U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Species Information

Picture of Alameda Whipsnake

Photo Credit: Sheila Larson/USFWS

Alameda Whipsnake

Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus

Basic Species Information

STATUS

Threatened. The species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range, but they are not in danger of extinction right now.

DESCRIPTION

Alameda whipsnakes have thin necks, broad heads and large eyes. Their backs are colored sooty black or dark brown, with a distinct yellow-orange "racing stripe" down each side of their bodies. The front part of their underside is an orange, brownish red color; the midsection is cream colored; and the rear section and tail are pinkish. There is an uninterrupted light stripe between the tip of the nose and eye, and a virtual absence of spotting on the underside of the head and neck.

Whipsnakes are slender and fast-moving, earning them the more common name, "Alameda striped racer." Adults can grow to a length of 91 to 122 centimeters (3 to 4 feet).They are active mainly during the day. When threatened, the Alameda whipsnake can easily escape into scrub or trees because they are good climbers.

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

FOOD SOURCES

Whipsnakes are active daytime predators and foragers. The snakes hold their heads high to look over grass or rocks for prey. Lizards appear to be their favorite food, although they also eat skinks, frogs, other snakes and small birds.

HABITAT

Alameda whipsnakes are typically found in chaparral ─ northern coastal sage scrub and coastal sage. Rock outcrops, rock crevices and mammal burrows are important features of their habitat because they provide safe escape from predators and heat and a place to hibernate. The areas where the Alameda whipsnake are most commonly found occur on east, south, southeast, and southwest facing slopes. However, recent information suggests whipsnakes do make use of north facing slopes when in more open areas of scrub.

Snakes may travel up to 500 feet into nearby grasslands and stay there for periods ranging from a few hours to several weeks at a time. Grassland habitats are used by male whipsnakes most extensively during the mating season in spring. Female whipsnakes use grassland areas most extensively after mating, possibly in their search for suitable sites to lay their eggs.

HIBERNATION

In November, Alameda whipsnakes hibernate in their hibernaculum (shelter). They may come out a few times during winter, but most of the time they are inactive. They come out in March.

MATING

Courtship and mating take place from late-March through mid-June. Males move around their home areas. Females stay at or near the place where they hibernated and this is where mating occurs.

RANGE

Historically, the range has always been very restricted. Currently, the snakes are found in the inner coast range of California ─ most of them in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Some have been found in San Joaquin and Santa Clara counties. There are five specific areas the whipsnake is located:

  1. Sobrante Ridge, Tilden/Wildcat Regional Parks to the Briones Hills, in Contra Costa County (Tilden-Briones population)
  2. Oakland Hills, Anthony Chabot area to Las Trampas Ridge, in Contra Costa County (Oakland-Las Trampas population)
  3. Hayward Hills, Palomares area to Pleasanton Ridge, in Alameda County (Hayward-Pleasanton Ridge population)
  4. Mount Diablo vicinity and the Black Hills, in Contra Costa County (Mount Diablo-Black Hills population)
  5. Wauhab Ridge, Del Valle area to the Cedar Mountain Ridge, in (Sunol-Cedar Mountain population).

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 increasing population destroys habitat and isolates the snakes from each other. Household cats and dogs can hurt them.

Be careful with fire. Whipsnakes can usually escape from small wildfires because 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 cattle 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

Watch out for snakes on the roadways; they like to bask in the sun. Keep your pets where they cannot harm the snakes. Make sure the snakes have enough good places to live. Be careful with fire. Wildfires can be prevented through controlled burns and other means.

Need more specifics? Download the Alameda Whipsnake (67 KB) scientific species account.

Last updated: December 20, 2017