Skip to main content

Snakes of California: 9 Common Species

Snakes Of California

Here are nine of the most common snakes of California, and a little on their background.

Of all the species of snakes in California, these nine are among the most seen and sometimes the least understood.

Even the same species can have several colorations, blotches on their reptile skin, and vary between venomous snakes and their non-lethal cousins. For folks who want to know what they are looking at, or more importantly where to find them, this just might be a good chance to start brushing up on their snake identification.

California is a big place and snakes that live in the Golden State are found from Baja California to Northern California and everywhere in between. As hikers, campers, hunters, and outdoorsmen we all want to know what it is that we're looking at while out in the woods.

We always like to review our outdoor knowledge or simply assess what we already know in the effort to keep up on the area where we live, or may visit at some point in our lives. California is so replete with outdoor opportunities that it behooves every outdoor-loving individual to know species identification and the possible dangers that go along with snake encounters.

Let's list these species and then take a look at them as individuals of the region. This is not to say that these are the only snakes of California, just that they are probably the most commonly encountered according to California Herps.

Common Snakes Found in California

  • Gophersnake
  • Coachwhip (Racer)
  • Sharp-tailed snake
  • California Kingsnake
  • Western Yellow-Bellied Racer
  • Striped Racer (Whipsnake)
  • Ring-Necked snake
  • Gartersnake
  • Western Rattlesnake


Gopher snake. #reptile #reptiles #reptilesofinstagram #reptiletube #snake #gophersnake #explore #adventure #california #joshuatree

Posted by Daniel Burr Photography on Monday, June 3, 2019

Gophersnakes are one of the most common non-venomous snakes of California and are found throughout the state. These snakes are mainly active during the day, but are also active after sundown on hot days. Gophersnakes are often seen in suburban settings since they are active predators of the same rodents that can plague those areas.

One issue that people have in its identification is the gophersnake's ability to shake its tail rapidly enough the create a buzzing sound. As you'd suspect, some mistakenly identify it as a rattlesnake.

Gophersnakes include the Sonoran Gophersnake, San Diego Gophersnake, Pacific Gophersnake, Great Basin Gophersnake, and the Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake. They are sometimes referred to as Bullsnakes.


Baja California Coachwhip Coluber (Masticophis) fuliginosus

Posted by Snakes on Monday, February 27, 2012

Another non-venomous snake is the Coachwhip (commonly identified as a racer) which is a fast-moving snake found in open arid areas. It has multiple color variations including tan, brown, black, or reddish-colored along with an irregular blotching on the neck.

Coachwhips include the Baja California Coachwhip, Red Coachwhip, and the San Joaquin Coachwhip. These snakes are often found sprawled in the sun in the early morning on desert roads. They are also found underneath debris, particularly on cold days.

Sharp-tailed Snake

Sharp-tailed Snake. Sharp-tailed Snake or Sharptail Snake (Contia tenuis) is a small,...

Posted by Love ALL Animals on Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sharp-tailed snakes can be found on sunny days during the rainy season resting under objects in open areas such as boards, rocks, wood debris, gravel piles, or leaf litter. This secretive snake tends to spend much of its time under surface objects or underground.

A good burrower, the Sharp-tailed snake prefers a moister habitat since its usual prey is salamanders and even slugs. This is probably because it's such a small, thin snake. Sharp-tailed snakes include the Forest Sharp-tailed Snake and the Common Sharp-tailed Snake. The coloration of this non-venomous snake is a rusty, brick-red, or orange-red adaptation.

California Kingsnake

California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis Getula Californiae)

Posted by Snakes on Saturday, September 22, 2018

California Kingsnakes can generally be considered large, although they rarely exceed four feet in length. One thing about this snake is the fact that it is highly variable in appearance, but it is commonly seen with alternating bands of black or brown and white or (light) yellow, and the bands become wider on the underside.

Kingsnakes occur in most of California, Baja California and Arizona, including parts of Nevada and much of Sonora Mexico. Kingsnakes are powerful constrictors that are well known for being a predator of many small mammals, other reptiles, and especially rattlesnakes.

This non-venomous species includes the Common Kingsnake and the Mountain Kingsnake.

Western Yellow-Bellied Racer

Western Yellow-bellied racer

Posted by Brian Eagar Nature Photography on Thursday, April 25, 2019

Another non-venomous snake, the Western Yellow-Bellied Racer is a quick-moving ground snake, but is also known as a good climber. This species also eats other reptiles (including snakes), birds, eggs, and even frogs, but is sometimes known as an aggressive biter of people.

They are not usually found in the arid regions or in the mountains, but prefer grasslands and forest edges, especially areas that include ponds.

Striped Racer

A California Striped Racer also known as a Chaparral Whipsnake was on the hunt! This hungry snake shot across the trail...

Posted by Cuyamaca Rancho State Park on Saturday, August 17, 2019

The California Striped Racer (also known as the Chaparral Whipsnake) are another in the line of long, slender, fast-moving snakes that inhabit grasslands, scrublands, and rocky hillsides. Adults can be 36-40 inches in length and a dark olive brown and gray with a pale yellow or cream colored solid stripe.

The Striped Racer will eat rodents, birds, salamanders, and other small snakes, but it is especially fond of spiny lizards. This quick-moving snake is difficult to get close to, but if it feels threatened it will aggressively strike and bite any animal that bothers it.

The two non-venomous Striped Racers are the California Striped Racer and the more rare Alameda Striped Racer.

Ring-Necked Snake

“This is a prairie ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus arnyi) from Missouri. Eight inches long,” writes Kyran Leeker...

Posted by The Naturalist's Notebook on Wednesday, May 23, 2018

There are seven species of Ring-Necked Snakes in the Golden State which are mostly found in moister habitats and absent from the deserts and drier regions. Each of these snake species is similar in appearance, with a ring around the neck, separating the darker head from a grayish to green body, sometimes with a yellow-orange belly.

As with the other members of the species they eat salamanders, frogs, other small snakes, and lizards. They are more secretive than other snakes, preferring to hide under the cover of rocks, tree bark, or other debris found in their home range.

The other types of Ring-Necked Snakes include the Pacific Ring-Necked Snake, San Bernardino Ring-Necked Snake, Northwestern Ring-Necked Snake, Coral-Bellied Ring-Necked Snake, Regal Ring-Necked Snake, San Diego Ring-Necked Snake, and the Monterey Ring-Necked Snake.


California red-sided garter Snake

Posted by Planet+ on Monday, June 19, 2017

There are 14 subspecies of Gartersnakes (which are listed as watersnakes) so it is not always easy to identify which one you have actually sighted. As a rule, most California gartersnakes are a medium-sized, slender snake with a head not wider than the neck and scales on the back.

Gartersnakes are generally found in a wide variety of habitats which range from sea level to high elevations. This includes forests, grasslands, and the native chaparral, particularly marshes, lakes, streams, ponds, and even in rocky creeks in the desert. It's said that the Gatersnakes are not venomous, but that they emit a mild toxin to help subdue their prey that is non-venomous to most humans.

These are the different types of Gartersnakes:

  • Santa Cruz Gartersnake
  • Oregon Gartersnake
  • Diablo Range Gartersnake
  • Sierra Gartersnake
  • Mountain Gartersnake
  • Coast Gartersnake
  • Wandering Gartersnake
  • Giant Gartersnake
  • Two-striped Gartersnake
  • Marcy's Checkered Gartersnake
  • Northwestern Gartersnake
  • Valley Gartersnake
  • California Red-sided Gartersnake
  • San Francisco Gartersnake

Western Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Crotalus atrox.

Posted by Snakes on the Plains Photography on Sunday, June 9, 2019

There are 10 members of the rattlesnake family listed for California. Probably the most well known of these is the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. The divots or  "pits" on the front sides of its head distinguishes it as a pit viper.

All rattlesnakes that reside in California have a blotched pattern on their back and a rattle on the end of the tail which the snake sometimes uses as a warning sound. Most eat small mammals, birds, and lizards.

Here are the species of rattlesnakes founding California:

  • Colorado Desert Sidewinder
  • Great Basin Rattlesnake
  • Mohave Desert Sidewinder
  • Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
  • Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
  • Panamint Rattlesnake
  • Red Diamond Rattlesnake
  • Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
  • Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake
  • Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake

Closing Thoughts on California Snakes

In the larger view, only one of these snake species is harmful to humans, and only when cornered or threatened. Rattlesnake bites can be deadly, but can be avoided by taking simple steps. 

Good ID skills go a long way towards conserving the different species to ensure their survival and well being. Snakes like these have a very important role in their niches and in the environments in which they live and thrive.

California certainly has other, less common reptiles that reside inside its borders, but these are generally the most seen by residents, or simply the most well known due to their reputation. Now you've got a reference and resource the next time you want to identify one.

For a selection of home and yard snake repellant, check out Amazon.

Looking for a little more or even hot lunch for your hunting blind? Follow my webpage, or on Facebook and YouTube.



Snakes of California: 9 Common Species