New Griffith Park Snake Species Confirmed

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No offense P-22, but Griffith Park’s reptiles have always intrigued me. I even like the rattlesnakes because they keep rodent populations in check. Seeing a California kingsnake or a ring-necked snake is a special treat which can make me smile for weeks. Even rarer, a sighting of the coast horned lizard, allows me bragging rights with my naturalist friends for months. Unfortunately, these lizards seem to be disappearing in recent years. However, documenting a new snake species for the park, the Western thread snake, was beyond all expectations!

Until this new finding, five different snakes were on the species list of Griffith Park as observed in recent years. In order of frequency of my own snake observations in the park, they are: Southern Pacific rattlesnake, California striped racer, San Diego gopher snake, San Bernardino ring-necked snake, and the California kingsnake.

The Western thread snake (Rena humilis), also known as Western blind snake, is very small with a blunt head and tail. Its nonfunctional eyes are just dark spots. The reason no one has ever seen this snake is that these snakes spend nearly all their life burrowing in the soil eating ants and termites. The one I found on the edge of Western Canyon Road had apparently been hit by a car.

Dr. Greg Pauley, herpetologist at Natural History Museum of LA County was excited about the discovery, saying there are only a couple of records of the species in the entire Santa Monica Mountains area. Up until now, there was no record of this species east of Sullivan Ridge, which is west of I-405!

Along with Greg Pauley, I alerted biologist Dan Cooper about the find immediately. Dan said it’s a good example of a species we figured was probably there, but never could find it because they are so secretive. The Western thread snake has something in common with P-22, I guess!

~Gerry Hans

 

And a followup to Gerry’s story…
Recently we heard from one of our readers that they stumbled across a blind snake in August, 2014 in the same general area where Gerry Hans found his snake. As Andrea commented, “It was out during the day on a fire road trail between the observatory and Fern Dell. People thought it was a worm. I moved it off the trail and into the shrubs. It took me a while to figure out what kind of snake it was, as I’d never seen one like it before.”

Thanks, Andrea Goyan and Ron Freed for sharing your story and the photo. Friends of Griffith Park is always interested in these stories as it’s important to document these types of findings for the future preservation of the park.

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  1. We found one of the thread snakes during a hike a few years ago. It was out during the day on a fire road trail between the observatory and Fern Dell. People thought it was a worm. I moved it off the trail and into the shrubs. It took my a while to figure out what kind of snake it was, as I’d never seen one like it before. I have a picture somewhere, but it isn’t a good as the one you’ve got.

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