuahuan Hook-nosed Snake Desert Shovel-nosed Snake
Long-nosed Snake Long-nosed Snake Chihuahuan Hook-nosed Snake
Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake

Shovel-nosed snakes have an elongated head which help them to burrow to find food.
Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake Flat-head Snake Plains Black-headed Snake
Mohave Shovel-nosed Snake
Flat-head Snake
Plains Black-headed Snake
Mexican Hog-nosed Snake Mexican Hog-nosed Snake Narrow-headed Gartersnake Brown Vinesnake
This Mexican Hog-nosed Snake has an enlarged scale on its nose to assist it in burrowing. When handled, the snake will sometimes poke the handler with its snout, using it as a weapon, although it is not sharp enough to do any damage. The Narrow-headed Gartersnake has an elongated head with elevated eyes, adaptations which help it to catch fish. The Brown Vinesnake spends much of its time in trees hunting lizards. It has an elongated head, a thin body and a color and pattern that all together make it look like a branch so it cannot be easily detected by sight.
Snake Tails

Some snakes have developed specialized tails.
Yellow-bellied Sea Snake Eastern Worm Snake Sharp-tailed Snake San Joaquin Coachwhip
The tail of the Yellow-bellied Sea Snake is flattened from side to side to act as an oar which helps this aquatic snake swim through the ocean.
© Dick Bartlett
Eastern Worm Snake Sharp-tailed Snake Racers, Whipsnakes, Patch-nosed Snakes, and Coachwhips are diurnal snakes that rely on speed to catch equally speedy prey such as lizards. Their long thin whip-like tails help them to crawl at amazing speeds. This is the tail of a San Joaquin Coachwhip which looks something like a braided whip that was once used to whip the horses that pulled a coach.
Northern Rubber Boa      
When threatened, Northern Rubber Boas will often roll into a ball, hide their head and elevate the tip of their taill to fool a predator into attacking the tail which looks somewhat like a head. The tail is less-vulnerable than the head and can withstand attacks without much damage. Some boas have many scars on the tail from this tactic.    

The most famous snake tail modification is the rattle on the tail of a rattlesnake. This rattle makes a warning sound when the snake shakes it back and forth rapidly.
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake Northern Pacific Rattlesnake Red Diamond Rattlesnake Colorado Desert Sidewinder
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake This short video shows a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake shaking its rattle. This video shows a close view of a Red Diamond Rattlesnake shaking its rattle.
Sidewinders, such as this Colorado Desert Sidewinder, are small rattlesnakes with small rattles.
Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake Arizona Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake Tiger Rattlesnake Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake The Arizona Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake is a small montane rattlesnake with a tiny rattle. The Tiger Rattlesnake is known for its large string of rattles. Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
Isla Catalina Rattlesnake, northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake
Sometimes the rattles on a rattlesnake's tail will break off, but the Isla Catalina Rattlesnake does not have a rattle. It is found only on Isla Catalina off the Coast of Baja California in the Gulf of California.
This adult Northern Pacific Rattlesnake from San Mateo County is missing its rattles. It appears that the end of its tail has been somehow cut off. This is extremely rare, but it proves the importance of recognizing the pattern, body shape, and head shape of the rattlesnakes in your area, because you can't always identify a rattlesnake just by the rattle at the end of the tail.
© Dave Hood
Snake Eyes

Blind Snakes, now called Threadsnakes, spend most of their time living underground in dark places where vision is not helpful, so they have lost the ability to see. They have only nonfunctioning dark spots where their eyes should be.

Brahminy Blind Snake Brahminy Blind Snake threadsnake Northern Rubber Boa
Brahminy Blind Snake

Southwestern Threadsnake
Northern Rubber Boa
Racers, Whipsnakes, and Coachwhips are fast-moving diurnal predators with eyes set on a narrow head with a pointed nose. This gives them the ability to see forward with both eyes so they can more easily focus on their fast-moving prey.
coachwhip racer racer Desert Rosy Boa
San Joaquin Coachwhip California Striped Racer (Whipsnake) Western Yellow-bellied Racer Desert Rosy Boa
Nocturnal snakes have a variety of types of eyes to help them see in the dark. Some have small eyes, others have large eyes, and some have vertical pupils.
lyresnake texas brownsnake Trans-pecos Ratsnake  
Baja California Lyresnake Texas Brownsnake
Trans-pecos Ratsnake
Eyes Ready to Shed
racer Eastern Coachwhip racer  
Snake eyes get cloudy when they are about to shed, as this Western Yellow-bellied Racer is about to do.

The milky eye of this Eastern Coachwhip, which is close to shedding its skin, shows why snakes in this pre-shed condition are called "blue" or "in the blue." This juvenile Western Yellow-bellied Racer shows the milky eye of a snake about to shed its skin.
© Joel A. Germond


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