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The San Francisco Garter Snake. By Jonathan Coulson.

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The San Francisco Garter Snake

By Jonathan Coulson

The San Francisco Garter Snake has been called North America’s most beautiful serpent.  A fantastically colored species that does justice to its moniker, it is identified by its reddish-orange head with red, black, and blue racing stripes on its sides and back. 

Restricted primarily to San Mateo County, the species’ preferred habitats that are wet and marshy. Habitats with access to upland areas have been hit hard by agricultural, residential, commercial, and even recreational development.  There may be only one to two thousand individuals remaining in the wild today

The San Francisco Garter Snake was protected by federal law as early as 1967, and was listed an endangered species under the Federal Endangered Species Act when the Act was passed in 1973.

However, many obstacles still remain to the species survival.  Indeed, it is even starting to lose its favored prey: the California Red-Legged Frog is itself threatened with extinction by development and other threats.

Most who appreciate wildlife will agree that the San Francisco Garter Snake is California's most beautiful snake. The bright orange head, combined with dazzling black and red stripes, is impressive enough, but the pale stripes and belly are washed with the most delicate turquoise. It is just a wonderful serpent.

It is also among California's rarest snakes. It has been official designated as endangered on State lists since 1966, and was on the first Federal Endangered Species List established in 1973.  

Once common in stock ponds and small marshes in San Mateo County on the San Francisco Peninsula, it has been reduced to a mere handful due to urbanization, the draining and pollution of wetlands, and because its beauty makes it popular with illegal collectors.

We should save this beautiful animal that’s on the brink of extinction because if snakes start to die off the rodent population will skyrocket. Some of the activities to help save this snake can be found at

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