Alameda Whipsnake

Photo by Sheila Larson, USFWS

Kids' Species Information

Alameda Whipsnake

STATUS

Threatened. This means that we are worried about the snakes but they are not in danger of extinction right now.

DESCRIPTION

Alameda whipsnakes have thin necks, broad heads and large eyes. Their backs are greenish black or dark brown. A yellow-orange "racing stripe" runs down each side of their bodies.

Whipsnakes move fast. The Alameda whipsnake is sometimes called the Alameda striped racer. They are good climbers that can escape into scrub or trees. Adults can grow to a length of 91 to 122 centimeters (3 to 4 feet).

Whipsnakes are not dangerous. In California, only rattlesnakes have venom that is dangerous to humans.

HUNTING FOR FOOD

The snakes hold their heads high to look over grass or rocks for prey. Lizards appear to be their favorite food. They also eat skinks, frogs, other snakes and small birds.

HABITAT

Chaparral - coastal sage scrub and coastal sage. See a picture of whipsnake habitat in the Oakland Hills.

Also, see our Pallid Manzanita species account. This is a threatened plant that lives in the same area.

Snakes may travel up to 500 feet into nearby grasslands. They need safe places to hang out. Good places are rock crevices and small mammal burrows. Snakes can go there to escape predators, get out of the heat and hibernate.

HIBERNATION

In November Alameda whipsnakes hibernate. They go into a small mammal burrow, rock crevice or other shelter. They may come out a few times during winter. But most of the time they are inactive. In March, they come out.

MATING

The snakes mate from late-March through mid-June. Males move around their home areas. Females stay at or near the place where they hibernated. This is where mating takes place.

RANGE

The inner coast range of California. Most snakes are in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Some have been found in San Joaquin and Santa Clara counties.

PREDATORS

Many animals hunt for the Alameda whipsnake. These may include kingsnakes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, coyotes, foxes and hawks.

THREATS

The growth of cities and suburbs threatens the species. This urban development destroys habitat. It also isolates the snakes from each other. Household cats and dogs can hurt them.

Whipsnakes can usually escape from small wildfires. They go into burrows or rock crevices. But bad wildfires can wipe them out.

Cattle grazing can hurt or help. Overgrazing reduces shrub and grass cover. Proper grazing controls tall dense nonnative plants. Whipsnakes rely on their eyes for hunting. Too much grass or too many shrubs make it hard for them to find food.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

You can keep your pets where they don't harm snakes. Also, the snakes sometimes bask in the sun on roads. Watch out for them when you ride your bicycle.

Mostly it is up to adults to help these snakes recover. Adults need to make sure the snakes have enough good places to live. Adults need to prevent wildfire through controlled burns and other means. You can help by being careful with fire.

MORE READING

CaliforniaHerps.com has lots of information about snakes, lizards, frogs, turtles and salamanders. See their species account about the Alameda whipsnake, which they call the Alameda Striped Racer. Please note: This is not a Fish & Wildlife Service web site.

Life on the edge: a guide to California's endangered natural resources, edited by Carl Thelander, has information about lots of species. It is published by BioSystem Books. See the Alameda whipsnake species account on pages 278-279.

Check out Mike Westphal's 1998 article Alameda Whipsnake: The Fastest Snake in the West on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge web site.

Visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Kid's Corner to learn more about endangered species.

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Words to Learn

Biologists who study snakes, frogs, turtles, salamanders and other reptiles and amphibians are called herpetologists.

The Alameda whipsnake is a subspecies of the striped racer species.

Herpetologists call striped racers Masticophis lateralis. Scientific names are in Latin or Greek.

Masticophis means "whipsnake" and lateralis refers to the lateral stripes on the side of striped racers.

Biologists add euryxanthus to the species name to say that the Alameda whipsnake has broad yellow stripes.

Alameda whipsnakes belong to the Colubridae family. This includes most of the species of snakes found in the western United States.

The place an animal goes to hibernate is called a hibernaculum.

Whipsnakes are active during the daytime. Scientists say they are diurnal. Animals who are active at night are called nocturnal.