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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California




Striped Racer - Coluber lateralis

Alameda Striped Racer - Coluber lateralis euryxanthus

(Riemer, 1954)

(Alameda Whipsnake; =Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Coluber lateralis California Range Map
Dark Blue: Range of this subspecies in California
Coluber lateralis euryxanthus - Alameda Striped Racer

Range of other subspecies in California:

RedColuber lateralis lateralis - California Striped Racer


Click on the map for a topographical view

Map with California County Names




observation link





Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer
  Adult, Contra Costa County  
Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer
Adult, Contra Costa County


Adult, Alameda County, showing the orange color suffusion under the chin.
© Karen Swaim.
Adult, 3,600 ft. elevation, Ohlone Regional Wilderness, Alameda County
© Mandy Colombo Murphy
Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer
Adult, Contra Costa County © Sam Murray
Adult, Contra Costa County
Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer
Adult, Contra Costa County © Jon Hirt Adult, Contra Costa County, showing the side stripe consisting of one full plus two half scales. © Karen Swaim.
Alameda Striped Racer Alameda Striped Racer  
Adult, Contra Costa County © Luke Talltree  
Alameda Striped Racer Habitat Alameda Striped Racer  
Fig. 1
Habitat
Fig. 2
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
Alameda Striped Racer Habitat Alameda Striped Racer Habitat Alameda Striped Racer Habitat
Habitat, East Bay Hills,
Contra Costa County
Habitat, Contra Costa County Habitat, Contra Costa County
Alameda Striped Racer Habitat Alameda Striped Racer Habitat  
Habitat, Contra Costa County
Habitat, Contra Costa County  
     
Signs
Alameda Striped Racer Sign Alameda Striped Racer Sign Alameda Striped Racer Sign
Alameda Striped Racer signs, Contra Costa County
Description

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

Size
Adults are generally 3 - 4 feet long (91 - 122 cm) and ocassionally reach 5 ft. (152cm.)
Hatchlings are about 13 inches long (33 cm.)

Appearance
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.
Young
Similar to adults.
Similar Snakes
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.

Comparison chart of
Coluber lateralis lateralis
- California Striped Racer, with the similar subspecies
Coluber lateralis euryxanthus
- Alameda Striped Racer, and the similar species
Coluber taeniatus taeniatus
- Desert Striped Whipsnake.

(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

Activity
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.
Defense
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.
Reproduction
Females are oviparous, laying eggs in late spring or early summer which hatch in two to three months.

Habitat
Open areas in canyons, rocky hillsides, chaparral scrublands, open woodlands, pond edges, stream courses.

Geographical Range
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.

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."

Coluber lateralis is split into two subspecies -
C. l. euryxanthus - Alameda Striped Racer, and
C. l. lateralis - California Striped Racer


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Coluber lateralis euryxanthus - Alameda Striped Racer (Nagy et al 2005)
Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus
- Alameda Striped Racer (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus - Alameda Whipsnake (Stebbins 1985, 2003)
Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus - Alameda Striped Racer (Stebbins 1966)
Masticophis lateralis - California Striped Whipsnake (Stebbins 1954)
Banded Racer; Few-striped Whip Snake; Hallowell's Coachwhip Snake; Striped Racer; Striped-side Whip Snake (Wright & Wright 1957)
Coluber lateralis - California Striped Racer (Leptophis lateralis; Zamenis lateralis; Gascanion laterale; Bascanium taeniatum laterale; Bascanion taeniatus, part; Drymobius lateralis. Striped Racer; Hallowell's Coach-ship Snake; Banded Racer; Few-striped Whip Snake; Striped-side Whip Snake) (Grinnell and Camp 1917)
California Racer (Van Denburgh 1897)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
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.
Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Coluber North American Racers, Coachwhips and Whipsnakes Linnaeus, 1758
Species lateralis Striped Racer (Hallowell, 1853)
Subspecies

euryxanthus Alameda Striped Racer (Riemer, 1954)
Original Description
Masticophis lateralis - (Hallowell, 1853) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 237
Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus - (Riemer, 1954) - Copeia, p. 45

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
lateralis
- Latin - of the side - referring to the lateral stripes
euryxanthus - Greek - eurys - broad or wide and xanthos - yellow - referring to lateral striping

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

Alternate Names
Alameda Whipsnake
Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus - Alameda Striped Racer

Related or Similar California Snakes
C. l. lateralis - California Striped Racer
C. constrictor mormon - Western Yellow-bellied Racer
T. a. zaxanthus - Diablo Range Gartersnake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Center for Bioligical Diversity

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency

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.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the July 2022 State of California "Special Animals List" and the July 2022 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and can be downloaded here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals.
You can check this link to see if there are more current lists.

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found on the
Special Animals List. For quick reference, I have copied some of them on my Special Status Information page.

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.

Both lists show this snake as Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus - Alameda whipsnake.
The Endangered and Threatened Animals List shows that this taxa is "Synonymous with Coluber lateralis euryxanthus."
Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking G4T2 The species is: Apparently Secure
This subspecies is: Imperiled
NatureServe State Ranking S2 Imperiled
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) FT Listed as Threatened 12/05/1997
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) ST Listed as Threatened 6/27/1971
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN Not listed

 

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