I just caught a snake, in the corridor outside my office (ID help needed)

I was just returning to my office a few minutes ago and one of the other faculty members who shares this corridor was calling “There’s a snake in here.” I rounded the corner, and she was just outside my office looking down at what was clearly a juvenile snake of some sort.

My first thought was that it was probably a garter snake of some sort. When we lived in Baltimore, i caught a few garter snakes in our backyard. My first inclination was to simply pick it up and take it outside.

But when i got closer, it coiled up into a defensive posture, reared its head up, and began striking. I’ve never seen a garter snake do that—in my experience, they usually try to get away as quickly as they can—and i also remembered that i’m now living in the southwest, a place with its fair share of venomous snakes.

So i grabbed the glass container that i brought my lunch in, along with the lid, and after a bit of maneuvering managed to capture it. After i caught it, the little bugger continued to strike at me through the glass of the bowl in the manner of a venomous snake, and as i type this he (or she) is still curled in a defensive position staring intently at me.

Unfortunately, i have no camera with me, so i can’t take a picture of it for ID purposes. I’ve been looking at the range maps on this page, and checking out all the snakes that can be found in the San Diego area (the university is in San Marcos, in the north part of San Diego County) but haven’t really found a completely convincing match. One problem is that most of the pictures are of adults, and i’m pretty sure i have a juvenile here (it’s only about 6-7 inches long, and less than a half-0inch thick at its thickest point).

The marking is a sort of dark-brown diamond-shaped pattern that extends over the back of the snake. This is laid over a very light brown. Looking at the snake’s body side-on, it looks like a series of upside down brown triangles, with rightside-up triangles filling the gaps between the downward-pointing marks. If that makes sense.

Of the snakes i’ve found, the pattern is closest, i think, to some of the lyresnake patterns on this page. In terms of the shape of the markings, this guy is probably closest (and the striking position that mine is adopting is also almost identical to the one in this image), but my snake is nowhere near as red in color; mine is more clearly dark brown over light brown or grey, like this one.

Gopher snake, maybe? I’ve seen dozens of them in San Diego. But the behavior (continuous striking) sounds more like a rattler to me. The shape of the head (triangular for a rattlesnake) should be a giveaway, even in a juvenile specimen.

Not like this?

Definitely not a gopher snake, or at least not the one in your link. The main body markings are considerably larger, is proportion to the body itself, and more defined. None of the gopher snakes on this page really fit the bill either.

I did wonder whether it might be a rattlesnake, but none of the marking on the rattlesnakes at my link seemed to really fit. Although, as i said, the adult markings often look different on the body from those of a juvenile.

The head does not seem to have the characteristic triangular shape of a rattler.

Also, it’s not quite clear to me at what stage in their development rattlesnakes begin to develop their rattles. The end of this snakes tails tapers to a very thin point, and i see no evidence at all of incipient rattles or any other bodily formation in the tail area.

No, those markings are too “squared off” for my snake. Its marking have clear pointy ends, like triangles. Also, the creamy color of the pictured snakes areas between the markings is far lighter than that on my snake.

ETA: My wife finishes teaching her class in just over an hour. If she can stand the thought of having it in the car, i might take it home and get a picture of it.

I don’t want it to die, though. Should it be OK in a sealed glass container for a couple of hours? If not, i’ll just walk out the back and let it go. The university backs straight onto a set of rocky desert-type hills, which is probably where it came from in the first place.

What does the head look like? Is it triangular? How about the pupils? Vertical or round?

And yeah, it should be OK in glass for a while.

Oh, and does it have that characteristic (for the lyresnake) triangular pattern on top of its head?

Must have pics for the nature geek over here!

I’m now almost 100 percent confident on my lyre snake identification.

My little guy is identical in basically every respect to the snake pictured on this page, including the quite distinctive head pattern.

I can’t get a look at the pupils, because every time i lift the container to look at it, the snake goes wild and starts striking. I don’t want it to hurt itself on the glass, so i’m trying not to antagonize it. I think i’ll let it go before we go home.

OK. Good luck to the little dude!

Well, that page does say they’re feisty. Huh…I grew up hunting lizards and snakes in San Diego and never came across one of those. Pretty cool!

From the link: “I fed them small mice, pinkies or fuzzies, which they killed by constriction. They are feisty and I have been bitten on several occasions with no ill effects.”

He says that make good pets because they’re unusual-looking, feisty, and very good escape artists.

Ooo, looks like mhendo has a new little household friend! We need pics. And what will you name him?

Sorry, no pics, although i was tempted to bring him home and keep him.

We let him off in the rocky ground just off campus. It was after dark, and the species is nocturnal, so he was in his element. Of course, as soon as i let him out, he headed straight for the road, so i nudged him in the opposite direction. After a last strike at the toe of my boot, he slithered off towards the wild.

My wife thought he was beautiful.

Good on you! I’ve never had the luck to see a wild Lyre snake in CA ( or a Desert Night Snake for that matter, making me 0 for 2 on the non-viper “cat-eyed” snakes in state ). Though I have briefly handled a large captive adult.

I was going to suggest as another possibility a juvenile racer, which sometimes have nice saddle-back patterns and are also notoriously feisty. But that head pattern and vertical pupils when you finally get a decent look should cinch it.

Just do be slightly cautious when handling him, if you do. They’re not terribly dangerous or anything, but they are mildly “hot” if they latch on solidly enough to get the whole mouth around something like a finger. Even very mild envenomations are to be avoided.

Sounds like it could also have been one of the many varieties of Rat Snake.

It’s a snake!
Kill it.

By amazing coincidence, we found a juvenile garter snake in one of our office corridors yesterday too. Good thing he didn’t get stepped on; his camo and our generic office corridor carpeting were a real good match. Took him outside & turned him loose in the adjacent green belt. Go forth and multiply, little one. Good thing he wasn’t an adder.

(dual mode computer/herpetology jokes are the best.)

Well, that’s what I was wondering. Rat snakes (especially the much more strongly patterned juveniles) are very common and often misidentified.

Although it sounds like you’re confident of the identification as a lyre snake, just for reference, here are some relatively clear pictures (click on them to zoom) of a juvenile rat snake (yellow or gray mutation look the same at this age) which, coincidentally, was also found in an office corridor (by my wife). In Virginia, so on the other coast.

True. However there are no species in California to misidentify :).

Yeah, the California Herps page i linked in my first post lists only one variety of rat snake for California, and that is the Baja California Ratsnake.

Furthermore, it is only only on the list because of a single specimen found dead on Interstate 8, and the website notes:

My little guy was almost certainly a lyre snake. That head marking is pretty distinctive, and his overall body markings and behavior conform almost perfectly with the pictures and descriptions i’ve been able to find. Also, the habitat around the university is perfect for this snake, he clearly did not belong to any of the garter snake or other non-venomous species, and the shape of his head and the absence of pits made it extremely unlikely that he was a member of any of the pit viper species.

Well, props to the OP for NOT taking this approach…I have also played the role of the weird person in the office who caught the snake and saved it from the exterminators everyone else was ready to call. (was sort of funny, since I am a woman, the ONLY feamle on site who wasn’t screaming and freaking out over this little reptile, and once I went out there to capture it, every MALE in the office felt oblidged to come “help”/“protect me”, even though they had all been in the chickenshit camp just moments before :p)

I didn’t need their help, of course. :wink:

That snake (a garter, I think) was liberated safely to a more appropriate area where it could do its good work of eating vermin and not be in danger of extermination by pantywaist office workers of both sexes. :rolleyes:

I spent many years of my life working with young children, and their natural impulse when seeing a snake or bug or other creature is, “Ooohhhhh, wow, neato”. Their conditioned reflex. learned very early, is “Kill it!” I count as one of my accomplishments in life that I have guided hundreds of children back to their native impulses towards respecting ALL forms of life.