What Insects Look Like Snakes: Fascinating Mimicry in Nature

Insects and snakes may seem vastly different, but some insect species have evolved to mimic the appearance of serpents as a survival strategy. These clever insects deceive potential predators by looking like a poisonous snake, thus increasing their chances of living to see another day.

Mimicry in the insect world is astonishing, with examples ranging from moths that resemble tree bark to stick insects that blend in with twigs. The snake-mimicking insects, however, have taken things to another level. These fascinating creatures boast striking patterns and shapes, allowing them to camouflage themselves as snakes when confronted by predators. Some even go the extra mile and display snake-like movements in times of distress.

There are a few well-known insect species with snake-like appearances:

  • The hawk moth caterpillar: When threatened, this caterpillar transforms itself into a snake look-alike by retracting its head and inflating its thorax, revealing a pattern similar to a snake’s head.
  • The snake fly: This insect gets its name from its long, slender body, which bears a resemblance to a small snake.
  • The snake-mimic caterpillar: This caterpillar species has a false head with large eyespots, making it seem like a small snake at first glance.

These examples showcase nature’s incredible ingenuity and offer a prime illustration of how mimicry serves as a valuable survival tactic in the animal kingdom.

Insect Mimicry of Snakes

Evolutionary Reasons for Mimicry

Insects, as well as other animals, have evolved various ways to protect themselves from predators. One of these strategies involves mimicking the appearance of other dangerous or venomous animals like snakes. This phenomenon is known as Batesian mimicry. Insects employing this tactic present a false threat.

  • They look like snakes, leading predators to avoid them
  • Mimics often share similar color patterns to the creatures they impersonate

For example, the scarlet snake mimics the venomous coral snake, showcasing red, black, and whitish-gray blotches. Although non-venomous themselves, this mimicry helps in deceiving potential predators.

Comparison Table

Insect Mimicry Snake Mimicry
Insects are small creatures Snakes are elongated reptiles
Insects have exoskeletons Snakes have scales on their skin
Evolved similar patterns/colors to resemble snakes Naturally have those patterns/colors to send warning signals

The evolutionary benefits of mimicry lie in increasing the survival rate of the mimics by deceiving predators. In some instances, insects may also mimic the behaviors of snakes, like slithering or hissing, adding to the effectiveness of the ruse.

Caterpillars That Resemble Snakes

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

  • Coloration: Green with black markings
  • Habitat: Forests, woodlands, and gardens
  • Adult: Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars are green with black markings. They live in forests, woodlands, and gardens. When they become adults, they transform into the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.

Red Helen Swallowtail Caterpillar

  • Coloration: Brown & white with snake-like head
  • Habitat: Tropical areas and open woodlands
  • Adult: Red Helen Swallowtail butterfly

Red Helen Swallowtail caterpillars have brown and white coloration and a snake-like head. They inhabit tropical areas and open woodlands. As adults, they become the Red Helen Swallowtail butterfly.

Great Orange Tip Caterpillar

  • Coloration: Green with white markings and orange head
  • Habitat: Wetlands, riverbanks, and forests
  • Adult: Great Orange Tip butterfly

Great Orange Tip caterpillars are green with white markings and an orange head. They’re found in wetlands, riverbanks, and forests. In adulthood, they transform into the Great Orange Tip butterfly.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

  • Coloration: Green with black & white “eyes”
  • Habitat: Forests, meadows, and rivers
  • Adult: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars have a green coloration with black and white “eyes”. They live in forests, meadows, and rivers. As adults, they become the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

Elephant Hawk-Moth Caterpillar

  • Coloration: Grey & brown, with eyespots
  • Habitat: Gardens, woodland edges, and meadows
  • Adult: Elephant Hawk-Moth

Elephant Hawk-Moth caterpillars are grey and brown with eyespots. They inhabit gardens, woodland edges, and meadows. When they reach adulthood, they turn into the Elephant Hawk-Moth.

Caterpillar Coloration Habitat Adult
Spicebush Swallowtail Green with black markings Forests, woodlands, gardens Spicebush Swallowtail
Red Helen Swallowtail Brown & white, snake-like head Tropical areas, open woodlands Red Helen Swallowtail
Great Orange Tip Green, white markings, orange head Wetlands, riverbanks, forests Great Orange Tip
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Green, black & white “eyes” Forests, meadows, rivers Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Elephant Hawk-Moth Grey & brown, eyespots Gardens, woodland edges, meadows Elephant Hawk-Moth

Other Insects Mimicking Snakes

Wasp Mimicry

Some wasps are known for their snake-like appearance. This is mainly due to their coloration and patterns, which can be similar to venomous snakes. One example is the Amphiphilus itzocan wasp, which has black and yellow markings that resemble a coral snake. This coloration serves as a form of Batesian mimicry, where a harmless organism mimics the appearance of a dangerous species to deter predators.

  • Wasp coloration: Black and yellow markings
  • Purpose: Deter predators

Cricket Mimicry

In the insect world, some cricket species are also known for their weird snake-like features. For instance, the velvet cricket has elongated, snake-like body and coloration that somewhat resembles a snake. Although they do not have venom, this snake-like appearance may help them to avoid potential predators.

  • Cricket coloration: Elongated body, snake-like coloration
  • Purpose: Deter predators
Mimicry Type Species Features Purpose
Wasp Mimicry Wasp Black and yellow markings Deter predators by resembling venomous snakes
Cricket Mimicry Cricket Elongated body, snake-like coloration Deter predators by resembling snakes

In both cases of wasp and cricket mimicry, the insects use coloration and patterns to mimic the appearance of snakes, which provides them with protection from potential predators.

Mimicry in Other Animals

Glass Lizards and Their Mimicry

  • Glass lizards are often mistaken for snakes due to their elongated, legless bodies
  • Examples include the mimic glass lizard, eastern glass lizard, island glass lizard, and slender glass lizard

Glass lizards exhibit remarkable mimicry that allows them to resemble snakes. The slow worm, a legless lizard, shares this trait, as do caecilians, which are often confused with worms or snakes due to their body shape and lack of limbs.

Non-Venomous Snakes Mimicking Venomous Snakes

  • Some non-venomous snakes have evolved to mimic the appearance of venomous ones
  • Examples: gopher snake, milk snakes, corn snake, water snakes, and worm snake

These non-venomous snakes adopt the colors and patterns of venomous snakes like the coral snake, which possesses a potent toxin. Here’s a comparison of some non-venomous and venomous snakes:

Non-venomous Snake Venomous Snake
Gopher Snake Rattlesnake
Milk Snake Coral Snake
Corn Snake Copperhead
Water Snakes Water Moccasin
Worm Snake Hognose Snake

Mimicry in these snakes serves as a defense mechanism, deterring predators from attacking them by imitating the appearance of a more dangerous, venomous species.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Cuban Knight Anole

 

What kind of Lizard is this?
Location: boynton beach florida
May 6, 2011 5:06 pm
I was walking my dog one morning and noticed this guy, went home to get my camera. I never saw anything like it before…What is it?
Signature: Irene

Cuban Knight Anole

Hi Irene,
We have moved out of our comfort zone with your request, but since in the loosest and most unscientific sense, bugs are “things that crawl” and Lizards do crawl, they do have a place on our site.  A web search of “green lizard Florida” led us to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary site and its profile of the Green Anole,
Anolis carolinensis, which somewhat resembles your Lizard.  Since Florida seems to be an ideal habitat for invasive exotic species including reptiles whose owners have released them into the habitat, we did not discount that this might be some foreign species.  We believe we have identified your Lizard as a Cuban Knight Anole, Anolis equestris, and according to the Discover Life website:  “The Knight anole is the largest Anolis species in the world.  They grow in length from 13-19 3/8 inches.  The head is large and bony, and their eyes can move independently. They have strong jaws and sharp teeth. The tail is often longer than the entire body and has a jagged upper edge. They have special adhesive lamella on their five clawed toes that allow them to stick to surfaces making it easier for them to run. This adhesive pad is located on the central part of each toe. Their body is covered with small granular scales with two white or yellowish stripes below each eye and over each shoulder.  They are a bright green color, which can change to a light brown with yellow markings. Their color change depends on their mood, temperature, or other types of stimuli. Yellow areas may appear and disappear around the tail. Males are usually larger than females and have a pale pink throatfan that balloons up when excited.”  We learned on the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity website that:  “Knight anoles are native to Cuba. They have been introduced into southeastern Florida, and there are now breeding populations in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties” and that “Knight Anoles are diurnal. They can be fiercely defensive when a snake or anything like a snake (a stick, a garden hose), gets too close. Their defensive display is to turns sideways, extends the throatfan, raise back crest, and gape menacingly (Behler 1979). A male fighting with other male anoles protrudes the throatfan to its fullest and then retracts it, repeating several times. He rises on all four legs, stiffly nods his head, and turns sideways towards rival. The male then turns bright green. Frequently the fight will end with the display, and the male most impressed by the display will drop his crest and slink away. If fighting continues, males rush at each other with mouths open. Sometimes jaws will lock if they go head on, otherwise they try to go for the limb of their opponent (Noble 1933).”  You may also find information on the Florida Gardener website.  The introduction of invasive exotic species like the Cuban Knight Anole may have a significant negative impact on native species.

Cuban Knight Anole

Letter 2 – Blind Snake, not Legless Lizard

 

worm or snake
March 7, 2010
Hey found this “thing” in my house, on my carpet. Any idea what it is? Has two black eyes, behaved defensive when we tried to touch it. After placing it in the restroom sink to better observe, it died withing a minute. I have small children, is this something we should be worried about?
Thanks, Roxy
ranch in south texas

Blind Snake

Hi Roxy,
We believe this is a harmless Legless Lizard, though we would defer to any reptile experts that care to comment.

Hi,
I saw that you posted a picture of what you thought was a legless lizard. I’m pretty sure it is actually a blind snake, possibly Leptotyphlops humilis, the western blind snake. According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, they live throughout the southwestern U.S., including Texas. It could also be Leptotyphlops dulcis, the Texas slender blind snake, which lives throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, and central Texas. Although I’m not an expert, I have been around reptiles all my life. I actually found one of these little guys several years ago and that is why I immediately recognized it as a blind snake.
Josh Kouri

Letter 3 – Introduced Mediterranean Gecko in Florida

 

Subject: Weird lizard
Location: Jacksonville, FL
September 30, 2016 2:26 pm
I see more and more of these in Jacksonville, FL. I don’t remember them from a few years ago.
Signature: Matt Jenkins

Mediterranean Gecko
Mediterranean Gecko

Dear Matt,
Your lizard looks like the Mediterranean Gecko,
Hemidactylus turcicus, pictured on Wild Florida where it states:  “Mediterranean Geckos are small, rough-scaled geckos, with large lidless eyes, broad sticky toe pads and a long tail. They reach a maximum length of 12 cm.   These geckos change color – at night they are light gray to white, during the day they become grayish with light pink and dark brown spots.  There have raised white spots on the back and sides.  As their name suggests, Mediterranean geckos are native to Europe, but they are highly successful colonizers and well established in Florida. There are no native nocturnal lizards in Florida, and geckos seem to have filled the niche. Geckos are ‘sit-and-wait’ predators, usually seen on walls and ceilings inside houses, or where ever there is an outdoor light.  They feed on moths, cockroaches and other insects and are rarely found far from houses and people.  Mediterranean geckos move and hunt at night. They are extremely vocal – if they are in or around the house you will hear them. Males have a squeaky high-pitched territorial call that sounds like a bird chirping.”  According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:  “Threats to natives: None known.”

Letter 4 – Another California Legless Lizard found in Mount Washington

 

Luckily we were using a pitchfork instead of a shovel!!!
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
March 29, 2013

California Legless Lizard
California Legless Lizard


We needed to dig in the garden today to remove a dead kumquat tree, when we noticed a shimmery, slithering creature in the freshly turned dirt.  We thought at first it was a salamander, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a California Legless Lizard.  The last one we found in Mount Washington was released in Elyria Canyon Park in June of 2008.  We didn’t have much time, but we snapped a few photos to document this relatively rare sighting in our lovely rustic neighborhood.

California Legless Lizard
California Legless Lizard

Update:  September 22, 2013
It seems there is more diversity among Legless Lizards in California than was originally believe.  Read about the four new species of Legless Lizards in California on Popular Science and Yahoo News.

Julian Donahue provides information on the Legless Lizard diversity:  September 19, 2013
Just discovered a new paper that splits four species of legless lizards from the one species, California Legless Lizard, making five in all in California.
Ours is now Anniella stebbinsi, the Southern California Legless Lizard. I have just posted this info on the Alliance Facebook page, updated the Mt. Washington herptile list, and attach a PDF of the full article for your files.  Anniella-4 n spp
Julian

Letter 5 – California Legless Lizard sighted in Mt Washington

 

An unofficial first sighting on the hill

We need to take a slight detour here to indulge ourselves. People use the term “Bug” for many reasons. Scientifically, a True Bug is an insect in the suborder Heteroptera, but our humble site has used the slang term bug for other insects as well as spiders, scorpions, crustaceans, worms, amphibians and even reptiles, because these are things that “bug” some folks. Now that we have justified ourselves on this one, we will relate the story. The lovely rustic neighborhood of Mt Washington is currently being raped by insensitive developers. There is a new Notice of Intent sign posted with an address 1538 N. Randall Court, Los Angeles, 90065 and this lot was cleared of brush Sunday. We suspect this California Legless Lizard, Anniella pulchra, was living a carefree life, enjoying the loose sandy soil and eating all manner larval insects, beetles, termites, and spiders before it was disturbed by the weed wackers. Last night, the little bugger was found in the pristinely manicured and landscaped front yard of Phot across the street. We were lucky enough to capture what we thought was a snake of unknown taxonomy. Since moving to our current home/office over 8 years ago, we have sighted two others of this unusual species. We rushed home with the thrashing “snake” in a paper bag and quickly telephoned Julian Donahue, the local keeper of species sighting records, to get an identification. Julian identified the creature as a California Legless Lizard and noted this would be the first local sighting that he knows about. More information on this unique species can be found on the California Reptiles and Amphibians website. We brought the California Legless Lizard home and took some photos in the kitchen sink. After a short night’s rest in the paper bag, the California Legless Lizard is soon to be released into the open space of our gem of a state park, Elyria Canyon State Park where it won’t need to worry about being evicted ever again. We are sorry to have leapfrogged in front of our faithful and curious readership on this one, but it seemed so significant. Meanwhile, we are continuing to plow through all the letters that arrived in our week long absence, and we are only scratching the surface of June 9 right now. Thanks for your patience.

Released into Elyria Canyon Park

Update: (06/14/2008) Legless lizard
Great site and if I am correct you are also a fellow member of MWHA. I grew up on Mt. Washington and began finding what I assumed were newts when the clay soil was very wet as far back as the early 1990’s when my wife and I bought the family home. Very interesting to learn that they are not newts but California Legless Lizards. I occasionally come upon one or two when gardening or doing slight excavation, but they only seem to be in the front garden for some reason, maybe due to bark or proximity to the main sewage line. I also occasionally find something similar but with very immature and short legs. Should I come across one again, I will photograph and send photos. We are generally gentle with our bug friends (not very fond of the damn slugs which devour much of my herbs) but we have a pesticide free (and petrochemical free for that matter) garden. It has been nice to see the eco system rebound after all the malthion orgy during the 1980’s. Again great work neighbor, your site is a great resource.
Doug Nickel Mt. Washington

Hi Doug,
Thanks for the additional information. The California Legless Lizard inhabits sandy soil. It burrows quickly into the ground, so hard packed clay would not be an ideal habitat. Crumbled sandstone slopes found in certain areas of Mt Washington are ideal. The California Legless Lizard grows to 7 inches in length. Much more common in Mt Washington are Slender Salamanders in the genus Batrachosep , which sound like what you are describing. They are smaller and have tiny little feet. The ones I find are dark. If you are certain you are finding two different creatures, then perhaps the population of California Legless Lizards on Mt Washington is bigger than Julian Donahue supposed. Come to the next meeting of the MWHA and introduce yourself. I expect to write a piece on the California Legless Lizard for the next newsletter, and perhaps I can get some information from you.

Julian Donahue Comments: (06/14/2008)
Hi Doug,
You may be talking about two different critters. The California Legless Lizard is, indeed, legless, but is fast moving, almost like a skink. Its body is covered with small scales. The other is the Slender Salamander, which has very small legs. As an amphibian it is smooth-skinned and moist, with no scales. It prefers damper locations than the lizard. Both have now been confirmed on Mt. Washington. Your neighbor down the street,
Julian

Update:  September 22, 2013
It seems there is more diversity among Legless Lizards in California than was originally believe.  Read about the four new species of Legless Lizards in California on Popular Science and Yahoo News.

Julian Donahue provides information on the Legless Lizard diversity:  September 19, 2013
Just discovered a new paper that splits four species of legless lizards from the one species, California Legless Lizard, making five in all in California.
Ours is now Anniella stebbinsi, the Southern California Legless Lizard. I have just posted this info on the Alliance Facebook page, updated the Mt. Washington herptile list, and attach a PDF of the full article for your files.  Anniella-4 n spp
Julian

Letter 6 – Cat Caught Lizards

 

Hello, I have found 3 of these things in my apartment. I live on the third floor, in Dallas, TX. These things are freaking me out to tears! They look to be about an inch long, have a snake-like scaly appearance, and fish-like eyes and triangle-shaped head. They look like a cross between a little lizard and fish. The three I have found have all been dead, in various stages of decomposition. This is the weirdest creature I have ever seen and I have to know what it is or I may never walk in my apartment without shoes again! HELP!
Thanks,
Melissa

Hi Melissa,
Do you have a cat? It looks like you have dead lizards that have been chewed on by a cat. I say this because my cat frequently brings small lizards in the house and leaves their carcasses behind furniture and various other places.

Letter 7 – Gopher Snake presumably struck by car in Mount Washington

 

Roadkill:  Gopher Snake
Roadkill: Gopher Snake

Subject:  Gopher Snake found unresponsive in street
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, March 21, 2015 11AM
Late Saturday morning, Bettie called to say hikers were poking  a snake with a stick in the street.  We immediately picked up the unresponsive snake which “yawned” and then started to quiver over parts of its body.  It hasn’t moved in two days but we thought it might be coming out of hibernation.  This poor lethargic Gopher Snake, probably a female, and fully four feet long, has been kept in a cabbage crock by our editorial staff until this evening.  Greg Pauly from the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, who we spoke with at length this evening, asked us to put it in the freezer to preserve it for the museum because based on our description, Greg determined it was dead.

Letter 8 – Iguanas and Lizards

 

Thanks so much for your prompt reply. I had to laugh at your response. I do get my nails done, but at the same time I am fascinated by bugs, lizards – critters in general. I’m a birder and I love to photograph wildlife. I know most women cringe at critters, but not me! Too bad you can’t identify our backyard lizard. I can’t identify him myself, using photos on the internet – I’ll copy a picture of him just for the heck of it, but I know you’re an expert on bugs, not lizards.

Hi Suze,
You have a tropical iguana running around your yard. Many people keep them as pets and they
escape or outgrow their homes, and they release them. They find the Florida climate very hospitable,
just like people, and they continue to grow and even reproduce. They love swimming pools as well.
Please continue to write when you have questions.
Daniel

Letter 9 – Iguanas and Lizards

 


Dear Editors,

Greetings, I can’t stand any kind of bugs or reptiles, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn about them. Would you kindly help me identify this “iguana,” so when I’m working in my gardens I know what’s coming towards me, and call it by its name and ask it to leave? By the way, the one in the picture, we found it dead. That’s why it posed so well on my helper’s hand.
Thank you for your effort on this matter.
Kindly, F. Sevillano

Dear Kindly Sr. Sevillano:

Though lizards are not my forte, it appears to me as though you have found a very young specimen of alligator lizard, one which met with an untimely, unnatural death. Not being in possession of a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, I tempted fate by trying to locate information for you on the internet. My search led me to the San Diego Natural History Museum Field Guide. There I learned that the Southern Alligator Lizard goes by the scientific name Elgaria multicarinata. The Southern Alligator Lizard has a slender body up to seven inches long, and relatively small legs. An individual that has never suffered the traumas of a caudal autonomy (loss of its tail) may have a tail twice the length of its body, making for a 21 inch long lizard. If the tail is lost, it can regenerate, though it is usually shorter and differently colored. The lizards tend to be brown to yellow ochre and adults are marked with dark cross bands. The species is common in the Los Angeles Basin( and is often found in yards and gardens. Alligator Lizards aren’t easily intimidated by humans, and, while not poisonous, can inflict a painful bite. They have an ornery disposition and if you decide to catch one, expect to get nipped. They eat mainly insects and snails, which make them the gardener’s friends, but they have also been known to eat small birds and mice, frogs and other lizards. Perhaps your helper would like to bring his lizard by my place some time so I can verify my identification through a thorough first-hand investigation.

(01/19/2004) Iguana
FYI: The lizard shown on your "Iguana" page is a fence lizard also commonly known as a "Blue Belly" in Southern California. They are common, non aggressive and tend to bask in the sun on walls wood piles etc. Boys frequently catch them, I spent a majority of my childhood doing so. They have a blue throat and sometimes blue sides hence- blue belly (we aren’t very accurate with our use of English here in CA). I hope this helps you and the site. I originally found your excellent site by looking up wind scorpions to try to discover the name of the awful monstrosity that attacked me in Death Valley one night. I hope they aren’t endangered because I ended up shooting it after it repeatedly advanced on me in an aggressive pose. Thanks for the help and the cool site.

Thanks Chad, for the info and compliments. That is a very old letter and I totally forgot we had that page, which was a quirky question with an equally quirky answer. Wind Scorpions are not endangered. How about that one from the Desert Storm veteran which he calls a Camel Cricket. Glad our Southern California specimens arent that big.

Letter 10 – More Likely Snake than Legless Lizard, we believe

 

Subject: Snake, Worm?
Location: San Antonio, TX
March 29, 2016 11:53 pm
I live in San Antonio, TX, and have seen these little guys around my house about 4-5 times now. It’s been around this fall-spring time where the weather is a bit warm or a bit chilly. I thought it was a worm, but zooming in on the picture, wonder if it might be a snake. I have 3 cats, and the little guy doesn’t move too fast but is very squirmy/wiggly. His squirmy/wiggly movements are pretty quick, though it’s more like a zig zag motion that doesn’t get him very far. I’m mostly concerned what might happen if a kitty catches and eats him. If you’re able to help, I’d greatly appreciate it!
Also, sorry I couldn’t get more pictures. He’s wiggly so it’s hard to get clear ones. I added in the clothespin to help with size.
Signature: Dealer’s choice 🙂

Legless Lizard
Snake, we believe

We believe this is a Legless Lizard, though your image does not make an exact identification easy.  If we are correct, the Legless Lizard is harmless.  We haven’t the time right now to research if the Legless Lizard is found in Texas.

Thank you so much! I appreciate the quick response.

Comments are beginning to pour in.

Letter 11 – Mount Washington Alligator Lizard

 

Alligator Lizard hiding in the hydrangeas
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Abel and Temple wanted to take some photos today, and they were inspecting the garden.  Abel spotted this impressive Alligator Lizard and I had trouble getting a photo while it was hiding in the hydrangeas.

Alligator Lizard
Alligator Lizard

Letter 12 – North American Racer

 

Subject:  Black Snake
Geographic location of the bug:  Goodlettsville TN
Date: 04/24/2019
Time: 10:40 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I found this snake yesterday. It appears to living in my rock wall. Should I be scared? I tried to locate it but there is too many that look like it. I have 3 small dogs will it hurt them or me? It’s black, white underneath and about 4 ft long. Any help would be appreciated.  Thank you Karen Fiels
How you want your letter signed:  Karen Fields

North American Racer

Dear Karen,
Upon browsing the reported species in the Snake section of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (for the second time today which was the first time ever) we have concluded that you encountered a North American Racer, which is described on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency site as:  “A large, slender, solid black snake (36.0 to 60.0 inches in length) with smooth and shiny scales. Throat and chin have some white, and eye color (iris) is brown or dark amber. Belly is dark gray to dark blue in color. Males are slightly larger than females.”  All indications are that this is a harmless species.

Letter 13 – San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake found in Mount Washington!!!

 

San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake found in the Street!!!
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
April 8, 2014 approximately 7 PM
Yesterday, after a long day and stressful day at work, we decided to finish planting tomatoes, but all the junk mail that was in the mailbox caused us to detour to the recycle bin which was already on the street for collection.  We asked the woman who was rooting through the neighbors blue recycle bin to replace all the items she was placing on the curb in her search for the neighbors discarded soda and beer cans.  Our recycle bins are never that attractive to trash scavengers since we never drink soda and we like our beer in bottles which are heavier than cans.  We headed back to the garden and spied a wriggling snake in the street, which we quickly caught.  We were immediately impressed by the brown critters bright orange belly, and the other significant feature was a ring right behind the head.  We quickly put the sweet little guy [gal] in a 12 gallon sauerkraut crock, empty of course, so we could grab the camera and call Julian Donahue for an identification, which is much more fun and interactive than doing the internet research.

San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake in the sauerkraut crock
San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake in the sauerkraut crock

While on the phone with Julian we multitasked on the computer and we independently established the species, Diadophis punctatus, for the Ring Necked Snake, which is found across North America according to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.  Julian did mention the subspecies, but we forgot which third name he attached to the species name. We didn’t really have time for writing down what Julian said because we at least knew the species, and since the light was waning, we wanted to try to get some decent photos.

San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake
San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake

We suspect that the tail curling is some type of defensive action, perhaps a distraction to predators that would be attracted to the bright coloration and make a much less lethal strike at the tail, ignoring the more important head region.  After taking a few more photos, we released this colorful guy into the wood pile.  The subspecies which ranges in Los Angeles is the San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake, Diadophis punctatus modestus.  For more information on the seven California subspecies of Ring Necked Snakes, turn to CaliforniaHerps.com.

San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake
San Bernardino Ring Necked Snake

Letter 14 – Sand Dune Mystery from Idaho may be Rubber Boa

 

Family Mystery
Location: Sand Dunes, Southeast Idaho, Fremont County, east of Saint Anthony
June 7, 2011 11:08 pm
This photo was taken in 1984 at the Sand Dunes in Southeast Idaho, Fremont County. I watched for 15-20 minutes while this . . . thing made this pattern in the sand. It would scoop up a pile of sand, push it out in the fan/petal shape, scoop up a pile of sand, push it out . . . I have recently re-engaged in my quest to find out what I was watching.
Any ideas what it is?
Signature: Bug Lover’s Cousin

Sand Dune Mystery from Idaho

Dear Bug Lover’s Cousin,
We have no idea what this creature is and we would love to help you solve this more than 25 year old mystery.  We do not believe this is an insect.  You did not indicate the size of the creature.  We are more inclined to believe it is reptilian than one of the arthropods, but that is pure speculation.  We are boarding a plane in a few hours and we will be out of the office for a week, and during that time we will not be checking emails, so we will not be able to provide any further assistance until we return.  Our regular readership will be able to post updates to this posting, however, any new readers will need to wait until next week to have their comments approved.  We hope we are eventually able to provide you with an identification.

Going on my 25 year old memory of this thing I will venture – it was:
maybe 2-4 inches long (not positive I EVER saw the end of it but I think I did)
about 2-2.5 inches circumference
entirely black except for the tip (head?) which was reddish
I saw no legs or mouth
it moved like a worm or caterpillar (a larvae?)
didn’t seem to be ingesting anything, just kept making the pattern
My brother was with me at the time and agrees with this description
Enjoy your time out of the office, I look forward to any info/guesses you might have.
Thank you.

Karl provides an alternate possibility:  White Lined Sphinx
October 26, 2011
Hi Daniel and Bug Lover’s Cousin:
It is a little hard to tell from the photo but based on what is visible and your description I suspect that this is a large caterpillar. There are a number of species that burrow into soft soil or sand to pupate. I suggest that a good candidate would be a White-Lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata). Caterpillars of the species show considerable color variation but are generally striped or mottled green and black, and orange or reddish caudal horns and/or head capsules are quite common (to me it looks like it may be showing a horn). You could check out this interesting video to see if the behavior looks familiar. Here is another image from the Bugguide site. Regards. Karl

Thanks Karl for your alternative possibility.

Letter 15 – Six-Lined Racerunner Lizard, we believe

 

Subject: Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard
Location: Tampa, Florida, USA
May 11, 2016 8:44 pm
I discovered this lizard in my Tampa, Florida backyard. According to wikipedia**, it ventured far!
Excerpt:
Habitat: The desert grassland whiptail is mostly found in the deserts of southern to central Arizona and along the Rio Grande river in New Mexico. It is also found in the deserts of northern Mexico. A. uniparens is commonly found in low valleys, grasslands, and slight slopes.
**Some have argued that the species’ range is expanding due to overgrazing.
Signature: Leapin Lizards

Six Lined Racerunner, we believe
Six-Lined Racerunner, we believe

Dear Leapin Lizards,
While we agree that your individual greatly resembles the Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard,
Aspidoscelis uniparens, pictured on Reptiles of Arizona, Florida is so far from its range in Arizona and New Mexico, we do not believe overgrazing has caused it to naturally spread to your yard.  Florida is no stranger to non-native species, and we believe keeping exotic pets, and a parthenogenic species that does not need sexual contact to reproduce since all individuals are females that lay viable eggs without a mate really does constitute being an exotic pet, could result in an accidental or intentional introduction to your habitat.  While we acknowledge that possibility, we question your identification.  We believe this is far more likely a Six Lined Racerunner, Aspidoscelis sexlineata, a native, related species from the same genus that looks quite similar.  The Six Lined Racerunner is pictured on the Florida Museum of Natural History site.

Six Lined Racerunner, we believe
Six-Lined Racerunner, we believe

Letter 16 – Slow Worms in the UK

 

Subject:  Slow Worms
Winchester, UK
April 1, 2014 7:47 PM
my sister and friends have “slow worms” in winchester.
they are all excited!
i’m not sure how i can send you a photo from FB…?
this photo is from our friend wendy, who is a very accomplished artist and excels in beautiful paintings of flora and fauna.
http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/slow_worm.htm
c.

Slow Worms
Slow Worms

Dear c.
Thanks for sending us your photo.  We hadn’t heard of Slow Worms before, and the link you provided is of great assistance.  According to the Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK link you provided:  “The Slow-worm is often mistakenly thought to be one of our native snakes. Slow-worms have very few markings other than the vertebral stripe of the female. This is thin and straight and not similar to the indented zigzag stripe of the Adder (
Vipera berus).  The Slow-worm has a noticeably blunter tail than any of the native snakes and the head is quite indistinct from the body. They have very small, highly polished scales, giving a glassy appearance.  On very close examination, it might be seen that the Slow-worm has eyelids, a typical feature of lizards. Another typical feature of lizards displayed by them, is the shedding of the tail when captured. The shed tail falling to the ground and thrashing makes a very effective decoy to predators, whilst the Slow-worm makes for cover.  The Slow-worm is a harmless creature, please remember, whether it is a Snake or Legless Lizard, it is a criminal offence to kill or injure any of the UK’s native reptiles.”  Since the UK Slow Worm, Anguis fragilis, is in a different genus than our local California Legless Lizard, they are not that closely related. 

Letter 17 – Southeastern Five Lined Skink

 

Subject: 5-lined Skink
Location: Tampa, Florida
May 21, 2016 9:01 pm
I saw this interesting little guy in my backyard In August a few years back. I used google and came up with an identity of: Eumeces inexpectatus, the Southeastern five-lined skink.
I hope that’s right. It didn’t mind me holding it at all, but was probably happy to go its own way after I bugged it for pictures.
Signature: Shell

Southeastern Five Lined Skink
Southeastern Five Lined Skink

Dear Shell,
With its blue tail, this Southeastern Five Lined Skink is sure a pretty lizard.  We don’t have many reptiles represented on our site, so your submission is a very welcomed addition.  According to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory:  “Young have a bright blue tail while adult males’ stripes may fade and a reddish or orange coloration may develop on the head.”  It seems your individual may be a male nearing maturity.  The site also states:  “Southeastern five-lined skinks may be found on the ground or in trees, but are generally less arboreal (tree dwelling) than broadhead skinks. Although sometimes seen in the open, these lizards are most often found beneath logs or under tree bark. When pursued, these lizards generally run for the nearest tree or log and can be quite difficult to capture. Like many other lizards, southeastern five-lined skinks will break off their tails when restrained, distracting the predator and allowing the lizard to escape.”

Letter 18 – Spiny Thing from Australia is Leaf Tailed Gecko tail

 

Subject: What is it?
Location: NSW, Australia
February 13, 2016 9:53 pm
Found this odd looking thing near the house today and we have never seen anything like it. Any ideas?
Signature: Freaked out

Spiny Thing
Spiny Thing is Leaf Tailed Gecko tail

Dear Freaked Out,
This does not look like an insect or arthropod.  It look Reptilian to us and we do not believe this is a complete creature.  How large was it?
  The best guess we have right now is that a Lizard that was eaten by a predator that left behind the hard, spiny skin after biting off the head and legs.  The first Spiny Lizard we found in Australia is the Thorny Mountain Devil, or Moloch, but according to the University of Texas site, the Thorny Mountain Devil is not known from New South Wales, but only the western parts of Australia.  The Inland Bearded Dragon pictured on the Reptiles of Australia site and on FlickR looks like a possible match.  It is described on Long Island Herpetological Society site.

Spiny Thing
Spiny Thing is Leaf Tailed Gecko tail

Thanks so much for your reply. I can’t believe hadn’t even considered that it might not be a complete creature.
You’ve put me on the right track to what I now believe to be the tail section from a broad leaf tailed gecko.

Thanks for writing back with the actual species.  The Southern Leaf Tailed Gecko, Phyllurus platurus, pictured on Featured Creature looks spot on.  The site states:  “This cryptic creature is the Broad-tailed Gecko or Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Phyllurus platurus). It truly is a master of disguise – and deception. First of all, it will lay perfectly flat on the bark of a tree to camouflage itself when not hunting. With it’s big, leafy-looking tail, the gecko blends in perfectly. Its tail is used for extra fat storage and also as a useful defense mechanism. You see, when and if the lizard feels threatened, it has the ability to detach its tail to confuse predators. It will regenerate later on, though the color and details will be entirely different from the original body.”

Facebook Comment from Tracy
Yes. Definitely a leaftail gecko tail. We get heaps of them in our house and they are lovely. They drop their tail when threatened or attacked and will regrow another one although it will be smaller. Hope this one only lost his tail…

Letter 19 – Two Tailed Lizard

 

two tailed alligator lizard
Location: El Dorado county, california
October 14, 2011 7:34 pm
got lots of these and fence lizards running round, but this is the first i have seen with 2 tails.
sorry i couldn’t get more pics of it, my sister took the photos
Signature: adric

Two Tailed Lizard

Dear Adric,
Thank you so much for sending us this photo of the anomaly that you discovered.  Often when a Lizard loses its tail because of an accident or an encounter with a predator, the tail will regenerate, though with a slightly different appearance and morphology.  The tail detaches when enough pressure is applied, and this will allow a Lizard to escape if it is grasped by the tail.  Your individual shows the stump where the original tail was lost as well as the unusual regeneration.  We cannot really speculate on the nature of the original injury and why that resulted in this anomaly.

Letter 20 – Alligator Lizard

 

Subject:  Very Handsome Paso Robles Alligator Lizard
Location:  Paso Robles, California
April 18, 2014
we estimated 9-10”. and much lighter in colour than the southern california cousins.
c.

Alligator Lizard
Alligator Lizard

The editorial staff at What’s That Bug? encountered a nice Alligator Lizard last week while moving wood around in the wood pile.  Alas there was no camera handy.

Letter 21 – Alligator Lizards in Mount Washington

 

Subject:  Alligator Lizards
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
July 5, 2014 & July 12, 2014
While these are not the largest Alligator Lizards we have seen, the two individuals were between 10 and 12 inches long.  The first individual was repelling down the logs and the second larger individual was sunning in the late afternoon rays.

Alligator Lizard
Alligator Lizard
Alligator Lizard
Alligator Lizard

 

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

24 thoughts on “What Insects Look Like Snakes: Fascinating Mimicry in Nature”

  1. Amateur herpetologist here–I suspect this may be a rubber boa. They are burrowing snakes with a red-tipped tail that they often use to confuse predators (head-like motion, and even false strikes). Though the picture resolution isn’t very high, the bluntness of the tail indicates it may have been attacked repeatedly. Great photo/info page at http://www.rubberboas.com/Photos/photoindex.html

    Reply
  2. What can I say; it’s possible. With size being unknown we have to go with color and other features. I checked out the photos on the Rubber Boas site above, posted by CB. They don’t seem right. It was much darker, the red was much redder, it had bumps – like a catepillar. (If it WAS a Rubber Boa, why was it making that pattern in the sand?) I’m not crossing the Rubber Boa off my list, I just want to know for sure. Thanks, CB, for your input. If you find anything else I’d love to see/hear it. Thanks bugman!

    Reply
  3. A friend of mine and I were hiking the Falls Creek Falls Trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Skamania County, Washington on Thursday, July 5, 2012 and came across a California Legless Lizard just resting on the trail. We didn’t know what it was at the time (neither of us having seen one before), but looked it up after returning home (it looked just like the photo in this article). I wish now we had at least taken a picture of it, but we just looked at it for a while as it started to slither away and continued on our hike.

    Reply
  4. Bugman: we can’t say for sure that it was a “California Legless Lizard”, but it was definitely a legless lizard and looked almost exactly like the top photo in this article. It was a clear, bright day and we looked at it for quite a while before it moved on and we moved on. Though I had never seen one before in the wild, I knew it was a lizard and we refrained from picking it up for fear that we would scare it and it would drop its tail. In hindsight, of course, we really wish now that we had taken a picture of it, but it was just a curiousity at the time.

    Reply
  5. Bugman: here is an update. My friend was looking up other sites on the internet and came across a section on Rubber Boas, which are apparently native to Washington state, as well as other areas of the West. After seeing the photos in the article and reading about it, what we saw was definitely a Rubber Boa! The legless lizard and boa look remarkably alike, but what we saw had more of the subtle features of the boa. It was still cool to see a boa; we had never seen one of those either. Mystery solved!!

    Reply
  6. I just spotted the same kind today in Boynton Beach as well! I’d never seen this kind and this “big” of a lizard around here either. pic.twitter.com/o0c0YEg4kn

    Reply
  7. I love these little lizards. I live in Western Washington State. They were always coming inside an office building I used to clean at night. The light would attract insects and the insects would attract the lizards. A couple times a week I had to catch a lizard and return it to the woods. One fall I took one home for the winter and returned it in the spring. Their color, up close, is so pretty.

    Reply
    • The are always getting into the deep utility sink in the garage, so we assist them in getting outside again, just by catching them by hand very gently.

      Reply
  8. Live in Highland Beach and saw one of these lizards the other day. It was quite huge and startled me at first. Have never seen one before.

    Reply
  9. I AM the Bug Lover’s Cousin. Over these past few years we have made several trips out to this same location, the St. Anthony Sand Dunes, and have yet to see this creature or this pattern again. General consensus, from this and other sites, is that this is a Rubber Boa. So I’ll go with that possibility as I continue my search. Any other thoughts or ideas would be appreciated!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the update. It is not unusual for us to get an identification comment as many as ten years after a posting is made, so there is still a chance someone may provide additional information, but since the first comment came from a someone very familiar with snakes, we are inclined to agree, though we also agree with Karl that a Sphinx Caterpillar might be the culprit. The Bedstraw Hawkmoth Caterpillar fits the general description your cousin provided and it is reported in the states and Canadian provinces bordering Idaho. This image of a Whitelined Sphinx Caterpillar in the sand from BugGuide documents the behavior of caterpillars in the genus. The one consideration causing us to continue to favor the Rubber Boa theory is that it was observed for such a long time, and we suspect a Caterpillar would have buried itself much quicker.

      Reply
  10. Most likely it’s a plains blind snake. They are native to San Antonio and look like skinny earthworms, if earthworms had scales and eye spots.

    Reply
    • Thanks! I honestly didn’t think of that. If I see another, I’ll do that. He was tough to photograph. He wiggles around a lot but it seems haphazard like he’s got no idea where he’s going or what he’s doing.

      Reply
  11. i just found a dead legless lizard in the street that runs in front of my house in suburban san diego. mostly silver in color but no stripes [or bands]. have imagery of same – as well as the deceased specimen itself, stored safely in my refrigerator – just in case they might be of any benefit in the identification process.

    Reply

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