An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of June 12, 2005

issued from California's Sierra Nevada Foothills

SHARP-TAILED SNAKES

Daniel, Fred and Diana's son, is home from school so he's doing chores here and there. The other day he was shoveling a pile of horse manure inside which he found a number of foot-long, brownish-cream snakes. He said there were ten to fifteen PAIRS of them, and he brought one pair for me to see.

The Audubon field guide showed them to be Sharp- tailed Snakes, CONTIA TENUIS. I suppose the closest thing like them in the East is the equally innocuous, good natured and miniature Ringneck Snake, next to which it appears in the guide. Fred and Daniel say they're common here, and nearly always found in pairs. They grow no longer than 10 to 19 inches.

Sharp-tailed Snakes really have very sharp tails, not just slender-tipped ones. The tail is actually a bit thick right up to its point, and then it looks as if the tip had been worked on with a pencil sharpener. It looks spine-tipped. Besides the sharp tails, their lower bellies are conspicuously patterned with alternating black and whitish crossbars. Once you know about these features, Sharp-tailed Snakes are very easy to identify. You can see one, along with its pointed tail, at http://www.mister-toad.com/photos/snake/Contia_2005_01.jpg

Sharp-tailed Snakes aren't found in many places. They occupy Oregon's Willamette Valley and California's Coast Ranges, our Sierra Nevadas, and a few tiny pockets in Washington and British Columbia. Usually they're found after rains, and it's true that ours appeared the day after a good rain. Other times it stays beneath logs and rocks, and during the dry months burrows underground. Basically it eats slugs.

What a remarkable, unusual little snake this is! Despite being so common here I'll bet a goodly number of snake fanciers would be as tickled to see it as I was.

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