Donate Index Calendar Nature Land Protection Stewardship Newsroom Contact

Reptiles on the Kern River Preserve

NOTE: There is no collecting, fishing, or hunting on the preserve. If you see any animal or plant on the preserve, please take only pictures and memories. Do not disturb nesting birds. Do not go off trail.




Length 4 to 7"

This slender lizard has a shovel-shaped nose, smooth scales, blunt tail and no legs. The presence of eyelids makes this a lizard, not a snake. The color on the back is generally a metallic silver but can be darker. The belly color varies from whitish to a bright greenish-yellow. Although it can vary there is generally a dark line along the back and several thin stripes between scale rows on the flanks.

If uncovered this lizard may become active on cool days. The legless lizard lives mostly underground, burrowing in loose sandy soil. Moisture is essential. It can often be found under surface objects such as rocks, boards, driftwood, and logs. It eats mostly larval insects, beetles, termites, and spiders.

SIDE-BLOTCHED LIZARD  Uta stansburiana


Length 4-6½"           

This lizard has very small scales over most of its body. The head has a few large scales. The color can vary but this is the most pastel colored of all of our lizards. Pale pink and blue spots are inset in a medium to light brown base color. A single dark blue spot behind the foreleg is the characteristic this lizard is named for. The throat is pale with a fold of skin. The upper color patterns are variable in this area due differences between sexes and subspecies. This lizard is abundant in the drier brushy areas of the preserve. Food includes insects, scorpions, spiders, and sow bugs.



Elgaria multicarinata webbi


Length 10-16¾"          

An uncommon lizard along the Kern River and throughout the preserve. A rather hostile lizard that will do the alligator death roll when trapped. This diurnal lizard is found in grasslands, and moist riparian woodlands. Foods include any insect or vertebrate it can capture and gulp down.


LONG-NOSED LEOPARD LIZARD  Gambelia wislizenii


Length 3.25-5.75"          

This is an extremely rare lizard on the Kern River Preserve as it was only discovered on July 20, 2010 by our land steward, Sean Rowe, in the desert habitat off of Fay Ranch Road.

This is a large lizard with granular scales and tail almost twice as long as the body.

WESTERN FENCE LIZARD  Sceloporus occidentalis


Length 6-9¼"          

The most common lizard along the Kern River and throughout the forested areas of the preserve and near the buildings. This lizard has the nickname Blue Belly. In warmer areas the back turns a black color, while in cooler areas it is lighter in color with noticeable blue spots, especially in males. Males also have brilliant blue markings on their sides and throat. In territorial and courtship displays the males perform a "push-ups" that serve to flash the blue markings. Generally seen lurking near the ground in riparian woodlands, fence lizards scamper up trees to escape predators. The scales on the back are keeled.


DESERT SPINY LIZARD   Sceloporus magister


Length 7-12"

This lizard is light colored with large pointed scales and black wedge-shaped markings on the side of the neck that appear to form a collar, heads are sometimes orange. They inhabit the lower slopes of drier mountain areas. The Desert Spiny Lizard can most easily be seen basking in the sun on rocks.

Found on the preserve's rocky slopes and desert washes. This lizard looks similar to its cousin the fence lizard but is larger with the noticeable neck collar.


WESTERN WHIPTAIL  Aspidoscelis tigris


Length 8-12" 

This hibernating lizard is seen in summer. The fastest of the local lizards, they may be glimpsed as they dash for cover. An active lizard of dry areas where plants are sparse and there are open areas for running. Whiptails are also found in the warmer areas of the cottonwood woodlands. If pursued it runs bipedally balancing with its long tail. They take shelter in rodent burrows. Food consists of insects, spiders, and scorpions.


GILBERT'S SKINK  Plestiodon (Eumeces) gilberti


Length 7-13"      

The adult skinks are plain olive above with some light and dark striping on the back. The tail becomes orange with age and some individuals develop red on the head. The tail breaks off easily and wriggles in an attempt to distract predators as the skink escapes. Unusual bone-reinforced scales make the skink as smooth as glass. They are found in habitats near permanent water, especially in the sunnier parts of clearings in the woodlands.


DESERT BANDED GECKO    Coleonyx variegatus


Length 2-3"

Mistaken for a salamander this small, slender lizard with movable eyelids and vertical pupils. The head is wider than the neck with a triangular shape. The skin is spotted and quite soft with fine granular scales. The toes are long and thin. The base of the tail is constricted.

The color can be variable ranging from pink, yellow or light gray. There are tan to brown bands or blotches around the body and tail. The width of the dark bands is equal to or less than the width of the light areas. Males have spurs on each side of the base of the tail. Geckoes are nocturnal. They hibernate in winter. They eat small invertebrates and live in arid areas preferring rocky areas.


Coast Horned Lizard   Phrynosoma blainvillii


Length 2.5-4.5"

One of nature's most camouflaged animals, horned lizards are also known as horny toads. They are flat-bodied with wide oval-shaped body's, scattered pointed scales on the upper body and tail, and a large crown of horns on the head. The sides of the body have two rows of fringe scales. The color can be reddish, brown, yellow, or gray, with dark blotches on the back and large dark spots on the sides of the neck. The belly has smooth cream to yellow scales. The diet is usually harvester ants, but will eat spiders, beetles, termites, flies, bees, and grasshoppers. It is often found in lowlands along sandy washes with scattered shrubs and along dirt roads, and frequently found near ant hills.


DESERT NIGHT LIZARD  Xantusia vigilis


Length 1.5-2.75"

This tiny lizard inhabits desert areas on the preserve. It is found in leaf litter in arid and semi-arid areas, habitats include Joshua tree, desert scrub, pinon-juniper, basin sagebrush, chaparral, pine-oak woodland, and yucca. This lizard has soft skin that looks like it is covered with beads on its fine granular scales. The head is covered with large plates, and unlike most lizards has lidless eyes with vertical pupils. The color is olive, grayish, or brown with light brown or black spots, sometimes forming narrow stripes. Even though this is called a night lizard it is active during the day. The night lizard eats ants, termites, beetles, caterpillars, crickets and spiders.



Desert Rosy Boa  Lichanura trivirgata gracia


Length 17" - 44"

The rosy boa lives in arid scrublands, semi-arid shrublands, rocky deserts, canyons, and desert oases. It has been reported on the uplands of the Kern River Preserve. This is a gentle snake that is among a group that have vestigial hip bones. The scales are smooth shiny scales and the tail tapers to a blunt end. The head is slightly wider than the neck. Its pupils are vertical.

The sides have three well-defined dark stripes that vary in color from: tan, brick red, rose, or reddish-brown. The base color can be light gray, ivory, tan, or yellowish.. The coastal subspecies can have flecks of color within the lighter areas. The belly is whitish to gray with dark flecks.

Mojave Glossy Snake   Arizona elegans candida


Length 26" - 70"

The glossy snake lives in open sandy desert, desert scrub, rocky washes, grasslands. Sometimes called the faded snake due to the bleached out appearance of its glossy scales. The color ranges from light tan, gray, ivory, or pink base color with tan to gray blotches on the back and sides. The belly is whitish and unmarked.

Ring-necked Snake  Diadophis punctatus


Length 8" - 34"

This mildly venomous snake lives in wet areas, including meadows, grassland, chaparral, mixed conifer and canyon woodlands. It has been found along Fay Creek. This small, secretive snake can be identified by its bright coral-colored belly. The back is grayish, blueish-gray, or dark olive dorsal colorings. The snakes have an orange band around the neck.

California Nightsnake     Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha nuchalata 


Length 12" - 26"

This mildly venomous snake lives in arid areas, including meadows, saltbush scrub, grassland, chaparral and deserts. Notice the black mark that travels from the eye to the back of the neck. The base color varies from light shades of brown or gray to ivory, there are dark blotches on the back and along the sides. The pupils are vertical in a yellow eye. The head is flat and narrow. The belly is unmarked.

California Kingsnake  Lampropeltis getula californiae


Length 30" - 85"

The bold black and white banding pattern easily distinguishes this snake from all others in the area. This seeming docile snake can pursue and capture other snakes, including rattlesnakes, being largely immune to the venom of the latter. Besides snakes it also eats lizards, birds and their eggs, mice and pocket gophers. All of which are killed by constriction. The common kingsnake forages in the shadier portions of shrubby areas, generally in the early morning or late afternoon.

Red racer     Masticophis flagellum piceus


Length 36" - 102"

One of two subspecies in Kern County, the red racer is also known as red coachwhip. Coachwhips are fast and although non-venomous they bite hard. The color varies from light to medium hues of pink. The top of the head is generally blackish with a light chin and throat. There are pink, brown or black bands on the neck. All down the body the banding appears braided with the tail looking like a whip. This snake can be found in sandy areas along streams, hills, and can also be found in sparsely vegetated rocky areas.

Pacific Gopher Snake     Pituophis catenifer catenifer

Common    Length 2.5-7

Common on the preserve, the gopher snake is found in a variety of habitats, frequenting grassland and open brush. They are adept at climbing and burrowing. They are most active during the day except during hot weather. When disturbed they will hiss, flatten the head, and vibrate their tail. This defensive behavior mimics the deadly rattlesnake to scare aware potential predators. This maneuver along with their diamond-shaped markings causes them to be mistaken for rattlesnakes and killed. The Gopher snake kills by constriction. Their diet consists of small mammals, birds, eggs, and lizards.

Long-nosed Snake      Rhinocheilus lecontei


Length 16" - 60"

This snake looks like a kingsnake with coral patches on its back and sometimes sides giving it a saddled look.
It has black rings on a cream colored base, but the rings do not go all the way around the body. The head is just wider than the body and the scales are smooth. This snake is found in arid to
semi-arid deserts, grasslands, shrublands, and prairies.

Sierra Gartersnake     Thamnophis couchii


Length  18-38"


For a garter snake the Sierra garter is pretty terrestrial. It is frequently found in areas with little water. The coloration generally a murky brown with obvious yellow stripes on the sides but no stripe on the back. This snake is variable in appearance. A light dorsal stripe may be present, but it is not distinct, except on the neck. Light lateral stripes may or may not be present on the 2nd and 3rd scale rows. It may be found along Fay Creek and some of the drier areas of the preserve.

Supralabials 8 - 6th is wider than 7th, Internasals longer than wide, scale count at mid-body pointed in front 19 or 21 Unstriped morph with no stripes. Upper labials.

Valley Gartersnake   Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi


Length 18" - 55"

All garter snakes are relatively aquatic. They tend to stay near water, entering it freely and retreating to it when frightened. The snake in the photo was eating a small fish it had just caught. The coloration of this snake is variable but the yellow stripes on the back and sides are usually obvious, as are red blotches on the sides. If handled they often release a foul smelling fluid from anal scent glands. They are active by day and at dusk around the ponds and marshes in the preserve. They eat amphibians and their larvae, fish, birds, and their eggs, small mammals, reptiles, earthworms, slugs, and leeches.

Supralabials occasionally 8, rarely 6 or 9 - Often with black wedges, Infralabials 10, Chin shields rear longer than front, Scales at mid-body 19, Dark with red spotting on sides. Yellowish vertebral and lateral stripes. Little or no red on head. Large eyes. Upper labials. Chin shields.

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake Crotalus oreganus oreganus


Length 1½-5'

The only venomous reptile found on the preserve, this snake is blotched with a series of yellow-bordered brown areas on a basic olive green color. There is a light stripe behind the eye that extends to the corner of the mouth. Humans encountering this animal should leave the area, allowing the snake to escape unharmed. Two subspecies occur in Kern County the Southern Pacific and the Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes.




Actinemys marmorata pallida    


Length 3½-7"

This is the only turtle native to Interior California. A California species of concern, this turtle used to number in the hundreds of  thousands in the marshy areas of the San Joaquin and Sacramento (northern subspecies) Valleys. It is highly aquatic, basking on rocks or logs in or near the water, but submerging at the hint of danger. At some time from May to August the adult female leaves the water and uses her claws and feet to dig a small hole in a streambank or hillside. Here she lays 5-11 hard-shelled eggs and covers them with soil. The young hatch in about 2 months and go to the water. All turtles hibernate in the mud at the bottom of ponds from November until February.

See our Pond Turtle Headstart Project...

RED-EARED SLIDER   Trachemys scripta elegans   Introduced Rare (we hope to keep extant) 

Length 3.5-14.5"

A medium to large freshwater turtle with a prominent broad reddish stripe behind the eye. The carapace (back shell) is olive, brown, or black with streaks and bars of yellow or eye-like spots. The unhinged plastron (belly) is yellow with dark markings.

This turtle will bask with others sometimes stacked on each other on banks, rocks, logs, or other exposed objects. It prefers calm waters and abundant aquatic vegetation; sluggish rivers, ponds, shallow streams, marshes, lakes, and reservoirs. Eats invertebrates, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, insects, snails, tadpoles, and aquatic plants. Introduced throughout California, especially in populated areas, primarily as a result of the release of pets by negligent owners.

Based on the checklist written by Mark Schroeder and published by the Kern River Preserve 1982. Designed and rewritten by Alison Sheehey, this version retains much of the original text.  

Have you seen other reptiles or amphibians on the preserve? Let us know so we can update our list. Do you have a photo to share? We would love to fill in the gaps. Are you a herpetologist just aching for a volunteer project, then climb aboard. We need all the help we can get. Thanks for visiting. 

P. O. Box 1662

Weldon, CA 93283

(760) 378-2531

About Audubon Kern River Preserve

The Kern River Preserve is managed by Audubon California for the preservation of one of California’s largest contiguous cottonwood-willow riparian forests and the wildlife it supports.

Audubon Kern River Preserve supporters provide financial and volunteer support for Preserve outreach, education, wildlife habitat protection & stewardship.

Home Page | Site Map| About KRP | KRP Supporters | CONTACT

Kern River Preserve • P.O. Box 1662 • 18747 Hwy. 178 • Weldon, CA 93283
Copyright 1998-2013 by Audubon California | National Audubon. All rights reserved.

This site was created on October 21, 1998. Please Email to make comments or offer suggestions.