California Kingsnake

As a child I was enthralled with reptiles, mesmerized by the unending stare of a snake and the myriad geometric patterns and colors of turtle and lizard scales. I would spend hours trekking through nearby fields and streams in search of all things slimy and scaly- a habit I never grew out of. Growing up in the Midwest, species of the western US up until now were encountered only as pictures in books and childhood daydreams. After relocating to the west coast, much of my free-time is spent in the field attempting to catch a glimpse of the native reptile and amphibian species of central California. More recently, I have become interested in identifying and untangling the seemingly unfathomable number of bird species found here on the Central Coast. As I encounter local species of reptiles, amphibians and birds I will be posting pictures of these animal encounters along with interesting natural history facts about each specimen. There is so much beauty within the world to be discovered and appreciated; why not start in one’s own backyard.


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It only took over a year, but the quintessential Californian was finally found! Let’s take a look at arguably one of the most beautiful snakes in the country, the California Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula californiae. This species is unmistakable in appearance, hosting a pallet of striking contrast, usually of black and white banding in its most familiar phenotype. There are local color variations throughout the range, with sub-populations exhibiting variable hues of chocolate browns and creams. There are even populations of individuals with longitudinal striping rather the more familiar banded pattern. California Kingsnakes are medium-sized, gentle snakes that range throughout the state in a variety of different habitats. When surprised/threatened, they will hiss loudly and quickly vibrate their tail, accomplishing a somewhat surprisingly loud buzzing noise when in contact with loose, dry debris. If the envelope is further pushed, they will hide their head within their coils and expose the bright red mucosal surface of their cloaca with (it is suspected) the intent of drawing attention to the back end while the front end searches for an escape.

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So, why are they called kingsnakes? Welp, these beasts will eat just about anything they come across – lizards, young turtles, birds, a variety of small mammals, large insects, the eggs of lizards and snakes, and even other snakes! Kingsnakes immobilize and dispatch their prey by constriction. California has a variety of snake species- our friend Lampropeltis getula californiae reigns supreme. These guys will even eat rattlesnakes – and if that isn’t macho enough, kingsnakes are immune to rattlesnake venom!

Western Pond Turtle

As a child I was enthralled with reptiles, mesmerized by the unending stare of a snake and the myriad geometric patterns and colors of turtle and lizard scales. I would spend hours trekking through nearby fields and streams in search of all things slimy and scaly- a habit I never grew out of. Growing up in the Midwest, species of the western US up until now were encountered only as pictures in books and childhood daydreams. After relocating to the west coast, much of my free-time is spent in the field attempting to catch a glimpse of the native reptile and amphibian species of central California. More recently, I have become interested in identifying and untangling the seemingly unfathomable number of bird species found here on the Central Coast. As I encounter local species of reptiles, amphibians and birds I will be posting pictures of these animal encounters along with interesting natural history facts about each specimen. There is so much beauty within the world to be discovered and appreciated; why not start in one’s own backyard.


Let’s take a look at the only native species of turtle to the area, Actinemys marmorata, the Western Pond Turtle. Pond turtles are small-medium semiaquatic chelonian species with a rather flat shell shape. Most appear somewhat bland, having a muddy-brown carapace (top shell), a yellowish plastron (bottom shell), and lighter brown appendages/head. There are some beauty queens, however, that display ornate, radiant striping on the carapace and pretty yellow mottling of the arms, legs, and neck. Males will usually have pale-yellow throats and flatter shells while females will have a higher, dome-shaped appearance to the carapace. These little tanks are omnivorous, feeding on aquatic plants, invertebrates, and the occasional frog/fish – the diet of champions!

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Again, these guys are the only species of turtle native to the central coast – any other species of turtle/tortoise found meandering about is either invasive or an escaped pet. Red-eared sliders, an eastern species, have established themselves in many places pretty far from home, including various places in California. Common Snapping turtles, another eastern species, have also made themselves at home in California as well.

Unfortunately, this is the last Central Coast reptile species I have in my arsenal! I suppose we’ll have to change gears and take a look at birds soon. I know, I am heart-broken as well; please stay strong.

Sound a Frog Makes

On the prowl! This guy was found just off of the mean streets of Pismo- up to no good, I imagine.

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Males can be differentiated from females by their vocal sacs, which appear as dark, loose skin over the throat area. A variety of different calls are utilized in the male’s quest for finding love and maintaining his territory – an excellent run-down of the different calls can be found (and heard!) using the link below:

http://www.californiaherps.com/f…/pages/p.sierra.sounds.html

The daytime call, an ugly-sounding, single-noted quack, is a common background noise heard just about anywhere there is shrubbery about. This noise is almost insect-like -easily unassuming of a lurking, well-hidden frog. The advertisement call, however, is a text-book, quintessential ‘ribbit’. In fact, the advertisement call was used as THEE frog voice soundbite in the early days of Hollywood, becoming world-renowned as the ‘sound a frog makes’.

Sierran Treefrog

As a child I was enthralled with reptiles, mesmerized by the unending stare of a snake and the myriad geometric patterns and colors of turtle and lizard scales. I would spend hours trekking through nearby fields and streams in search of all things slimy and scaly- a habit I never grew out of. Growing up in the Midwest, species of the western US up until now were encountered only as pictures in books and childhood daydreams. After relocating to the west coast, much of my free-time is spent in the field attempting to catch a glimpse of the native reptile and amphibian species of central California. More recently, I have become interested in identifying and untangling the seemingly unfathomable number of bird species found here on the Central Coast. As I encounter local species of reptiles, amphibians and birds I will be posting pictures of these animal encounters along with interesting natural history facts about each specimen. There is so much beauty within the world to be discovered and appreciated; why not start in one’s own backyard.


Here we have our most common amphibian species of the area, Pseudacris sierra, the Sierran Treefrog. These little beasts tend to reach a maximum size of about 2 inches or less and come in a variety of colors and patterns that can change in response to temperature and habitat. Regardless of an individual’s chosen garb, the dark ‘mask’ through the eyes and a ‘y’-shaped blotch on the center of the head are nearly always present.

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They are found pretty much anywhere capable of maintaining at least a drop or two of moisture – including downtown Pismo! Treefrogs are a regular inhabitant of my courtyard, and I derive much interest from listening to their calls and observing their patterning, much more so than a normal adult man should. I even occasionally find a frog or two indoors, to which I kindly escort them out. You ain’t helping to pay no rent, freeloader! Sit tight, soon we’ll discuss calls and differentiating males from females.