Borrego Desert 2007 Herp Report


With the 2007 “herping” season winding down I thought it would be a good time to post my 2007 Borrego Desert herp/night-driving trip report.  This report covers trips made to the southern California desert regions from April through September, 2007.  Due to a very busy work schedule this year I did not get a lot of opportunities to visit my usual haunts but was able to get a couple of key species to add to my library of photographs.  I had been meaning to get some shots of the Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard for quite some time as well as a California Lyre Snake, both missions were accomplished in 2007!  All of the photos that followed were taken within the range of the Anza Borrego Desert State park, Salton Sea and Imperial Sand Dunes regions in the far southern regions of the state.  I made a couple of early morning trips and a few night driving excursions during the spring and summer, here are the highlights from those trips.


In search of the Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard, I made a early morning jaunt out to the Imperial Sand Dunes near the Arizona/California border.  The area is highly utilized by off-road vehicles and is criss-crossed with a maze of dirt tracks as far as the eye can see.  Fortunately, areas of this unique habitat have been reserved for some of the species that are specialized for life on the dunes.  The epitome of which is the Fringe-toed Lizard.  This is one of three species found in California, the other two being the Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard and the Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard which is on the brink of extinction due to habitat destruction.  



Sunrise over the Imperial Sand Dunes, Imperial County, California



Typical habitat


These are probably Fringe-toed Lizard tacks, sometimes a good way to find the lizard!


Colorado Desert Fringe-toed Lizard – a threatened species


Note the coloration of this lizard, they are very hard to see even in a very sparsely vegetated area



Note the back feet in particular, they leverage large surface areas of their feet to assist them in propelling themselves across the sand.



They are also extremely heat tolerant, often seen out even on the hottest of days foraging for food.  They are also, in my experience very wary, they have excellent vision, which is probably a must since there is so little cover as well as sensitivity to vibrations.  Their only flaw is that they will often bury themselves in the sand after disappearing behind a dune, if you follow the tracks and the abruptly end with a little depression or mound in the sand, chances are there’s a Fringe-toed Lizard underneath it!


Night driving was productive this year, in particular early in the season, May was the best month with one trip yielding 20+ snakes and a wide variety of other critters, the usual suspects were present including many Colorado Desert Sidewinders, the most commonly encountered snake in this part of the desert by far!


Colorado Desert Sidewinder


Colorado Desert Sidewinder


Colorado Desert Sidewinder


Colorado Desert Sidewinder


I have only seen a few Lyre Snakes in my life, I was able to photograph a Sonora Desert Lyre Snake earlier this year near Madera Canyon, Arizona but it had been about 10 years since I last encountered one of these California Lyre Snakes, this young snake was very active and difficult to photograph but I was able to get a few shots to show him off, a striking snake (forgive the pun!)


Lyre Snakes (named after the pattern on the top of their head, said to resemble the musical instrument of the same name,) while not typically dangerous to humans are what are called “Rear Fanged” snakes.  The word fang is a bit of a misnomer as in actuality it’s a groove that allows their weak venom to be worked into their prey with a bit of chewing.  To get envenomated by a Lyre snake, one would have to encourage the sake to bite you (a difficult enough task as they are typically very mild-mannered and then allow him to chew on you for a long enough time to get venom into the wound.)  Works effectively with their prey which consists largely of lizards and occasionally bats.  Humans that have been bitten have reported mild reactions such as localized swelling and brief numbness around the wound site.


California Lyre Snake


Surprisingly agile, seen here climbing up a small branch to “escape”



You can see the Lyre shaped marking here quite clearly


Another commonly encountered snake in this area is the Spotted Leafnosed snake.


Here's another example, this one much differently colored than the first but still the same species


Note the covering over the nose, thought to aid this animal in digging and foraging for food.  One of it’s favorites being small lizards such as Banded Geckos as well as small reptile eggs probably of the same species and this is where the protected nose would come in handy as it digs for food.



Here’s a Desert Banded Gecko, some nights they are so common that you can barely avoid hitting them and after seeing several on the road you pretty much start ignoring them.  One particular evening in May this year I counted over 75 on a 6 mile stretch of road!


You also see many non-reptilian species while road cruising at night in the desert, particularly common are these large scorpions which although formidable looking and certainly capable of inflicting a painful sting are not considered to be particularly dangerous to humans.


This is a Desert Glossy Snake, another common species in this area of desert, they are found of lizards and small mammals as prey.  This large specimen was injured by a car when we found him and decided to take him home to see if we could rehabilitate him, unfortunately the injuries were too severe.


We found this Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the lower slopes of the mountains that are just west of the desert.  While technically a coastal species, this rattlesnake is quite common in the higher elevations on the desert side of the mountain.


Southern Pacific Rattlesnake



This is a Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake, they are closely associated with large rock outcroppings, in particular granite.  You can see by it’s coloration how well it has adapted to this environment, often overlooked as it sits still on granite or decomposed granite substrate.


One of my favorites is the brightly colored Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake.  While typically associated with sandy soils I have found many in areas with relatively hard-packed rocky soil as well. 

Another specialized snake with a very sharply pointed snout that allows it to dig into loose soil to avoid predation and also probably to forage for it’s favorite invertebrate foods.



The Western Longnose Snake is another commonly encountered species, while quite a bit larger than the Shovel-nosed Snake it has a similar, thought not nearly as exaggerated snout used to dig into loose soils.


Western Longnose Snake - sometimes mistaken for a California King Snake, in particular when, as in this case, the typical red coloration between the black and white saddles is almost entirely absent.



Well, those are the highlights so far this year!  With my schedule over the rest of the year I doubt I will have any further updates from the desert but if I do, I will post them here!  Thanks for looking!

- Brad




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