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Indian Valley Record
Greenville, California
July 15, 2009     Indian Valley Record
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July 15, 2009

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Bulletin, Progressive, Record, Reporter Wednesday, July 15, 2009 9B Be careful: It could be a poisonous snake--or not! A rare and harmless snake that may be confused with the coral snake is the California mountain king snake, recently spotted on the banks of Spanish Creek near Oakland Camp in Quincy. Photo by Traci Bue Snakes are out and about and contact should be avoid- ed for the well-being of both human and reptile, although not all snakes are poisonous. California mountain kingsnake The California mountain kingsnake, a rarely seen rep- tile, but recently photographed on the banks of Spanish Creek near Oakland Camp, is one ex- ample and is considered harm- less to humans. There are no venomous snakes in California that could be mistaken for this snake, but the similar-look- ing Arizona coral snake, found in Arizona, is ven- omous and dangerous. Size The snake is 20-50 inches long, with an average length of 24-30 inches. Its hatchlings are 7-11 inches in length. The California mountain kingsnake is a medium-sized slender snake, with a head not much wider than the cylindrical body with smooth shiny scales. The scale count at mid-body is usually 21-23. Black, red and white or off- white to pale yellow rings en- circle the body. Bands vary in width, often depending on the population. The red bands can vary in shade from blood red to orange to pink. Frequently, the black bands widen and cross over the red bands on the back. Occasion- ally there will be little red visible, esDcially in the cen- tral high Sierras. Black and white snakes are sometimes found. The bands continue across the belly, but the coloring is paler, more faded in appearance, and the bands are more irregular, of- ten encroaching into adjacent bands. The nose is typically black, occasionally with some blotches of red, fol- lowed by the first band, which is white. A red band surrounded by two black bands is referred to as a "triad." Triad counts (ex- cluding the tail triads) are one of the methods used to determine subspecies, along with the location of the first white ring. Seeing a black head is not a 100 percent accurate method when determining whether or not a snake is a type of poi- sonous coral or a kingsnake. Keep in mind the old saying: "Red and yellow will kill a fel- low." This means that red and yellow are not separated: the red and yellow bands touch. The California mountain kingsnake has a black head, but does not have red and yel- low bands that touch. Behavior This species is secretive, but not rare in a suitable habitat. It spends most of the time un- derground, under surface ob- jects, or inside rock crevices. Occasionally it is active on the ground in the daytime, es- pecially near shaded streams on hot sunny days. The snake is active during the day at high altitudes during times of low nighttime temperatures (which is typical habitat.) When temperatures are more moderate, it can be cre- puscular, nocturnal and diur- nal. During very hot weather, activity is primarily nocturnal. This snake is normally ac- tive at temperatures between approximately 55-85 degrees.? It ?enters into winter hiber- nation typically around No- vember, emerging some time between February and April, depending on locale and weather conditions. California gopher snake Another harmIess snake of- ten confused with it's poiso- nous cousin, the rattlesnake, is the California gopher snake. Habitat Found in a wide variety of habitats including desert flats, coastal dunes and coniferous forests, this snake prefers grass- lands and open brush areas. Description Members of the Colubridae Family, the common, large, gopher snake is usually be- tween 36 and 96 inches long. Gopher snakes range in color from cream-yellow to green- gray to tan, with large black, brown or reddish blotches on their back and smaller ones along their sides. Most speci- mens have a dark line be- tween the eyes and another from behind the eyes to the angle of the jaw. Sometimes striped individuals, with or without blotches, are found. Behavior Slow-moving, the gopher snake investigates burrows, rocky crevices and even climbs trees in search of prey. Gopher snakes hunt mice, bats, birds, rabbits, ground squirrels and gophers. They kill their prey by constriction. This makes the gopher snake a friend of the farmer - someone who can do with a few less rodents. Mainly diurnal, these cold- blooded snakes often change their activity patterns to be- come nocturnal during the intense heat of desert sum- mers. They may be observed sunning on the rocks or drawing heat from the pave- ment during the day to ready themselves for active nights. Though predators them- selves, non-venomous gopher snakes may become prey to Red-tailed Hawks, Kit Foxes or Coyotes. Alerted to dan- ger, the snake coils up, vi- brates its tail and hisses a warning (Pituophis means "phlegm serpent" in refer- ence to this loud hiss). The hiss is produced by use of an organ in the mouth called the glottis. The glottis opens and closes rapidly, giv- ing a fair imitation of the rat- tle of a rattlesnake. The gopher snake can also spread and flat- ten its head, thereby resem- bling a rattler even more. An unsure predator mistakes this behavior and the somewhat triangular head of the gopher snake for a rattlesnake and backs off from its pursuit. Life Cycle In Winter, gopher snakes hibernate, retreating to com- munal dens, sometimes shar- ing the lair with rattlesnakes, whipsnakes or racers. But in the breeding season, males vig- orously defend their territories against all competing males. The combat "dance" be- tween male gopher snakes, X Saves decks & siding from water damage Downspouts Water Diverter X Custom Installation X Adds value & appeal to your house 22 COLOR CHOICES FREE ESTIMATES Licensed, fully insured. No risk to homeowner. 257-7875 Non-venomous gopher snakes hunt mice, bats, birds, rabbits, ground squirrels and gophers. They kill their prey by constriction. This makes the gopher snake a friend of the farmerDsomeone who can do with a few less rodents. Photo submitted which may last up to an hour, has been mistaken for a courtship display between males and females. Head rearing, hissing, intertwin- ing like Grecian wrestlers, and slithering along the ground with upraised heads, the combatants focus on the task at hand, oblivious even to human onlookers. Six weeks after mating, females lay a clutch of eggs with 2 to 24 eggs each. Hatch- lings emerge fully developed within 10 weeks, and are large enough to eat small mice. Go- pher snakes in the wild reach maturity in 3 to 4 years. Current status Sometimes referred to as "typical snakes," the Colu- brids comprise the largest snake family by far, with more than 2000 species world- wide. About 75 percent of Cal- ifornia snakes are Colubrids. Although experts differ on classificationS, there are 3 North American species list- ed for the Pituophis genus - catenifer, deppei, melanoleu- cus - with numerous sub- species, 5 in California alone. One source refers to Pituophis catenifer affinis as the Sonoran gopher snake and Pituophis catenifer de- serticola as the Great Basin gopher snake. Other sub- species of this genus are vari- ously called pine snakes or bull snakes. 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