How many times have you found a dried-up worm on the sidewalk? That was my first guess when I saw this desiccated, long-bodied shape on the steps in the backyard. But the body seemed too thick for the worms we typically find in our ground.
My heart sunk. Had someone stepped on one of our slender salamanders? But there were no little legs. Slender salamanders have tiny, but always visible legs.
When I picked it up I knew I was definitely looking at not a worm and not a salamander. This is a reptile. Now the question was lizard or snake?
This is a reptile because small scales are visually apparent. Worms and amphibians are creatures with soft permeable skin, no scales.
The specimen is not a full body. There is no head and no real torso. Some natural predator ate the front portion of this reptile. There are no legs, but I didn’t have much of the body and some lizards are legless. Turning it over instantly told me this was the back section of a snake, specifically a ringneck snake.
How did I know that? If you look at the belly or dorsal side you can see elongated scales that go across the width of the belly. These are the scute scales that enable the snake to make its way across the ground without having legs. The scute scales end at the cloaca, the opening that serves both reproductive and elimination systems. So we are looking at the last 4-5 inches of a small snake.
The clue that this is a ringneck snake is the vivid orange color on the belly with numerous black spots or flecks. The ringneck snake is the only local California species with this coloration and this is most likely a San Bernardino ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus modestus) the subspecies typical to our area.
I saw a live adult ringneck snake in the yard almost exactly a year ago. They never get too large, just 10-30 inches. The individual snake I saw was larger than this. Perhaps they are breeding in our oasis of native habitat. There are plenty of salamanders or western fence lizards and their eggs for these small snakes to eat.
I’m sad to see this beneficial and non-threatening snake dead. I’m not sure who ate it. Possibly either the raccoon, skunk or opossum that circle through our yard on a regular basis. I’m hoping that there are more of them hiding in the undergrowth–a healthy habitat needs small predators like snakes.