Unusual stripes

March 16, 2017 • 4:34 pm

by Greg Mayer

Matthew sent me the following tw**t from Bryan D. Hughes, the rattlesnakeguy:

The tw**t doesn’t say where the picture was taken, but I’m guessing somewhere in the American southwest. It does say it’s a longnosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei), but it doesn’t look to be one to me. I’m pretty sure it’s a common kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula). [Added later: it is a longnosed– see comment below by rattlesnakeguy.]

The interest in this snake is that it’s banded fore and aft, but striped amidships, which is pretty unusual. The kingsnake is usually banded, but striped ones are known from southern California and Baja– this snake has both! Snakes with unusual and partial patterns are popular amongst herpetoculturalists, and I recall from grad school that one of my cohort working on snake development got stripey patterns from eggs incubated at the wrong temperature. Some quick checking revealed some definite evidence of low temperature incubation leading to striping in pythons (here and here), and some vaguer rumblings in the cornsnake forums, but I could not find any scientific papers on the subject. I did find some more reliable evidence that incubation temperature does not influence pattern in Australian eastern brown snakes.

Snake patterns are thought to have an influence on their detectability and catchability by visual predators; bands are often camouflagey, while stripes tend to make a predator (me!) grab behind the snake, as the longitudinal stripe obscures the forward motion of the snake, and the grab is mistimed.

h/t Matthew

26 thoughts on “Unusual stripes

  1. Hey! Thanks for the mention. It’s definitely a long nose, though with less orange/red than is usually present in these guys. It’s still a bit visible in this photo. Entirely black and white individuals (‘clarus’ phase, they area called for some reason unknown to me) are sometimes found in the Phoenix and low desert areas. What tells me this is a longnose and not a kingsnake, other than gestalt, is the head shape (longer and pointy rather than rounded), and the messy form in the dark bands, most with a ‘smudge’ of lighter grey as the band approaches the belly. Kings in this area are very clean by comparison. This kind of partial stripe isn’t entirely uncommon in these guys, though usually not to this level. I’ve seen a good number that are striped for about a third of the body, or for a few inches, then normal, then a few inches again … this one just looks cool. Anyway just thought I’d give some more info beyond what the 140 characters allows.


    1. Thanks for the correction–it’s noted now in the OP! I don’t know the longnosed in life, but the photo did not look like the right pattern illustrations available to me– glad to have their characteristics and variability explicated here.


    1. Actually, this is how I answered on my GRE examination question:

      “Of the possible shapes shown here, choose appropriately so as to put this broken snake back together again.”

      AllYa’All know, on standardized examinations … … those spatial ability queries.

      Soooo sucking at (all of) them always, I kinda failed, didn’t I ?!


      1. The best strategy in that type of test is to challenge the question itself. Suggest the question is improperly asked and write a short essay in the margin exploring possible alternative interpretations employing information with which you are familiar. This will flummox the grader and he or she will award you extra points. 😎

        1. hehhehheh: .that. is just precious, Mr rickflick ! Smashing advice that is — as I sloooowly sip my cordialful of Templeton Rye — which ‘shape’ I so have, so far, … … noooo problem identifying nor putting it back in to my fingers – to – lips’ spatial reach !

          Thing so IS, though, test – wise: I hope NEVER EVER again to hafta sit for such frickin’ m u c k !

          Thank you anyhow !

          ps ‘to flummox’ is one of m’most favored verbs !

  2. I don’t have my Red Dwarf boxsets with me, but it reminds me of the episode where the SmegHeads met a ship whose crew were print-on-demand, and one got stuck in the printer.
    Developmentally, how could this happen? Erroneous repeat of a segment? – in which case are there other developmental sequels like duplicated internal organs? Would anyone (including the snake) notice if it had a dozen extra vertebrae and ribs?

  3. Very interesting. There are other disrupted patterns known in animals that seem analogous to this one. I would often see snails with polymorphic color patterns, and among them, some where their pattern suddenly transitions to a different pattern.

    1. As a graduate student at my university, Russell Minton showed that the the patterns of the Caribbean marine snails Puperita pupa and Puperita tristis could be switched during growth by transplant experiments, so that a snail would start out as one, but when switched to a new environment, new growth of the shell in that environment had the pattern of the other one, giving a sudden transition in the pattern on the shell. I’m not sure if they are still considered species, or just ecophenotypes of a single species now.


    1. Wow!

      Clicked on the breeder’s name in that article and landed on a page of pics of other spectacular snakes he’s bred.

  4. The longnose snake is fake. The JPG compression artifacts along the striped body don’t match the ones along the normal body.



    They did a pretty good job on the background, though. The problem was that the eraser brush used along the striped body parts was too sharp, and they went in too close, thus erasing the artifacts that might or might not have been there in the pasted segment.

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