Reptile Field Guide
This reptile guide can be printed and folded to use on a self guided trip at Cabrillo. It was created through the support of the Cabrillo National Monument Conservancy.
The core mission of the National Park Service is to protect and preserve natural resources, processes, systems, and values of the parks they manage. Our philosophy is protect, and restore when necessary, native ecosystems and let natural processes play out. Park Rangers and Volunteers document their observations of flora and fauna. Scientists conduct research to try to understand the status and trends of the species and systems they protect. This information is vital to advising park management and philosophy.
Reptiles & Amphibians
Cabrillo National Monument is home to 12 species of herptiles – 6 species of snakes, 5 species of lizards, and one amphibian, the garden slender salamander.
Long-term monitoring of these species began in 1995 by Dr. Robert Fisher (SDSU, then USGS), as part of a larger scale study of herptile species in Southern California. The NPS took over monitoring at Cabrillo in 2002 to continue assessments of possible decline in species’ numbers. Because Point Loma peninsula is island-like (surrounded on three sides by ocean, and to the north, cut off by development), and due to their limited home ranges,
these animals are extremely susceptible to population decline and extirpation (no longer existing in a particular area where they historically were found). In fact, eight reptile species have already been extirpated from the peninsula: Coronado island skink, red diamond rattlesnake, yellow-bellied racer, coast horned lizard, red coachwhip, two-striped gartersnake, California glossy snake, and the Western long-nosed snake.
San Diego Night Snake (Hypsiglena orchrorhyncha klauberi)
The night snake is a small, rear-fanged snake. It uses these fangs to inject venom into prey, but is harmless to most humans. It feeds on lizards and their eggs.
Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri)
These only rattlesnake species found at Cabrillo. They have a short, stout body with a large triangle-shaped head and a tail with segments that “rattle” when the snake shakes its tail. Rattlesnakes must rely on their cryptic coloration and remain quiet and still to avoid detection. If that doesn’t work, a rattlesnake will then rattle its tail as a warning. The last line of defense is to flee or, if cornered, defend itself with a bite.
California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae)
This species is found throughout much of the southwest, and comes in a variety of color and pattern morphs including black or brown and white and yellow coming in both banded and striped varieties. This snake eats a wide variety of prey items that include rodents, snakes (including rattlesnakes), birds, lizards, and large invertebrates.
San Diego Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer annectens)
A snake that can reach up to 9’ long, the gopher snake is undoubtedly our largest snake. Its diet consists of small mammals, birds and their eggs, lizards, and invertebrates. Often this snake will mimic a rattlesnake as a defensive tactic, by its similar coloration, and also by shaking its tail, hissing, and inflating its head.
Western Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana elegans)
A common lizard that eats small invertebrates. Similar looking to the western fence lizard, adults are smaller, and have a gular fold.
Great Basin Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes)
A common lizard that eats small invertebrates. This particular species is a huge benefit to humans because of a protein in its blood that kills the bacterium in ticks that causes Lyme disease.
California Striped Racer (Coluber lateralis lateralis)
A long, thin snake that is mostly black with a single yellow stripe on each side. This snake relies on its large eyes and excellent vision to locate prey. One of its strategies is to climb into a shrub and elevate its head to survey the area for prey – sometimes referred to as “periscoping.” And it’s called a racer because this snake is very fast!
San Diego Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus similis)
A small, thin snake that has a dull, gray to black back, and very bright yellow to orange underside. Like the night snake, it is rear fanged and venomous (not harmful to humans). When threatened, this species coils its tail and exposes its bright underside.
Belding’s Orange-throated Whiptail (Aspidoscelis hyperythra beldingi)
A species of special concern, but does very well at Cabrillo National Monument. Because of habitat fragmentation and habitat loss, this species now only inhabits approximately 25% of its historic range. It eats small invertebrates and is common at the park. Look for a lizard with a bright orange throat and a long tail.
San Diego Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata webbii)
A somewhat common and very large lizard with short limbs and a long tail. The alligator lizard can be mistaken for a snake at times because of its long tail and snake-like locomotion. This species will eat small invertebrates, small lizards and small mammals. It will sometimes feed on bird eggs and young birds.
Southern California Legless Lizard (Anniella stebbinsi)
Not a snake! It’s a legless lizard because it has eyelids and can drop its tail to help it escape a predator. This species spends a lot of its time underground, so it can be difficult to find. It feeds on insects in larvae form, beetles, termites, and spiders.
Garden Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps major major)
This species of salamander does not breathe through a lung; rather they respire through their skin and mouth tissues. They must live in damp environments and they will only move about on land during wet weather – usually the winter months. Upon inspection, the garden slender salamander looks more like a small, slimy worm. It is about 2-3 inches long with very short limbs.
Last updated: January 6, 2018