Sunday, April 11, 2010

Patch-nosed snake, rattlesnake, and baja rat snake?

On a recent work trip to San Diego I found a couple hours to get to the hills east of the city to see what I could find (like any other eccentric weirdo would do). I just drove up as high as I could and found a SW facing rock pile that looked like prime mountain king habitat. Could I be that lucky? The conditions seemed perfect, but there were still homes all around. Looking around and flipping some large stones only turned up scorpions and unusual spiders like these:

Giant centipedes were common here:

While walking around the area, a large lizard about 3 feet in length took off right beside me. I gave chase, but only managed to scratch up my legs while running after it. It was incredibly fast and guessing from it's size, I'd have to say that it was someone's escaped monitor lizard pet or something. I just haven't ever heard of any native lizards being that huge. Hundreds of whiptails were running from me everywhere I walked. Most of these were 6-8 inches in length, although a few were as long as the 16 inch whiptails that I find in Utah. As these photos show, the San Diego whiptails look very similar, but they were found to bite when caught. That is something that I have never seen from whiptails before.

Cool pattern on the backs of these:

Their undersides matched the rocks perfectly:

As you can see, this one had it's mouth open and was panting like a dog:

I first thought this snake was a whipsnake, but then I noticed the odd nose scale for digging, which earns it the name desert patch-nosed snake (Salvadora hexalepis hexalepis). The snake was found inside the coastal patch-nosed snake range, but looks more like a desert than a coastal to me:

I dropped my wife's camera in the sand while going after this guy and then was treated to musking, defecating, and an everted rectum being rubbed all over my arm. I guess it was worth it.

Cool snake after it calmed down.

Then I came across this cute little critter:

A Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crostlus oreganus helleri). There is something about juvenile rattlesnakes that always makes me want to put them in a jar and take them home, even though that would be illegal and stupid. They are just so neat.

This one had a prey lump and was about 21 inches or so.

After the photo session, the rattler headed down a hole:

When I turned around and started retracing my steps, I saw a really large snake that looked like a big stick laying across where I had just walked. It quickly doubled back on it's travel path after seeing me and took off under a barbed wire fence that had "no trespassing" signs on it. Not very far from the fence was a farm house. I just couldn't bring myself to jump the fence to pursue the large snake. As excited as I was, the thought of trying to explain myself to someone holding a 12 gauge was too discouraging. I probably should have jumped the fence though, because when I got to a field guide I found that the snake most looked like a baja rat snake and would have been a very rare find. I am surprised that I didn't find more rattlesnakes. I am not surprised that I didn't find a mountain king, given the short time I spent even though conditions were nearly perfect.