Contia tenuis - Sharp-tailed Snake
Considered harmless to humans.
A small snake - Adults average 8 - 12 inches in total length, with some nearly 18 inches long. Hatchlings are about 3 inches long.
Adults are gray or brownish red above, with alternating crossbars of black and cream or light gray underneath. Sometimes there is a yellowish or reddish line on the upper sides. Juveniles are reddish with dark lines on the sides. The tail has a sharp spine at the tip, which gives this snake its name.
Secretive, spends much time under surface objects or underground. A good burrower. Prefers moist environments. Active when the ground is damp, occasionally during or after rains, and sometimes when surface temperatures are as lowas 50 degrees.
Long teeth allow the snake to hold on to its slippery prey.
Feeds on slugs and their eggs and on slender salamanders.
Lays eggs in June or July. Hatchlings emerge in mid-autumn.
Ranges from British Columbia and Vancouver Island south to near San Luis Obispo on the coast, and inland along the foothills of the Sierras south to Tulare County.
There does not appear to be much overlap in range between C. tenuis and C. longicaudae, and they have not yet been found at the same location, but the two species come into close proximity in California in San Mateo County, and in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, and in Southwestern Oregon. (I have indicated in gray on the range map one area in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties where their distribution may overlap. There could also be other areas of overlap in California, including San Mateo county and the border of Humboldt and Trinity counties.) They appear to be segregated by habitat type in these areas. C. longicaudae typically occurs in moist well-forested areas, while C. tenuis occurs in somewhat drier, more open habitats of grassland, mixed woodland, and occasionally chaparral.
Found in woodland, forests, grassland, chaparral, often near streams or water. Requires moist soil. Often encountered underneath surface objects in open grassy areas near forests, especially on sunny days after rain. Can also be found in piles of gravel. From sea level to 6,600 ft.
The snake traditionally known as Contia tenuis was found to consist of two species which are almost identical in appearance. The new species, Contia longicaudae, was discovered by Richard Hoyer based on differences in size, scale counts, and habitat preference. DNA evidence was presented by Feldman and Spicer in 2002. (Journal of Herpetology 36(4): 648-655). A formal description of the new species was published in 2010:
Chris R. Feldman, Richard F. Hoyer A New Species of Snake in the Genus Contia (Squamata: Colubridae) from California and Oregon. Copeia May 2010, Vol. 2010, No. 2 : pp. 254-267.