Gary Bogue

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Do you recognize these snakes? You should!


The following snakes are four common local species that are regularly encountered in the San Francisco Bay Area. One is poisonous and the other three are harmless. (In case you haven’t already figured it out, the snake pictured above is a rattlesnake.)

Check these snakes out so you know which is which if you happen to encounter one in your backyard.


western rattlesnake

Yes, rattlesnakes are poisonous, but they are just as frightened of you as you are of them and they’d rather not stick around to bite anyone. They usually hang around areas where there are animals that they like to eat, like mice, rats and ground squirrels. Get rid of board piles in your yard, and other places where rodents like to hide so you don’t attract rattlers. And if you live next to open space areas, keep your grass cut short enough so you can spot any snakes lying around.

Make sure your family members, especially the kids, know what rattlesnakes look like. You can also go to and do a search for rattlesnakes (and any other snake species) to find more photos to help you identify them.


gopher snak1

Gopher snakes are one of the most common snakes in the area. They are non-poisonous and very beneficial to have around. They eat rodents and particularly like gophers. They are often mistaken for rattlesnakes because they have similar markings. However, they are “skinny” compared to rattlesnakes and have slender heads and round pupils in their eyes. Rattlesnakes have elliptical pupils or “cat eyes.”

Gopher snakes, when frightened, will flatten their heads, coil, hiss, and “rattle” their tails to imitate rattlesnakes, hoping you’ll keep away. NOTE: They have no rattles and their tails are sharply pointed. Please don’t hurt them. They’re actually good guys to have around


king snak1

King snakes are also regularly seen in the area. They are also non-poisonous. And if you dislike rattlesnakes, you should definitely welcome king snakes with open arms because they EAT rattlesnakes as well as other reptiles and mammals. They are immune to rattlesnake venom. If you spot one of these gentle snakes in your yard, please step back and let it crawl off on its way.


western rac2

This non-poisonous and therefore harmless reptile is common to the area but rarely seen because it is just what its name, racer, implies … a VERY fast snake. They eat fence lizards, alligator lizards and small rodents and insects. Please treat them gently.

Other snakes that live in the Bay Area include: assorted subspecies of garter snakes, ring-necked snakes, sharp-tailed snakes, black-headed snakes, Alameda striped racers (endangered), and spotted night snakes. As photos of these reptiles become available I’ll display them here for your edification and enjoyment.

If you have photos of any of these local snakes and want to share them, please e-mail JPGs of your photos to me at

If you have any questions about these creatures you can also e-mail them to me and I’ll be happy to answer them. Snakes, even rattlesnakes, are very beneficial creatures and we should do everything we can to keep from hurting them. Thanks. /Gary

Posted by on August 14, 2008.

Categories: Gopher snake, King snake, Rattlesnake, Snakes

3 Responses

  1. I am always out and about doing Rattlesnake removal some I release back into the wild others I keep as pets!!!!!!!!!!!

    by SPOOKYSINNER on Aug 15, 2008 at 8:51 am

  2. We have five acres in the Yosemite area. I need to find out where I can get a couple of gopher snakes to take care of our gopher infestation. e-mail:

    by Shirley MacFarlane on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:30 am

  3. This site is so nice! I really enjoyed the info. Over the summer I saw two little snakes on my regular walk around gale ridge/dougherty valley area and I wanted to pick them up but wasn’t sure to. Now I am! Tx again.

    by Cc on Jan 29, 2011 at 10:02 pm

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About Gary Bogue

My name’s Gary Bogue. Animals have always been a big part of my life. From the spiders I collected as a preschooler, to the boa constrictor my parents gave me one Christmas when I was in high school, to the orphaned mountain lions, eagles, otters, hummingbirds, bears, and other wild creatures I helped raise and [...]more →