Tantilla hobartsmithi - Smith's Black-headed Snake
This snake uses its grooved and enlarged rear teeth and a mild form of venom in its saliva to immobilize its invertebrate prey. This venom is considered harmless to humans.
One of the smallest snakes in California, about 4.5 - 15 inches long (11.5 - 38 cm).
A small, thin, snake with a flat head and smooth, shiny scales. The top of the head is dark brown or black, with a light collar between the dark cap and the body color which is brownish or beige and unmarked. The dark color usually does not extend lower on the head than the bottom of the eye and does not extend below the mouthline behind the corner of the jaw. The belly is whitish with a reddish stripe that does not extend all the way to the edge of the ventral scales. This stripe may fade out toward the head.
Secretive - spends much of its time underground or underneath surface objects. Not much is known about this snake. A good burrower, able to disappear quickly into loose soil. Typically it is found beneath surface debris. (I have also seen this snake active on the surface on a cool May morning in the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas.)
Eats a variety of invertebrates and their larvae including millipedes and centipedes.
Lays up to 3 eggs in summer.
The known range of this snake in California and elsewhere is spotty due to its secretive nature. Its range is probably less disjointed than the records show. It has been recorded from the southern Sierra Nevada foothills and in the southern San Joaquin Valley, north up the Owens Valley area to the White Mountains, and south through the Death Valley region, with isolated locations in the eastern Mojave desert. I have received a report of a Tantilla, presumably this species, having been found in the Imperial Valley at the south end of the Salton Sea.
Also occurs in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico.
Found in desert, grassland, sagebrush, creosote bush, chaparral, juniper scrub, open coniferous forests. Prefers canyon bottoms and the rocky edges of streams and washes. Often found beneath rocks, plant debris, and other surface cover.
Formerly classified with Tantilla planiceps. There are around 50 species of Tantilla from North America to Argentina, with two occuring in California, including T. planiceps.
Conservation Issues (Conservation Status)