San Francisco Garter Snake
Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia (Herps (reptiles and amphibians))
The San Francisco Garter Snake has been called North America’s most beautiful serpent. A fantastically colored species that does justice to its moniker, it is identified by its reddish-orange head with red, black, and blue racing stripes on its sides and back.
Unfortunately this harmless and gorgeous critter isn’t easily seen, in part because it is on the brink of extinction. Restricted primarily to San Mateo County, the species’ preferred habitats—wet and marshy habitats with access to upland areas—have been hit hard by agricultural, residential, commercial, and even recreational development. There may be only one to two thousand individuals remaining in the wild today.
The San Francisco Garter Snake was protected by federal law as early as 1967, and was listed an endangered species under the Federal Endangered Species Act when the Act was passed in 1973. Since that time great effort has gone into conserving the species, including the creation of a recovery plan and controlling developments to ensure that the species’ habitats aren’t adversely modified. However, many obstacles still remain to the species survival. Indeed, it is even starting to lose its favored prey: the California Red-Legged Frog is itself threatened with extinction by development and other threats.
The San Francisco Garter Snake, along with the California red-legged frog, can be seen within the GGNP at Mori Point in Pacifica, CA. If you are lucky, you might see the snake basking on a stream-bank or poolside, or perhaps even in the uplands.
Keep in mind that the more-common Coast Gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans terrestris) can sometimes look similar to the San Francisco Gartersnake. The Coast Gartersnake has a brown head, whereas the San Francisco Garter Snake has an orange or red head, and will not have any spotting on its blue/green belly.
Conservation Action Item
Restore Garter Snake habitat:
Restore Sharp Park!
The San Francisco Garter Snake is in dire need of good habitat. One of the last great restoration opportunities for the species is at Sharp Park, a public property owned by San Francisco but located in Pacifica, CA. You can help restore the species’ habitats by contacting San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and asking them to restore Sharp Park!
Big Year Competitors have reported 0 sightings and taken 0 actions to help this species recover so far this year.
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