Coronado Island Gopher Snake ( Klauber, 1946)

Pituophis catenifer coronalis 

                                            preserved juvenile close study underneath head                                                                  


    Photo by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum






 Pituophis catenifer coronalis juvenile

Photo slide images by Patrick H. Briggs courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum


 Pituophis catenifer coronalis

Photos by Patrick H. Briggs courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum


                                                        Coronado Island Gopher Snake

                                                                       By Patrick Briggs

Pituophis catenifer coronalis is an insular (island) subspecies that closely resembles the mainland race Pituophis catenifer annectens.

 The scientific epithet coronalis is Latin meaning "crowned". The word crowned in Spanish is a similar word "coronado".

 This race of gopher snake is named for at least one of the Coronado islands (Islas de los Coronados) or Islands of those Crowned or Crowned Islands.

 Therefore, the vernacular Coronado Island Gopher Snake in English, translates to Crowned Islands Gopher Snake from the scientific Pituophis catenifer (melanoleucus) coronalis.

 Although we call it the Coronado Island gopher snake, it actually is a group of small islands and islets with volcanic history found off the northwest coast of Baja California

 (Not to be confused with Coronado City of the peninsula bordering the San Diego Bay).  The 4 significant islands are North Coronado, Pilon de Azucar, Central Coronado, and

South Coronado. Only four Coronado Island Gopher Snakes have ever been collected and recorded in the early 1900's. Three of the four individuals of this subspecies were

 found verifiably on the South Coronado Island (Isla Coronado Sur). It is unknown from which of the 3 islands the 4th specimen came.

The record by Frank Stephens merely states, "Coronado Islands". Three specimens were males and one was female. This subspecies may currently be extinct.

In the latter 1990s, after examining many shelves of preserved reptiles in glass jars from the late Klauber's collection, and with the assistance of a museum attendant,

 Adrienne D. Russell, I discovered a preserved juvenile Coronado Island Gopher Snake labeled on an alluminum tag 11365 and tied to the front portion of the snake's body.

 The jar that held the specimen was labeled Pituophis melanoleucus coronalis (San Diego Society of Natural History) SDSNH 11365. The specific name had not yet been changed

 to catenifer so it still was labeled as  melanoleucus. It had been collected April 21, 1916 by Frank Stephens (the first director of the San Diego Natural History Museum).

 Its location is recorded as "Coronado Islands". Along with that rare ophidian specimen can be seen one of two island fledgling birds that had apparently been found in the

 stomach.  This and other jar-preserved animals were at an abandoned military site temporarily being used by the San Diego Natural History Museum.

 In addition to stumbling across this and other herpetological jewels, it subsequently was made known to me that three other specimens  were available in other locations.

 One of them was the holotype (the first specimen used to describe a new animal) Type--No. 20229 that was an adult female and the longest of all 4 individuals at 1150mm overall

 length. Its tail measured 171 mm. This specimen can also be found in the Laurence M. Klauber's collection (LMK) of San Diego with more information and some images on

 Although I'm not sure where the other 2 are located, they have been labeled CAS 13588 and CAS 135589. I'll attempt to find out where they are located. I'm sure that many researchers would be very excited to

 know the location of these specimens, so that images could be photographed, published, and posted on the internet as another significant visual resource just as this site

 has done with specimen 11365 and in the publication,  Reptiles Magazine April 2001 and the the 20229 holotype specimen collected by Phillip M. Klauber June 11, 1933 in the site by the

 San Diego Natural History Museum. This would allow researchers from both the scientific community and the public who take interest in this genus, to compare the images on

 line, and examine patterns, color, and scutellation. 

Although the insular coronalis and the mainland subspecies annectens resemble each other, there are differnces between both forms in scutellation and pattern.The imposition

 of suboculars between the eyes and the supralabials and the fusion and other abnormalities of scales on the head are two distinct examples of how the scales differ between these

 subspecies. Additionally, there are races such as Pituophis catenifer deserticola that often occur with suboculars, but other characters such as few body blotches and subcaudal

 scales easily distinguish it as deserticola. Patterns are also different between the two forms. The Coronado Islands race has fewer and narrower blotches and tail markings, and

 they tend to be more circular and more widely spaced. There is also less stretching of marks along the sides. Laurence Klauber describes the ground color of coronalis as buff or

 yellowish. It could also be considered an old dry straw coloration suffused with smudgy gray and brown lateral spotting. The belly is buff and may occur with suffused markings

 and spots of gray and black. One individual collected is marked with an imperfect double row of triangles on the underbelly. Specimen no. 11365, the juvenile snake has a speck

 nearly every two belly scutes at the edge on each side. The other preserved snakes are virtually unmarked on the ventrum. The head pattern is light brown above not conspicuously

 marked. Even so, there is on each side, a distinct subocular line on all specimens collected and some of the other sutures between the upper and lower labials may be streaked

 with a darker color. Moreover,  atleast on the juvenile specimen, a dark bar angles downward from behind the eyes and contines through the last couple supralabials on each

 side. The color under the head is cream colored without blemishes. The head is rather blunt when viewed from above and moderately distinct from the neck.If you attempt to count

 the blotches of this photo slide scan of the preserved juvenile coronalis  specimen 11365 below, you will find it's difficult to do. With confluent blotches and markings merging or

 blending with others, and from this wet preserved specimen, and light glare, tools obstructing a few markings, and along with other factors, it can be quite a challenge. Even,

 authorities argue the count. Although the circular markings may connect less often, its pattern seems to be quite similar to the coastal mainland subspecies of the San Diego region,

 annectens.  The adult specimen 20229 appears to have a much less busy lateral pattern, especially at the mid-body than the juvenile.  Klauber and Grismer report that in the

 coronalis suborbital scales prevent the supralabials on each side from making contact underneath the eyes. Herpetologist KLAUBER reports only one of the four individuals ever

 collected No. 11365 had the supralabials that contacted the eyes. Unless he referrs to the left side of the head which I did not photograph, my closeup slide photo scanned to the

 computer contradicts his report. Infact, it can be observed that also in the 11365 specimen, suboculars impose between supralabials and the eyes. He also believed that this

 particular individual may not have come from the South Coronado Island.  Of the only four specimens known, the head plates of coronalis are said to be irregularly fragmented. I've

 also noticed that upon closely observing the upper head on specimen exhibit animal 11365, the prefrontals number only 2 (normally most coastal catenifer have 4 prefrontals).

KLAUBER reports that none of the 4 Coronalis specimens collected exibit the trademark of 4 prefrontals.  Body pattern in coronalis is similar to annectens but with rounder and

more narrow markings that are spaced wider apart and become square-like especially near the tail. They sport 2-3 lateral rows of of dark markings along each side and a pale

belly with dark  spotting on the belly and underneath the tail. Laterally the markings also don't blend quite as much as annectens.  There are 64-70 widely spaced vertebral blotches

 that are black at the anterior and posterior regions of the body and brown speckled with darker brown at the midbody region. Instead of black, the juvenile seems to be a darker

 brown towards the front and rear regions of its body. In both young or adult snakes, around the neck region, these blotches are highly irregular, confluent anteriorly, and

 subsequently, difficult to count. There are reportedly 18-26 upper spots on the tail region with no distinct pattern underneath it. The following

 describes scale or scute arrangement of this reptile.

Extreme details for advanced researchers see:

See the website above for this image info and many reptile Type description





                                                     Rostral            Triangular, wider than high, slightly convex viewed from above

                                                      ----------              raised above adjacent scales, rostral sets deep between internasals

                                                    Mid-body          31-35                              

                                                    Supralabials     7-10 some scales fused

                                                    Ventrals            222  male                           

                                                    Infralabials       11-14 some scales fused

                                                                     Ventrals            229-333 females

                                                    Subcaudals       82 male                             

                                                    Subcaudals       69-71 females

                                                                     Nasals                subequal with Loreal, small and pointed at the rear

                                                    Loreal               Single, always longer than high

                                                    Anal                  entire                             

                                                    Parietals           wrinkled and irregular

                                                    Preoculars         2-3 each side with the uppers quite large

                                                    Postoculars        3-5 each side the lower 2 very small and considered suboculars

                                                    ----------------          separating labials from eyes

                                                    Frontal               widest at the front

                                                    Prefrontal          2-3                                   

                                                    Temporals         3+4 to 4+5

                                                    Apical Pits         nearly absent

                                                    Keeled Scales    Mid-dorsal scale row and upper 6 rows on each side only

                                                    Smooth Scales   Lower 10 rows on each side of body only

                                                     Mental               Small and triangular followed by 1st infralabials contacting medially

                                                     Genials              4 (Two long anterior genials followed by a shorter pair separated by

                                                      -----------                   two or three rows of gulars) L. M. Klauber


[email protected] to contact Patrick H. Briggs

(See the Article "Pituophis Parade 48-73" By Patrick Briggs in Reptiles Magazine, Volume 9, Number 4, April 2001

Javier A. Rodriguez: 


Click below for the Female TYPE LOCALITY SPECIMEN SDSNH 20229 image and details 

See best reference: Gopher Snakes Of Baja California 1946---LAURENCE M. KLAUBER page 18-21

See also an excellent book: Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California Including its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortes

By L. Lee Grismer 2002



Photo By Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum

(Count the Dorsal blotches on this juvenile coronalis with fledgling bird)



Pituophis catenifer coronalis

Photo by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum

 (Observe a spot on every other scale or so of the 1st row adjacent the belly below this juvenile, the other SDNHM specimen which is the race holotype is the same.)


Coronado Island Gophersnake Pituophis catenifer coronalis

Photos by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum

(Observe the suboculars separating the supralabials on this juvenile. See also an adult holotype specimen on: Internet Explorer


Pituophis catenifer coronalis

Photos by Patrick H. Briggs courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum

 (Notice only 2 prefrontals on this individual)



Coronado Island Gopher Snake


Close Dorsal Head Study Pituophis catenifer coronalis  preserved juvenile

Photo by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy San Diego Natural Histrory Museum





Coronado Islands Gopher Snake


Coronado Islands Gopher Snake

Photo by Pat Briggs Courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum



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