Let’s be honest, most people visit Bolsa Chica for the birds. Don’t get me wrong, birds are great, I even studied them in school. But Bolsa Chica is home to much more, and another group that usually gets ignored (unless it’s two males battling it out on the trail in front of photographers) are the reptiles. Some scientists lump birds under the class of Reptilia, but for this post, we will separate the two groups.
Some of the most common reptiles at Bolsa Chica that you might encounter are lizards and snakes. Great Basin Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes), also called blue-bellies, and Western Side-blotched Lizards (Uta stansburiana elegans) are the lizards that you see darting around the trails in front of you.
The Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes are the snakes that get the most publicity, but we also have San Diego Gopher Snakes (Pituophis catenifer annectens) and even CA Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis californiae). Kingsnakes are known for actually eating rattlesnakes.
On occasion, another reptile, the Green Sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), visits the waters of Bolsa Chica. It’s more rare, but not unheard of. One lizard we are practically ‘fond’ of is the Southern CA Legless Lizards (Anniella stebbinsi). These lizards are found on the Mesa in the soil. Most of the time when people see these lizards it is during our restoration events. Volunteers think the lizard is a small snake because, as the name implies, they do not have legs. How do you tell the difference between this lizard and a snake? Legless lizards have eyelids while snakes do not. Subtle we know, but there you go.
Other reptiles that have been spotted in the area at one time or another are: San Diego Alligator lizards (Elgaria multicarinata webbii), Blainville’s Horned Lizards (Phrynosoma blainvillii), and Southern Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys pallida*).
To learn more about these reptiles visit: www.californiaherps.com
To learn which reptiles have special status in CA (updated April 2017) visit: https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=109406&inline
*some differences between subspecies vs. species acknowledgment level between CDFW and californiaherps.com; see “Conservation Status” on California herps’ website for more details.
photos: unless noted E. Chin at Bolsa Chica. Video by Morgen Hansen