Reptiles and Amphibians

Scaly lizard perches on a lichen-encrusted rock.
The Western fence lizard is one of several scaly species found at John Muir National Historic Site. This individual has a red marker on it's back put there by staff as part of survey efforts.


Reptiles such as snakes and lizards are cold blooded: they do not produce their own body heat! During the summer seasons they will seek shade in the grass and trees, but during the winter these reptiles maycould be found sun- bathing in your path! You may find some of these common and rare species at the park:

Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis): 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 nickname of “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.

California king snake (Lampropeltis getula californiae): California kingsnakes are typically around three feet long, and have alternating brown/black and white/cream bands. This snake is not venomous and generally not aggressive, but when they are disturbed, they will shake their tails quickly and hiss as a warning. Legend has it that king snakes earned their name because of their ability to eat other snakes--even rattlesnakes.

Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus): The Alameda whipsnake is a threatened reptile species that has been losing much of its habitat due to human influencesurbanization. They are only found in the San Francisco Bay Area, mostly in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and loss of habitat has reduced the population to five distinct areas within those counties. They are slender snakes that grow to be around 4 feet long with black/brown backs and a distinct yellow stripe down each side of their bodies. Whipsnakes are very fast and good climbers, commonly escaping into trees when threatened. Park staff have studied the snake’s population on Mt. Wanda and are currently working to conserve its habitat.

California slender salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus): Probably the most common salamander in the area, the California slender salamander can be found in moist areas underground or beneath objects, and are active on the surface during the rainy season. They are dark brown with a red, brown, yellow, or tan stripe on the back. From tip to tail, this salamander is around five inches long and has tiny legs that are not easily seen, making it look very much like a worm.

Lizard peers over rock

Reptiles & Amphibians in Bay Area Parks

Check out the Pacific Coast Science & Learning Center site for more information on unique local reptile and amphibian species.


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    Last updated: July 2, 2020

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