California Reptiles & Amphibians

Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha nuchalata - California Nightsnake

(=Hypsiglena torquata nuchalata - California Nightsnake)

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Range in California: Green

Click the map for a guide to the
other species and subspecies.

Adult, Alameda County
Juvenile, Alameda County
Adult, Alameda County
Adult, San Joaquin County
Adult, Contra Costa County
Adult, Tuolumne County
© 2005 Rick Staub
Adult, San Joaquin County
© Sam Murray
Habitat, Contra Costa County

Habitat, San Joaquin County
Mildly Venomous
Not considered dangerous to humans.
Adults can be 12 - 26 inches long (30-66 cm.) Most seen are 8 - 12 inches long, rarely over 16 inches. Hatchlings are about 7 inches in length.
A small slender snake with a narrow flat head, smooth scales in 19 rows, and vertical pupils.
Color varies, often matching the substrate, from light gray, light brown, beige, to tan or cream, with dark brown or gray blotches on the back and sides. Usually a pair of large dark markings on the neck and a dark bar through or behind the eyes. Whitish or yellowish and unmarked underneath.
Nocturnal, and also active at dusk and dawn. Can be found under rocks, boards, logs, and other surface objects. Sometimes seen crossing roads on warm nights.
Eats mostly lizards and their eggs, sometimes small snakes, frogs, salamanders, and invertebrates.
Lays eggs from April to September.
Found along the south Coast Ranges from San Luis Obispo county north to the Bay Area, then north on the eastern slopes of the north Coast Range to Shasta County, and down the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, basically ringing the central valley, but not found in the valley itself.
Found in a variety of habitats, often arid areas, from chaparral, Sagebrush flats, deserts, suburban lots and gardens, mountain meadows, grassland. Most commonly found in areas with abundant surface cover.
Sea level to 8,700 ft. (2,650 meters).
Taxonomic Notes
Some herpetologists no longer recognize any subspecies of Hypsiglena torquata, pending a complete study of the entire species.

Grismer et al. (1994 Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Science 93(2): 45-80) synonymized the Hypsiglena torquata subspecies deserticola and klauberi because they intergraded widely.

The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles based their 2008 list of scientific and common names on Mulcahy (2006, PhD dissertation, Utah State University). Mulcahy conducted a comprehensive genetics study of Hypsiglena, recognizing 6 species, three in the USA, and an undescribed species. He also maintained several subspecies designations.
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)

Family Colubridae Colubrids
Genus Hypsiglena North American Nightsnakes
Species ochrorhyncha Nightsnake

nuchalata California Nightsnake
Original Description
Hypsiglena torquata - (Gunther, 1860) - Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist., Ser. 3, Vol. 5, p. 170, pl. 10, fig. A
Hypsiglena torquata nuchalata - Tanner, 1943 - Great Basin Nat., Vol. 4, 1943, p. 49, pl. 3, fig. 2, map
Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha nuchalata - Mulcahy, 2006

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Hypsiglena - Greek - hypsi - on high and glenes - eyeball - probably refers to the vertical pupil
ochrorhyncha -
nuchalata - Latin - nucha - neck and latus - side -- "pertaining to the side of the neck"

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
Hypsiglena torquata - Night Snake

Related or Similar California Snakes
H. o. klauberi - San Diego Nightsnake
H. clorophaea deserticola - Northern Desert Nightsnake
T. hobartsmithi
- Smith's Black-headed Snake
Tantilla planiceps - Western Black-headed Snake

More Information and References
Natureserve Explorer

California Dept. of Fish and Game

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., & F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Bartlett, R.D. , & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press.

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.
Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List which is published several times each year by the California Department of Fish and Game.

This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.

Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA)
California Endangered Species Act (CESA)
California Department of Fish and Game
Bureau of Land Management
USDA Forest Service
Natureserve Global Conservation Status Ranks
World Conservation Union - IUCN Red List


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