Whipsnake Survey

Yesterday, biologist Mandy Murphy allowed me to tag along with her while she ran her string of snake traps in search of Alameda whipsnakes and other reptiles.

We found a whipsnake in the third trap we checked. It was a recapture as she had caught it once before and left it with an identifying mark.

The snake was a large one, about four and a half feet long. She also caught a gopher snake.

IMG_3199 trapped gopher snake

The trap consists of vertical boards which guide the target species towards four wire cages that are similar to minnow traps. Once the snake or other critter enters the trap, it cannot find a way out. In this photo there are four separate wire mesh cages underneath the foam boards which protect the caught snakes from overheating.

The traps are monitored closely so that snakes will not be injured.


Snakes that are caught provide samples for DNA testing to determine their genetic makeup. According to Mandy, researchers have determined that two California racer species, the Alameda whipsnake and the California racer, are closely related. It is anticipated that the snakes captured on our ranch will share the genetic makeup of both species.

Close Call Rattler

While scouting one of our ponds for deer tracks, I was focused on mud around the pond when my cousin Wes said to me, “You just almost stepped on a rattler.”

I turned around and saw that I had stepped less than a foot from a silent four foot long rattler.

I wondered why it hadn’t moved or rattled to warn me off.

IMG_2119 rattler with squirrel inside

I examined the rattler more closely. Then I spotted the large lump in his belly. This snake was full of squirrel.

IMG_2119 rattler belly

You can see that he has a large lump in the middle of him. Apparently he was somewhat immobilized by indigestion.


When is a Snake Gorgeous?

Gorgeous? A snake. Yes a snake can be gorgeous. It was shown to me a couple days ago when I came across a gopher snake in the road.

DSC_0103[1] gopher snake

This has been a good year for gopher snakes. Last year was a rattle snake year and I saw about ten rattle snakes for every gopher snake. But this year I’ve see only one rattle snake in the road, but many gopher snakes.

The latest snake was spectacular. The photos I have don’t show his true beauty. He was at least five feet long and the sunlight shimmered on his beautiful hide. He was spectacular. Here are a few of the photos of this marvelous critter.


Click on the photo to enlarge. I hope you can appreciate what a spectacular creature this is. When I touched him on the tail, he turned and departed into the tall grass. Unlike rattle snakes, he was a docile creature.

Snake Den

While touring the ranch with a friend, I suggested that we check out a known rattle snake den. April and May are good months to observe snakes and the most interesting spot is at the den site where large rattlers hang out together – warming themselves and (I imagine) doing what snakes do to propagate.

A perfect snake den has a southern exposure, large rocks with cracks, brush and is often surrounded by ground squirrel colonies. The rock pile in the photo below is a perfect site.

IMG_1941 snake den

DSC_0373 rattler at den 2016

In the above photo you can see a light colored snake and part of a darker snake laying next to it.

DSC_0371 rattlers at den 2016

In the next photo (above) you can clearly see both snakes. These are large rattlers. Didn’t want to mess with them as they get very testy if you disturb them. I get nervous when they get nervous.

Garter Snake and CTS Larvae

Garter snakes are voracious predators and this is the time of year when they are present at ponds in large numbers.

While touring our ponds with members of the SF Bay Area Chapter of the Wilderness Society, we came upon a garter snake that was in the midst of swallowing a large tiger salamander larvae. It was an impressive sight. The two-foot long snake was working hard to eat a meal that barely fit into his mouth.

When last seen, this garter snake was still swallowing hard.

When last seen, this garter snake was still swallowing hard.

The tiger salamander larvae appeared to be about four and a half inches long and had it’s gills in place.

Springtime is Snake Time

Gopher snake in gravel road, warming up.

Gopher snake in gravel road, warming up.

Driving home from the ranch last Friday, a form in the road caught my eye – a snake. Stopping to check it out, I found a king snake, about three feet long, warming itself on the road. The air temperature was about 60 degrees, but the sun was bright and the road provided an opportunity for the snake to warm up, probably in preparation for some hunting.

Only a half mile further down the road I came upon a gopher snake that was a whopper – over four feet long for sure. He is pictured above. The king snake is below.

This is a good sized king snake, over three feet long.

This is a good sized king snake, over three feet long.

Spring is a great time to see snakes. They are active and hungry after sitting out the winter months that are too cold for them to operate.

Here is a photo of a rattler from a rattle snake den on our ranch. Rattle snakes and gopher snakes dine on warm-blooded animals, primarily rodents.

This snake was very aggressive.

This snake was very aggressive.

Whipsnakes are secretive, but occasionally they stop long enough for a photo.

Whipsnakes eat cold blooded animals, like lizards and other snakes. They hunt by sight.

Whipsnakes eat cold blooded animals, like fence lizards and other snakes. They hunt by sight.

Garter snakes are usually spotted in our ponds during the springtime when they feast on larvae of toads, frogs and salamanders.

When the garter snakes find the ponds, they feed voraciously.

When the garter snakes find the ponds, they feed voraciously.