Reptiles

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A western fence lizard basks on a rock
The western fence lizard is one of the most common reptiles in the park.

Will Elder/NPS

 

Golden Gate is home to several species of lizards, turtles, and snakes. Reptiles are most commonly found in the forest or coastal scrub, although several species are found in riparian habitats or near ponds, where many of the amphibians also are found.

Reptile species found in the park include:

San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia)
Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)
Western Skink (Eumeces skiltonianus)
San Francisco Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea coerulea)
California Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata multicarinata)
Pacific Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus amabilis)
Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis)
Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)
Santa Cruz Garter Snake (Thamnophis atratus atratus)
Coast Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans terrestris)
Northwestern Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata marmorata)

 
Several red, blue and white striped San Francisco garter snakes on the ground
San Francisco garter snakes

NPS

 

San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia)

Endemic to the San Francisco Bay Area, this snake's bright teal underside, red and black stripes, and red head have made it famous for its striking coloration. Unfortunately, the snake's flashy appearance has made it very popular in the pet trade, contributing to its status as one of the most endangered species in North America. In addition, the snake’s preferred habitats—coastal and bayside wetlands adjacent to upland grasslands—have been hit hard by agricultural, residential, commercial, and even recreational development.

The San Mateo parklands of Golden Gate National Recreation Area provide a critical protected habitat for this species. In addition, park biologists have been conducting visual surveys to track the snake's abundance in the park since 2013. Read more about this majestic serpent on the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy website.

Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Western fence lizards are the most common reptile in California. They primarily diurnal (active during the day), seeking out basking and perching sites. They feed on terrestrial invertebrates. Males defend territories in the spring, and young hatch between July and September. On occasion, hibernating individuals aggregate in groups.

Western fence lizards have spiny scales on their backs and limbs, and are gray, tan, or brown. Males have distinct belly and throat patches with blue or green scales, earning them the nicknam “blue belly”. A study in 1998 by Robert Lane found that a protein in the western fence lizard’s blood kills the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and as a result, ticks that feed on the lizard’s blood are rid of the disease.

This reptile is most commonly found in annual and serpentine grassland areas, forests, streams, coastal scrub areas, and even developed areas.

 
Person holding a western pond turtle
A western pond turtle just before release during the species' was reintroduction to Mountain Lake in the Presidio in 2015.

George Carpenter/NPS

 

Introduced red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) pose threat to Western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata)

California's only native freshwater turtle species is being usurped by peoples' abandoned pets.

Every year people bring to WildCare’s Wildlife Hospital a dozen or more red-eared sliders, the most commonly kept pet turtle in the world. These little reptiles were introduced to California, although they occur naturally in other parts of the United States. They are transferred from WildCare to Marin Humane, whose wonderful adoption program aims to find them new homes.

Why do they come to WildCare? Because people find them injured in the wild! Generations of people, deciding they no longer want their red-eared slider as a pet, thinking the best place for him or her is in a pool or pond out in nature.

But these non-native turtles don’t belong in the ponds and waterways of the Bay Area. In fact, they take over the nesting and basking spots, and eat the foods needed by the native Western pond turtle, California’s only fresh-water turtle species.The California Department of Fish and Wildlife lists the Western pond turtle as a species of special concern. Habitat loss and competition from red-eared sliders, non-native abandoned pet turtles, are two of the major factors contributing to their decline.

WildCare, Marin Humane and NPS want to remind everyone that wild animals don’t make good pets, and pets should never be dumped in the wild.

Where prime habitat for Western pond turtles has been usurped by Red-eared Sliders, efforts on the part of ecologists to increase pond turtle populations are hampered by the presence of these released pets. People also dump unwanted pet cats and pet rabbits into state and national parks, with tragic results for both abandoned pets and for wildlife.

  • Never dump (abandon) a pet into the wild. Marin Humane can help you try to rehome your pet. Abandoning an unwanted pet in the wild too often results in its death from starvation or predation, and domestic animals that do survive can become become problematic for native species, disrupting valuable habitat and other resources.
  • Before getting a pet, consider carefully what type of pet is the best choice for your family, including the animal’s temperament, lifespan and specialized veterinary care needs.
  • If you commit to opening your home to a domestic pet like a turtle, consider adoption. So many domestic animals in humane shelters and with rescue groups desperately need homes.

Resources:

  • WildCare’s Wildlife Hospital is ready to help injured and orphaned wild animals.
  • Marin Humane is ready to take in domestic or exotic pets that you can no longer care for with the goal of finding them new forever homes.
 

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    Last updated: June 17, 2020

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