Countdown to Snake Count: 4…

pink snake
Coachwhip (Coluber flagellum)

The is the snake that kicked off Snake Count for us last year. Jeff and I were driving through the the uplands on Muleshoe Ranch road when we saw a bright pink ‘thing’ on the road. We were both thinking it couldn’t be a snake (snakes aren’t pink?). Thankfully we realized how wrong we were in time to stop.

Coachwhips (Coluber flagellum) are a great example of how colorful snakes are. I think many people consider snakes drab because they rely so heavily on camouflage, but you can be brilliantly colored and perfectly camouflaged.

San Francisco gartersnake (hHamnophis sirtalis)
San Francisco gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis); you’d be surprised how difficult it can be to spot these in their habitat.

Not only do snakes exhibit brilliant coloration, but it often varies within a species. As we discussed yesterday, many snakes change color and pattern as they age (ontogenetic color change). Coachwhips do that, and as adults their coloration is so variable they look like different species. In addition to the pink variety shown above, they also come in black

I know he looks terrible, but he's just playing dead - it's a defensive behavior!
I know he looks terrible, but he’s just playing dead – it’s a defensive behavior!

and an in-between that looks like you mixed the other two varieties together.

tortie face

You might expect these different color variants to be found in different habitats, but it’s possible to find all these colors in a single population of coachwhips. So why the dramatic color variation? Good question and I’d love to hear you thoughts below or on facebook.