Most Snakes are TRULY Good Guys!

Some 45 of my Master Gardener friends and I recently went on a field trip to Berkeley’s UC Botanical Garden and Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard. And, yes, we were just as excited and enthusiastic as a bunch of school kids.

Of course, we were wowed by all the incredible plants from around the world that we got to see, but we were especially excited about the snakes!

I know you may not want to adopt a pet snake, although many people do, but they are extremely beneficial to have slithering around your garden and landscape. Snakes prey on mice, rats, moles, voles, lizards, frogs, slugs and even other snakes.

More than 30 species of snakes make the Bay Area home. Of those, only rattlesnakes are venomous to humans.

The Pacific Gophersnake is the most common snake in Northern California and is often mistaken for a rattler. It is generally brown or tan with dark gray, black or brown spots along the length of its body. Adults are 4-5 feet long.

This snake is diurnal, meaning it hunts during the day and sleeps at night. It is found in woodlands, grasslands, chaparral, agricultural and riparian areas from sea level to the mountain ranges. If threatened, it will flatten out its body and shake its tail. Although it has no rattle, the movement against dry grass can mimic the sound of a rattlesnake.

The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake can range in color from olive to brown to black. It has dark brown and tan blotches along its body and medium to dark bars at the tail. Adults are typically 3-4 feet long.

Usual habitats includes seaside dunes, rocky hillsides, woodlands, grasslands and sometimes residential landscapes. You will often find them on a hiking trails or bike paths soaking up the sun.

A rattlesnake has a triangular head and relatively thin neck. The body is thick, dull and non-glossy. A gopher snake’s head is more pointy and just a bit bigger than its neck. It has a slender, glossy body and a pointed tail.

King snakes are extremely common throughout California. They are either black or dark brown with light striped bands circling their bodies.  Adults are generally 3-4 feet long.

They can be found in nearly all habitats — forests, woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and even the desert. They have been known to eat rattlesnakes, as they are immune to its venom.

The Northern Rubber Boa are usually a fairly solid shade of brown, tan, pink or olive green. They have small, smooth scales and look, well, very much like rubber. They only grow to about 2 feet in length.

Although they are very common, they are generally nocturnal so you may not see them. They are often found in meadows, grasslands, chaparral and deciduous and coniferous forests.

Pacific Ring-necked snakes are beautiful small, thin, smooth-scaled snakes. They are black, gray or dark olive green with vivid orange rings around their necks. The underside is bright yellow or orange with black specs. They only grow to about 3 feet long and will coil their tails (showing off their bright colors) when threatened.

They like moist habitats such as wet meadows, gardens, farmland or forests. They eat insects, worms, lizards, salamanders and tadpoles.

Other common snakes you may find while out hiking, biking or even hanging out in your backyard are: Gartersnake, Nightsnake, Striped Racer, Sharp-tailed Snake, and many others.

Again, you may not learn to love your snakes, but please learn to appreciate and respect them. They really are quite good at taking care of the rodents that are wrecking your lawn and eating your tomatoes!


Rebecca Jepsen is a Santa Clara Master Gardener.

A TRULY beneficial snake!