Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the August 21, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

Most of us who wander around looking at the ground a lot get to see plenty of garter and ringneck snakes, both of which are common, peaceful and widely distributed species. This week I've run into both species as they crossed logging roads, and neither looked quite the way I'm used to them looking.

That wasn't a big surprise, however, because I figured that here we must have different subspecies from what I usually see in the Southeast. In fact, both Common Garter Snakes and Ringneck Snakes are distributed over such large areas that each has fractured into about a dozen subspecies in North America.

The garter snake subspecies I saw was one sometimes called the Valley Garter Snake, THAMNOPHIS SIRTALIS ssp FITCHI, with a satiny black head and lines, hardly any speckling and no red scales. I'm used to less vivid blackness, more speckling and occasional red scales. You can see if he looks like your local garter snake at http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/t.s.fitchi.html

The Ringneck subspecies I saw was the Coral-bellied Ringneck Snake, DIADOPHIS PUNCTATUS ssp PULCHELLUS, with a broad neck-ring and few or no belly spots. I'm used to seeing a narrower neck-ring and spots on the belly. Compare this species with your local one at http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/d.p.pulchellus.html

Both of the links mentioned above are part of the California Reptiles and Amphibians site at  http://www.california herps.com, which is a pleasure to browse. Someday there'll be such locally based sites for all the major kinds of plants and animals, and that will make backyard naturalizing even more fun than it is now.