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Contia tenuis (BAIRD & GIRARD, 1852)

IUCN Red List - Contia tenuis - Least Concern, LC

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Higher TaxaColubridae (Dipsadinae), Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common NamesE: (Common) Sharptail Snake
G: Dornschwanzschlange 
SynonymCalamaria tenuis BAIRD & GIRARD 1852
Contia mitis BAIRD & GIRARD 1853: 110
Conti mitis — GARMAN 1884: 93
Contia tenuis — FITCH 1936
Contia tenuis — STEBBINS 1985: 176
Contia tenuis — CROTHER 2000: 59
Contia tenuis — ERNST & ERNST 2003: 87
Contia tenuis — CROTHER et al. 2012
Contia tenuis — WALLACH et al. 2014: 181 
DistributionCanada (British Columbia),
USA (Washington, Oregon, California)  
TypesHolotype: USNM 7289, also given as BMNH 1946.1.5.34-35
Holotype: USNM 2034 [Contia mitis] 
DiagnosisRECOGNITION. This small (TBL to 48.3 cm) north-western snake has a short, tapered tail with a pointed terminal scale. The body is gray to reddish brown, and gray individuals usually have pink to red pigment on the top of the tail. Each dorsal scale is black bordered. A pale yellow to red stripe may occur on each side of the body; a series of black dots lies below the stripe, and below the stripe the body is darker than above it. The small head is dorsally flattened, rounded anteriorly, and distinct from the neck. The pupil is round. Dorsally, the head is olive brown to dark gray or black, and a dark mask begins on the side of the snout and passes rearward through the orbit to the neck. The rostral scale and supralabials often bear white pigment. On the white venter, the anterior edge of each ventral scute is black, presenting a banded pattern. Dorsal body scales are smooth and pitless and occur in 15 rows along the length of the body. Beneath are 147-186 ventrals, 27-57 subcaudals, and a divided anal plate. Lateral head scales include 1-2 nasals (which may be whole, partially divided, or totally divided), 1 loreal, 1 (rarely 2) preocular(s), 2 (1) postoculars, 1 + 1-2 temporals, 7 (6) supralabials, and 7 infralabials. The anterior pair of chin shields is much larger than those that follow.
The slightly bilobed hemipenis has a forked sulcus spermaticus, longitudinal rows of small spines (usually four to six per row) along the main shaft, larger spines at its base, small spines in the fork between the lobes, and four to five rows of calyxes near the tip of each short lobe.
Each maxilla has 7-11 rather long teeth.
Sexual dimorphism: Few to no external characters separate the sexes, although in males the base of the tail may be swollen just behind the anal vent. (ERNST & ERNST 2003)

SIMILAR SPECIES. In its range, this snake can only be confused with melanistic ring-necked snakes (Diadophis punctatus), but these snakes have two three preoculars and dark flecks on the venter. (ERNST & ERNST 2003) 
CommentFELDMAN & PRICER (2002) suggested that Contia tenuis may contain a cryptic species, separated formally by FELDMAN & HOYER (2010) and named C. longicaudae.

Type species: Calamaria tenuis BAIRD & GIRARD 1852 is the type species of the genus Contia BAIRD & GIRARD 1852. WALLACH et al. 2014: 181 give the year of publication as 1853.

Synonymy: partly after WALLACH et al. 2014. 
EtymologyNamed after Latin “tenuis” = slender. 
  • Baird, S.F. and 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 - get paper here
  • Beaman, Kent R. and Nate G. Tucker. 2014. Contia tenuis (sharp-tailed snake) predation. Herpetological Review 45 (3): 514 - get paper here
  • Cook, S.F., Jr. 1960. On the occurrence and life history of Contia tenuis Herpetologica 16 (3): 163-173. - get paper here
  • Crother, B. I. (ed.) 2012. Standard Common and Current Scientific Names for North American Amphibians, Turtles, Reptiles, and Crocodilians, Seventh Edition. Herpetological Circular 39: 1-92
  • Cunningham, J.D. 1962. High elevation records of Contia tenuis Herpetologica 18 (2): 133-134. - get paper here
  • Cunningham, John D. 1963. High elevation records of Contia tenuis. Herpetologica 18 (2): 133-134 - get paper here
  • Ernst, C.H. & Ernst, E.M. 2003. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, 668 pp.
  • Feldman, C.R. & Spicer, G.S. 2002. Mitochondrial variation in sharp-tailed snakes (Contia tenuis): evidence of a cryptic species. Journal of Herpetology 36 (4): 648-655 - get paper here
  • Fitch, H. S. 1936. Amphibians and reptiles of the Rouge River Basin, Oregon. American Midland Naturalist 17: 634-652 - get paper here
  • Garman, Samuel 1884. The reptiles and batrachians of North America. Mem. Mus. comp. Zool, Cambridge (Massachusetts), 8 (3): xxxiv + 185 pp. [1883] [CNAH reprint 10] - get paper here
  • Goldberg, S.R. 2017. Contia tenuis (Common Sharptailed Snake) Reproduction. Herpetological Review 48 (3): 669-670. - get paper here
  • Govindarajulu, Purnima; Leigh Anne Isaac, Christian Engelstoft, and Kristiina Ovaska 2011. Relevance of Life-History Parameter Estimation to Conservation Listing: Case of the Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis). Journal of Herpetology 45 (3): 300-307. - get paper here
  • Harris, R.W. 1959. An Altitude Record for Contia tenuis Herpetologica 15 (2): 104. - get paper here
  • Hoyer, Richard F. 2001. Discovery of a Probable New Species in the Genus Contia. Northwestern Naturalist 82 (3):116-122 - get paper here
  • Hoyer,R.F., O’Donnell, R.P. & Mason, R.T. 2006. CURRENT DISTRIBUTION AND STATUS OF SHARP-TAILED SNAKES (CONTIA TENUIS ) IN OREGON. Northwestern Naturalist 87: 195-202 - get paper here
  • Kristiina Ovaska, Christian Engelstoft, Lennart Sopuck, David Robichaud 2021. Spatial distribution and abundance of Common Sharp-tailed Snakes (Contia tenuis) on Observatory Hill, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. J North American Herpetology 2021 (2) - get paper here
  • Leonard, William P ; Ovaska, Kristina 1998. Contia, C. tenuis. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles 677: 1-7 - get paper here
  • Morales, N & Hansen, R W; 2019. Geographic Distribution: Contia tenuis (Common Sharp-tailed Snake) USA: California: Merced Co., Stanislaus Co. Herpetological Review 50 (3): 528 - get paper here
  • Nussbaum, R.A., Brodie, E.D., Jr., & Storm, R.M. 1983. Amphibians and reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Univ. Press of Idaho, Moscow 332 pp.
  • O'Donnell, Ryan P. and Doug McCutchen 2008. A Sharp-tailed snake, Contia tenuis, in the San Juan Islands: Western Washington's first record in 58 years. Northwestern Naturalist 89 (2): 107-109 - get paper here
  • OLDHAM, CHRISTIAN R.; RUSSEL BARSH & MADRONA MURPHY. 2021. CONTIA TENUIS (Common Sharp-tailed Snake). REPRODUCTION. Herpetological Review 52 (2): 418–419. - get paper here
  • Olson, E. O. 2023. SCANNER IMAGING OF COMMON SHARP-TAILED SNAKES (CONTIA TENUIS) FOR INDIVIDUAL IDENTIFICATION. Northwestern Naturalist, 104(1), 26-36 - get paper here
  • OLSON, ERIC O. 2021. CONTIA TENUIS (Common Sharp-tailed Snake). DIURNAL SURFACE ACTIVITY and ANTHROPOGENIC MORTALITY. Herpetological Review 52 (3): 661–662. - get paper here
  • OVASKA, KRISTIINA; CHRISTIAN ENGELSTOFT, LENNART SOPUCK & DAVID ROBICHAUD. 2021. Spatial distribution and abundance of Common Sharp-tailed Snakes (Contia tenuis) on Observatory Hill, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Journal of North American Herpetology 2021.(2). - get paper here
  • O’Shea, M. 2018. The Book of Snakes. Ivy Press / Quarto Publishing, London, - get paper here
  • Rensel, Leah J; Ruth L Milner, Marc P Hayes, Doug A Mccutchen 2019. Discoveries of the Common Sharp-Tailed Snake (Contia tenuis) in the San Juan Islands, Washington, 2013–2017. Northwestern Naturalist 100 (1): 48-56 - get paper here
  • Stebbins,R.C. 1985. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin, Boston
  • Stickel, William H. 1951. Distinctions between the snake genera Contia and Eirenis. Herpetologica 7: 125-132 - get paper here
  • Tanner, W.W. 1967. Contia tenuis Baird and Girard in Continental British Columbia, Canada Herpetologica 23 (4): 323. - get paper here
  • Ukuwela, K.D.B., de Silva, A., Sivaruban, A. et al. 2022. Diversity, distribution, and natural history of the marine snakes of Sri Lanka. Marine Biodiversity 52, 24 (2022) - get paper here
  • Wallach, Van; Kenneth L. Williams , Jeff Boundy 2014. Snakes of the World: A Catalogue of Living and Extinct Species. [type catalogue] Taylor and Francis, CRC Press, 1237 pp.
  • Werning, Heiko 2012. Die Reptilien und Amphibien des Südwestens. Draco 13 (50): 18-60 - get paper here
  • Zweifel, R.G. 1954. Adaptation to Feeding in the Snake Contia tenuis Copeia 1954 (4): 299-300. - get paper here
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