Amphibians and Reptiles of the Sierra Nevada
The following is a guide to the species of this area. The links provided are to other web pages and to return to this site you must use the back button on your browser. This site is made possible many people who are interested in a particuliar species. Some links are to government or University pages, while others are individuals. These links will take you throughout the United States, but the information is still relevant. Following each section are other links related to the subject matter.
Salamanders and Newts
Frogs and Toads
Lizards and Skinks
Amphibians the class of backboned animal having moist glandular skin and lacking external scales. The word is derived from the greek meaning "leading a double life". Many live both on land and in water, with the exception of the lungless salamander, which spends all of it's life on land.
Amphibian eggs are round, darker on the top than on the bottom, and protected by transparent jelly envelopes. They are laid in water or in moist sites. Anurans lay many eggs, in the thousands, while salamanders lay only hundreds. Toads lay eggs that form long strings, while frogs are in masses. The embroyo is visible during development, and can be seen wiggling until hatching. Larval Anurans are called tadpoles or polywogs and eat aquatic plants. The gills of tadpoles are hidden from view while the gills of larval salamander are prominent above the neck Identification between young and adult salamander can be base on this attribute.
The transformation from the aquatic young to the terrestrial adult is called metamorphosis. Cold temperatures can retard the development of the young, and warmer tempertures speed the process. The first transformation is the appearance of hind feet at the base of the tail. The front feet appear after the legs are well developed. The gills are replaced with lungs and a longer intestine is replaced by a shorter one. All inhabitit lakes , ponds, or any moist environment.
Salamanders and Newts
Long-Toed Salamander (A. macrodactylum)
Dorsal stripe is yellowish with irregular borders. Sometimes the stripe into spots. Young will remain in ponds until the second summer at higher elevations, but develop faster in warmer climates. Prefer a forest setting and live under forest litter, moving to ponds during the breeding season.
California Newt (T. torosa)
The Tapaboy Gallery of Newts
Light to dark brown on top, orange to red-orange underneath. Skin when damp is smooth and rough when dry. During the breeding season the males vent will swell. Overall length is 61/2 inches (165mm). Newts will go dormant during the dry summer months and become active after the fall rains. When threatened will lean back exposing the bright underside colors.
Arboreal Salamander (A. lugubris)
Head is distinctively wedge shaped with bulging muscles. Teeth on upper jaw are prominent. Upper surface is brown sometimes with small yellow spots. Overall body length is about 6 1/2 inches (165 mm). A lungless salamander which burrows and needs to be kept damp. Prey consists of insects, small arthropods, and fungi. Habitat is restricted to the area east of Sacramento, south to Madera, in foothill regions.
Ensatina (E. eschscholtzi)
.Most Sierra species have orange blotches, others are brown with orange bellies. Young havr yellow to orange thighs and lack the adult coloration. Prey consists of insects, spiders, sow, bugs, ants, termites, milipedes and centipedes. Habitat is in the mixed coniferous forest and chapparral. Occurrance is on the western slope of the Seirra Nevada.
California Slender Salamander (B. attenuattus)
Slender and worm-like, long trunk with 19 to 21 intercostal grooves. It has short legs with 10 to 12 costal folds. It has a very narrow head with protruding eyes. Body color is dark with reddish brown, tan or yellowish stripe down the back. Overall body length is about 5 1/2 inches (140 mm) with over half the length being the tail. Habitat is the moist woodland forest floor of the foothill regions. Will burrow during the dry summer months.
Mount Lyell Salamander (H. platycephalus)
Flattened head and body, short tail and partially webbed toes. Color is small spots which has color similiar to granite rock. Has color phases that range from reddish to grayish, young are green. Tongue is mushroom-like and capable of extensive protrusion. Tail has a blunt adhesive tip which aids in climbing wet granite. Overall length is 5 1/2 inches (140 mm). Habitat is the high Sierra, in rock pile within the coniferous forest. Prey consists of centipedes, spiders, termites, beetles maggots, and flies.
Frogs and Toads
Western Toad (B. boreas)
Skin has prominant warts with a thin white line down the center of the back. Young have yellow or orange undersides to the feet. Paratoid glands on the side of the neck are large and well defined. Total lenght is up to 5 inches (127 mm). The warts produce a milky, bad tasting, and poisonous fluid that discourages most predators. At higher elevetions the species is diurnal and in warmer climates, nocternal. Inhabitsts moist areas or ponds, and will burrow.
Western Spadefoot (S. hammondi)
Only amphibian in the Sierra with a vertically elliptical pupil when viewed in bright light. The soles of the hind feet has a small shiny black tubercle. Body with small redish-orange spots up to 2 1/3 inches (65 mm). Habitat is in the foothill and valley grasslands. They spend the hotter, dryer months underground, surfacing during the winter and spring to reproduce. Development is quick in this species due to the intermittant source of water.
Pacific Treefrog (H. regilla)
Dark mask from the tip of the nose through the eye. Small, round adhesive disks on the end of the toes. Color varies from green through gray to brown. Wrinkled yellowish-brown throat on males. Overall body lenght is up to 2 inches (50 mm). Can be found in all Sierra environments, and is a primary prey species. The sound of the frog is like a loud cricket.
California Red Legged Frog
Dark brown to light olive on the back, with a whitish "mustache". Undersides of belly and feet may be reddish and light colored folds of skin down the sides on the back. Overall length is 5 inches (127 mm) The frog is only found in a few foothill location . They need a permanent body of water to survive.
Foothill Yellow-legged Frog ( R. boylei)
Lower belly and inside the hind legs colored a light yellow. Has a triangular patch on the snout. Does not produce an odor when handled, and smaller than the Mountain Yellow-legged Frog. Overall body length ia 2 3/4 inches (70 mm)Habitat in the intermittant streams of the foothill regions so reproduction and development is quick. Will congregate near small pools during the summer months.
Mountain Yellow-legged Frog ( R. muscosa)
Dark brownish with blotches with the lower belly and inside the hind legs a dark yellow. When handled produces a musky smell and an overall body length of 3 1/2 inches (90 mm). Tadpoles often do not metamorphose until the second summer due to their existance in the High Sierra. Primary prey of Garter Snakes.
Bullfrog (R. catesbeiana)
Usually has a light green snout with undersides whitish with dark green spots and no dorsollateral fods of skin. The eardrum in the males is usually larger than the eye. The largest frog in North America with a overall length of 8 inches (203 mm) Not a native to California but introduced from the eastern states. It is responsible for replacing native frogs and has become very well established.
Amphibians - National Biological Service
Amphibians at selected National Parks
The Froggy Page - has all the frog links in one spot! Includes Frog Tales, pictures, searchable databases and more.
Herp Link Page - Every kind of link, reptiles, amphibians, searches. Very good place to start!
Mike's Herpetocultural Home page - Lots of wonderful graphics , some american species
The Newt and Salamander Home Page -
Northern slimy salamander-Plethodon glutinosus glutinosus
Turtles have a body encased within a protective shell composed of platelike bones covered with cornified scutes. The upper portion (carapace) and lower portion (plastron) are connected by a bridge. The jaws have a sharp and horney ridge that tears it's food. All lay eggs.
Western Pond Turtle (C. marmorata)
Shell olive to brown with yellow with dark spots on the belly. Lenght is up to 7 inches (178 mm). Males have a more concave lower shell, longer tails and longer toenails than females. Will withdraw it's head, neck, feet, legs and tail to the confines of it's shell to avoid predation. Food consists of frogs, insects, aquatic plants, and carrion. Found in aquatic area in the foothill regions.
Lizards and Skinks
Lizards typically possess four legs, each end in in five clawed toes, with the exception of the Legless lizard. All have tails with weakened site that break off when seized by predators and will regenerate.
Gilbert's Skink (E. gilberti)
Scales are shiny and young have a cream and black striped body with a bright blue tail. Adults loose the coloring and fade to a shiny brown. Males may have an orange head during the spring. Total overall length is about 8 inches (200 mm). Prey consists of small insects, arthropods, and scorpions. Preferred habitat is under leaves and logs in the foothills.
Western Skink (E. skiltonianus)
Prey consists of small insects eggs, ants, spiders, moths, grasshoppers, caterpillars, crickets, and sowbugs. Preferred habitat is under 7000 fett in elevation in open areas. Common prey of most snake species.
Western Fence Lizard (s. occidentalis)
Black or brown blotched on top, with the throat and belly are blue. Colorings are less pronounces in females and young. Scales on top are pointed and overall length is about 8 inches (204 mm). Display is by doing "push-ups" and aids intimidation and individual identification. Prey consists of beetles, flies, termites, ants, and spiders. They prefer resting on rocks , logs and fences and will hide when approached, and are found throughout the foothill regions.
Sub-species -. S. occodentalis taylori - Found in high elevations has a solid blue belly and throat and may have blue on the top.
Sagebrush Lizard (S. gracious)
Blotched and brownish on the top, and throat and belly light blue. Coloring may be somewhat lighter or absent in females or young. Females may have orange on the sides and has smaller scales than the Western Fence Lizard and are granular. Displays by doing "push-ups" which aid in intimidation and individual recognitions. Prey is small insects and arthropods. Habitat is at mid elevations.
Side-blotched Lizard (U. stansburiana)
Prey is small insects, scorpoins, spiders, mites, ticks, sowbugs and arthropods. Water is obtained from food. Habitat is the open chapparal, and foothill pine forest.
Coast Horned Lizard (P. coronatum)
Prey is small insects, ants, and beetles. Can be found by ant hills. Does not require permanant water source. Habitat is the foothills below 4000 feet, down to the valley.
Western Whiptail (C. tigris)
Very fast running lizard with a long whip-like tail. Tiger-like coloration, long tail and pointed snout. Bead like scales, with hind legs larger than fore legs. Total overall length is up to 14 inches (355 mm). Prey consists of insect , spiders, lizard eggs and has been known to be cannibalistic. Can be found in cracks or crevices and in soft earth will dig a burrow. Found through the foothill regions up to the Mid-Sierra.
Southern Alligator Lizard (G. multicarinatus)
Color may be green to reddish, with dark longitudinal stripes on the belly down the middle of the scale rows. A large lizard, up to 12 inches (305 mm) with a proportionately large head. Has a fold of skin along it's sides. prey consists of spiders, including Black Widows, insects, snails, tadpoles, bird eggs, fledglings and small mammals. Habitat is in the foothill region.
Northern Alligator Lizard (G. coeruleus)
Color varies from dark gray to blotched green. Dark longitudinal stripes on the belly between the scale rows. Has 16 rows of dorsal scales with a fold of skin down each side. Total length is 8 inches (205 mm) Prey consists of insects, spider, and millipedes. Are slower are are easy to catch, but will bite. Habitat is from the Mid to High Sierra.
This is intended to be a brief listing of snake species in California and the habitats in which they are generally found. The highlighted Scientific names are links to further information on the species, highlighted common name are links to other sites that contain pictures of the species. Due to the high interest in the Vipers and vast amount of information already on the Internet, links have been provided for the species located. In most cases , these do not occur in this area. Placer and Nevada counties have the Western Rattlesnake, but links will remain and in the future the list will be completed for the entire state. This site is not yet complete, but as time allows more entries will be made. The classification of these species follows the "Standard Common and Current Scientific Names for North American Amphibians and Reptiles" (published in 1978 by SSAR).
Links to Family
Family - Boidae
Family - Colubridae
Family - Leptotyphlopidae
Family - Viperidae
Boidae - Boas and Pythons
20 genera containing 59 species which are mostly found in tropical and subtropical regions. Boids are the most primitive of living snakes. Many species possess temperature-sensitive pits in the lip scales. Vestiges of hind limbs are present as spurs and are usually visible on either side of the vent. Spurs are usually larger in males. Pythons lay eggs while boids give birth to live young. Only 2 genera in North America.
Genus - Charina
Rubber Boa (C. bottae)
Very plain, brown in color with shiny smooth skin. Underside is yellowish, with a small blunt head and tail. Diet consists of small rodents, lizards and fledgling birds. Prey is killed through constriction with the exception of lizards. Most common in mid-Sierra elevations around meadows,forest floor and streams.
Family - Colubridae
Sharp-tailed Snake (C.tenuis)
Small, shiny reddish-brown or gray snake. Whitish line down the sides with alternating black and cream bars across the belly. Tail has a sharp point and scales smooth. Habitat is in the foothills and mid elevations. Total length is about 14 inches (350mm). Snakes spend much of their lives in seclusion due to predation from birds.
Colors vary from blue gray, olive green to tan with a yellow belly. Slender body with large eyes. Young appear more like Gopher Snakes and are 12 inches (305 mm), total length of an adult is up to 50 inches (1270 mm). One of the fastest of all snakes and can become aggressive when captured. Prey consists of small rodents, birds, other reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Prey is killed by grabbing with sharp recurving teeth and swallowed. Habitat is in the lower foothills and is more common in the Northern Sierra.
Ringneck Snake (D. punctatus)
Top is olive, bluish or nearly black with a red-orange neckband. Belly is red-orange with black spots. The area under the tail is the most brightly colored. The Ringneck is a small snake with a total length of 18 inches (457 mm). Prey consists of salamanders, Pacific Treefrogs, small lizards, earthworms, insects, and some believe the tails of larger lizards. Preferred habitat are the foothills to Mid-Sierra in damp places.
Striped Racer (M. lateralis)
Black to dark brown with a pale yellow to cream colored stripe along each side. Slender with smooth scales. Total length is up to 60 inches (1523 mm). Habitat is in the upper foothills and prefers brushlands, rocky area and along streams. Prey consists of rodents, eggs and young birds, amphibians, lizards, and other snakes, including rattlesnakes. Prey is grabbed and held with sharp teeth and swallowed.
Coachwhip (M. flagellum)
Coachwhips are common to uncommon in the arid areas below 1800 feet in elevation. Prey consists of rodents, lizards, eggs, snakes (including rattlesnakes) young turtles, insects and carrion. Will actively seek prey holding their heads up, entering burrows or climbing vegetation. Will hibernate about 1 foot beneath the surface of the ground sometimes at the base of a plant. Prefer open habitats and may seek water to catch prey trying to get water.
Striped Whipsnake (M. taeniatus)
Striped Whipsnakes are common Along the eastern crest of the Sierra Nevada in elevations fron 2850 to 9400 feet. Habitats include east-side pine, sagebrush, and and desert scrub. Their prey is primarily lizards and snakes, but have been known to take small mammals, birds and insects. Will actively seek prey holding their heads fairly high. Will hibernate in rocky accumulations.
Common Kingsnake (L. getulus)
Alternating bands of black (sometimes brown) and white bands. Smooth shiny scales and length is up to 60 inches (1523 mm) Prey consists of other snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, small mammals, frogs, lizards, salamanders, birds and eggs. They are known to be fairly immune to rattlesnake venom. When threatened, they will imitate a rattlesnake by vibrating their tails in dry leaves. Habitat is through out the foothill region.
California Mountain Kingsnake (L. zonata)
Colorful shiny snake with black, red and white bands. Sometime in young the red bands are incomplete. Sometime mis-identified as a coral snakes and killed. Coral snakes do not occur in the Sierra Nevada. Length is up to 41 inches (1050mm). Prey consists of lizards, eggs, nestling birds and other small snakes. Prey is killed by both constriction and by swallowing while holding with teeth, depending on the size of the prey. These snakes prefer forested areas and cool canyons up to 8100 ft. in elevation.
Common Garter Snake (T. sirtalis)
Black, gray or dark brown with a distinctive cream colored stripe down the middle of the back. The sides are usually blotched in red. Usually 7 upper labial scales and keeled scales. Length is up to 50 inches (1270 mm). When threatened the garter snake will inflate it's body to exhibit the red markings on the side. When handled will excrete a foul smelling anal fluid on themselves and their captor. Prey includes rodents, birds, lizards, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, and fish. Preferred habitats are around lakes, river, streams and meadows.
San Francisco Garter Snake (T. sirtalis tetrataenia)
Western Aquatic Garter Snake (T. couchi)
Giant Garter Snake (Thamnophis couchii gigas)
Blotched brown to black back with a possible faint stripe on the head and a short distance down the back. No red on the sides. They have 8 upper labial scales and keeled scales, with a total length of 50 inches (1270 mm). Prey consists of fish, tadpoles, frogs and salamanders. Habitats preferred are the upper foothill streams.
Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (T. elegans)
Distinctive whitish mid-dorsal stripe bordered by black or dark brown with another light dorsal-lateral stripe. Usually 8 upper labial scales and keeled scales. Total length is about 42 inches (1070 mm). Prey includes Mountain Yellow-legged frog, both tadpoles and adults, trout, Pacific Treefrogs, and rodents. Preferred habitat is the Mid to High Sierras near lakes streams and meadows.
Night Snake (H. torquata)
Light brown with light blotches with larger brown spots on each side of the neck. Smooth scales and up to 20 inches (510mm) in length. This small snake is poisonous, producing small amounts of venom that is injected by grooved teeth located in the rear of the mouth. Prey consists of lizards and rodents. Larger animal and humans are not threatened by this snake's poisonous bit. As the name implies, it's habits are nocturnal and inhabit the lower foothills to the Mid-Sierra.
Gopher Snake (P. melanoleucus)
Yellow or buff with black, brown or reddish brown blotches on the back. Scales are keeled. pointed tail with an overall length of 7 feet (2134 mm). Prey consists of gophers, mice, ground squirrels and small rabbits and is killed by constriction. It's coloring provides protection from predators due to the similarity to rattlesnakes. It will also vibrate it's tail to mimic the rattling sound. This snake is diurnal and can be found from the lower foothills to the Mid- Sierra.
L.h.humilis. CA, NV, AZ.
L.h.cahuilae. AZ, CA, Mexico.
Family - ViperidaeConsisting of the genera Agkistrodon , Crotalus and Sistrurus .
Vipers are worldwide in distribution and are the most highly evolved snakes. There are about 290 species worldwide.
Three genera occur in North America.
Solid bodied stout snakes that have blotches, crossbands or diamond patterns. Curved, retractable fangs are attached to the upper jaw. The fangs swing forward during a strike. A distinctive heat sensitive pit, located between the eye and the nostril, is used to detect prey.
The Rattlesnakes possess the unique tail rattle which is composed of modified hollow scales. A new segment is added to the rattle each time the skin is shed.
Viper venom is a complex mixture of proteins which is highly toxic!
Most vipers give birth to live young.
Genus - Crotalus
Western Rattlesnake (C. viridis)
The only species of rattlesnake in the region. Consists of several sub-species, not all listed occur in the area, but will be linked due to high interest. Habitat is in all areas with the exception of the desert regions. Habitat has been eliminated in the valley regions due to cultivation, but can be found from sea-level to 11,000 feet in elevation. Snakes at the higher elevations are often diurnal, and will hibernate in colonies. Prey consists of rodents, rabbits, birds and carrion. Young will take lizards and young rodents.
C.v.viridus . Prairie rattlesnake, Western Rattler- Alberta, IA to the Rocky Mountains and south to Mexico.
C.v.abyssus. Grand Canyon Rattlesnake -Grand Canyon AZ.
C.v.cerberus. Arizona black rattlesnake -AZ, NM.
C.v.helleri. Southern Pacific rattlesnake -CA into Baja.
C.v.lutosus. Great Basin Rattlesnake -OR, ID, CA, NV, UT, AZ.
C.v.nuntius. Hopi Rattlesnake -AZ.
C.v.oreganus. Northern Pacific rattlesnake -BC, WA, ID, OR, CA.
The following are vipers that are also found in California but not in the region being discussed. Due to the interest in the vipers the links will remain
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (C. atrox)
Habitat - Arid and semiarid areas over a variety of habitats from plains to mountains.
Distribution - CA across to AK and south to Mexico.
Sidewinder (C. cerastes)
Habitat - Arid desert.
C.c.cerastes. Mojave Desert sidewinder- UT, NV, CA.
C.c.cercobombus. Sonoran Desert Sidewinder-AZ, CO.
C.c.laterorepens. AZ, CA, Mexico.
TimberRattlesnake (C. Horrdidus)
Speckled Rattlesnake (C. mitchelli)
Habitat - Rocky outcrops.
C.m.pyrrhus. Southwestern speckled rattlesnake UT, AZ, NV, CA.
C.m.stephensi. NV, CA.
Black-tailed Rattlesnake (C. molossus)
Habitat - Rocky areas.
C.m.molossus. Northern black-tailed rattlesnake-AZ, NM, TX.
2 other subspecies outside North America.
Red Diamond Rattlesnake (C. ruber)
Habitat - Coastal foothills and desert.
C.r.ruber. Red diamond rattlesnake CA into Baja Mexico.
4 other subspecies outside North America.
Mojave Rattlesnake (C. scutulatus)
Habitat - Desert areas.
C.s.scutulatus. Mojave ratttlesnake- NV, CA, UT, Mexico.
1 other subspecies outside North America
TheAlterna Page - Grey Banded Kingsnakes
The Laurence Monroe Klauber Memorial Rattlesnake Homepage
The Snake Page
Additional information from Discovering Sierra Reptiles and Amphibians by Harold E. Basey, California Wildlife - Amphibians and Reptiles, California Dept. of Fish and Game publication
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