These parks are home to 21 species of reptiles. As you walk along the trails, you may hear scuffling in the dry leaves as a southern alligator lizard goes after an insect, or see a male western fence lizard doing push-up motions on a rock – displaying its blue underside as a warning to other males and an attractant to females. Or, if you are hiking along a stream at lower elevations, watch for a western pond turtle basking on a rock. Keep your eyes open for these cold-blooded creatures: they are fascinating to watch and learn about.
Fourteen of the parks' reptile species are snakes, five are lizards, one is a skink, and one is a turtle. You can get a complete checklist by visiting the NPSpecies tool below.
A Tale of Two Snakes
While many fear the venomous western rattlesnake that inhabits these parks, most rattlesnake bites of people occur when the snake is being harassed or handled inappropriately. It is important to take precautions when hiking in areas where you may encounter a rattlesnake, such as avoiding tall grasses or shrubby areas where visibility is poor, wearing sturdy shoes, walking with a flashlight if out at night, and being ready to step back if you do encounter a rattlesnake. Give it space and the snake will leave you alone. It is always a good idea to hike with awareness, using all of your senses.
Some types of non-venomous snakes mimic rattlesnakes, in order to frighten away potential predators, or humans. In these parks, the gopher snake does a convincing imitation of a rattlesnake. See the accompanying images. When frightened, a gopher snake will flatten its head (to make it look bigger like a rattlesnake), coil, hiss, and “rattle” its tail in the dry grasses. While gopher snakes can ward off many threats this way, a skilled observer will notice that the gopher snakes have no rattles, their heads and bodies are more slender, their eye pupils are round compared to the vertical “cat-like” pupils of rattlesnakes, and rattlesnakes have heat-sensing pits between their nostrils and their eyes.
When you encounter a snake or any other wild animal – watch from a safe distance; do not handle, harm, or threaten it; and enjoy learning about its behavior.
Western Pond Turtles
Western pond turtles are California’s only widespread native turtle. Although their common name implies residence of lakes and ponds, these habitats are rare throughout their range in the Sierra Nevada, where they inhabit streams ranging up to 5000 feet in elevation. In water, these turtles are typically found in low gradient pool habitat hiding under banks, boulders, and submerged vegetation, or basking on logs and boulders. They will also bask while on land, but the terrestrial environment is largely important for nesting, aestivation (similar to hibernation), and travel. Western pond turtles primarily feed in water, consuming a variety of insects.
Western pond turtles are a California Species of Special Concern. Threats include non-native invasive species such as bullfrogs and trout, habitat loss, disease, contaminants such as pesticides and mercury, and climate-related stress such as drought and warming temperatures.
Get a checklist of reptiles in these parks by going to the NPSpecies tool below, and selecting "Reptiles". Be aware that National Park Service staff are in-process of updating park species lists.
Species Attribute Definitions
Occurrence values are defined below. One or more Occurrence Tags may be associated with each Occurrence value.
Present: Species occurs in park; current, reliable evidence available.
Probably Present: High confidence species occurs in park but current, verified evidence needed.
Unconfirmed: Species is attributed to park but evidence is weak or absent.
Not In Park: Species is not known to occur in park.
Adjacent: Species is known to occur in areas near to or contiguous with park boundaries.
False Report: Species was reported to occur within the park, but current evidence indicates the report was based on misidentification, a taxonomic concept no longer accepted, or other similar problem of error or interpretation.
Historical: Species' historical occurrence in park is documented. Assigned based on judgment as opposed to determination based on age of the most recent evidence.
Animals: May be seen daily, in suitable habitat and season, and counted in relatively large numbers.
Plants: Large number of individuals; wide ecological amplitude or occurring in habitats covering a large portion of the park.
Animals: May be seen daily, in suitable habitat and season, but not in large numbers.
Plants: Large numbers of individuals predictably occurring in commonly encountered habitats but not those covering a large portion of the park.
Animals: Likely to be seen monthly in appropriate habitat and season. May be locally common.
Plants: Few to moderate numbers of individuals; occurring either sporadically in commonly encountered habitats or in uncommon habitats.
Animals: Present, but usually seen only a few times each year.
Plants: Few individuals, usually restricted to small areas of rare habitat.
Animals: Occurs in the park at least once every few years, varying in numbers, but not necessarily every year.
Plants: Abundance variable from year to year (e.g., desert plants).
Unknown: Abundance unknown
Native: Species naturally occurs in park or region.
Non-native: Species occurs on park lands as a result of deliberate or accidental human activities.
Unknown: Nativeness status is unknown or ambiguous.
The Checklist contains only those species that are designated as "present" or "probably present" in the park.
The Full List includes all the checklist species in addition to species that are unconfirmed, historically detected, or incorrectly reported as being found in the park. The full list also contains species that are "in review" because their status in the park hasn't been fully determined. Additional details about the status of each species is included in the full list.
The checklist will almost always contain fewer species than the full list.