Sharp-tailed snake

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Sharp-tailed snake
Contia tenuis (San Luis Obispo).jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Genus: Contia
C. tenuis
Binomial name
Contia tenuis
(Baird & Girard,1852)
Contia tenuis distribution.png
  • Calamaria tenuis
    Baird & Girard, 1852
  • Contia mitis
    Baird & Girard, 1853
  • Ablabes purpureocauda
    Günther, 1858
  • Homolosoma mite
    Jan, 1862
  • Lodia tenuis
    Cope, 1898
  • Contia tenuis
    Stejneger & Barbour, 1917

The sharp-tailed snake or sharptail snake (Contia tenuis) is a small species of snake in the family Colubridae. The species is endemic to the Western United States and British Columbia.

Common names[edit]

Additional common names for C. tenuis include brown snake, gentle brown snake, Oregon worm snake, Pacific brown snake, Pacific ground snake, and purple-tailed snake.[4]

Geographic range[edit]

C. tenuis is distributed through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as British Columbia, Canada: Southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia around Victoria, British Columbia,[5] and a newly discovered site in Pemberton, British Columbia.[6][7]


The sharp-tailed snake has an average total length (including tail) of 12–18 in (30–46 cm) as an adult. It is distinguished by its sharp tail spine, which is the protruding tip of the last tail vertebra. The spine is not toxic and cannot injure humans. Rather, the tail is used to stabilize small prey, such as slugs, for consumption. The dorsal surface ranges in color from grayish brown to brown to brick red, with bubble-gum pink and peachy-orange specimens occasionally found. The ventral surface is a striking series of black and white crossbars.[8]


The sharp-tailed snake is a shy, secretive creature most often encountered under rocks and logs, and rarely to never found in the open.[8] It is able to persist in urban areas where appropriate cover can be found. It is known to burrow into soft soil or cracks in the clay, and may be encountered by people who are digging in the garden or removing concrete. When encountered, the sharp-tailed snake may roll into a ball and remain still. It can be mistaken for a worm by the casual observer.[citation needed]


The diet of C. tenuis is largely restricted to slugs and eggs of slugs.[8]


The adult female C. tenuis lays 4–16 eggs in the summer, underground or in a burrow. Each hatchling is 3–4 in (7.6–10.2 cm) in total length (including tail).[citation needed]


  1. ^ Boulenger GA (1894). Catalogue of the Snakes in the British Museum (Natural History). Volume II., Containing the Conclusion of the Colubridæ Aglyphæ. London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, printers). xi + 382 pp. + Plates I-XX. (Contia mitis, pp. 267-268).
  2. ^ Stejneger L, Barbour T (1917). A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 125 pp. (Contia tenuis, p. 91).
  3. ^ Species Contia tenuis at The Reptile Database .
  4. ^ Wright AH, Wright AA (1957). Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Ithaca and London: Comstock Publishing Associates, a Division of Cornell University Press. 1,105 pp. (in two volumes). (Contia tenuis, pp. 156–160, Figure 49, Map 18).
  5. ^ "Sharp-tailed Snake". The Reptiles of British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Environment. [1]
  6. ^ Atkinson, Cathryn (2013). "Rare snakes found in Pemberton: Proposed Pemberton development area home to snakes on federal list of species at risk". Pique. August 15, 2013. [2]
  7. ^ South Coast Conservation Program Regional Dialogues on Land Use Planning for Species and Ecosystems at Risk. Proceedings Fall 2013. [3]
  8. ^ a b c Stebbins RC (2003). A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Third Edition. The Peterson Field Guide Series ®. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. xiii + 533 pp., 56 plates. ISBN 978-0-395-98272-3. (Contia tenuis, pp. 346–347 + Plate 46 + Map 134).

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Baird SF, Girard C (1852). "Descriptions of new species of Reptiles, collected by the U. S. Exploring Expedition under the command of Capt. Charles Wilkes, U. S. N. First part.—Including the species from the Western coast of America". Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia 6: 174–177. (Calamaria tenuis, new species, p. 176).
  • Baird SF, Girard CF (1853). Catalogue of North American Reptiles in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Part I.—Serpents. Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution. xvi + 172 pp. (Contia mitis, new species, pp. 110–111).
  • Schmidt KP, Davis DD (1941). Field Book of Snakes of the United States and Canada. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 365 pp., 34 plates, 103 figures. (Contia tenuis, pp. 196–197, Figure 62).
  • Smith HM, Brodie ED Jr (1982). Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. New York: Golden Press. 240 pp. ISBN 0-307-13666-3 (paperback), ISBN 0-307-47009-1 (hardcover). (Contia tenuis, pp. 162–163).
  • Zim HS, Smith HM (1956). Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide to Familiar American Species: A Golden Nature Guide. Revised Edition. New York: Simon and Schuster. 160 pp. (Contia tenuis, pp. 79–80, 156).