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Montana Field Guides

Northern Rubber Boa - Charina bottae
Other Names:  Rubber Boa

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4
(see State Rank Reason below)


Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:


 

External Links





State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is apparently secure and not at risk of extirpation or facing significant threats in all or most of its range.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Northern Rubber Boa (Charina bottae) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 05/03/2018
    Range Extent

    ScoreF - 20,000-200,000 km squared (about 8,000-80,000 square miles)

    Comment192,908 square Kilometers from Natural Heritage Program range maps

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreU - Unknown. Long-term trend in population, range, area occupied, or number or condition of occurrences unknown

    CommentNo data on trends available

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreU - Unknown. Short-term trend in population, range, area occupied, and number and condition of occurrences unknown.

    CommentNo data on trends available

    Threats

    ScoreU - Unknown. The available information is not sufficient to assign degree of threat as above. (Severity, scope, and immediacy are all unknown, or mostly [two of three] unknown or not assessed [null].)

    CommentUnknown. Range is poorly defined, threats to eastern populations may exist, but are unknown at this time

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreC - Not Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance; or species has high dispersal capability such that extirpated populations soon become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    CommentNot Vulnerable. Species is long lived, births 2-8 young per year and has good connectivity within its habitat

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreB - Narrow. Specialist. Specific habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors (see above) are used or required by the Element, but these key requirements are common and within the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.

    CommentAssociated with mesic forests and rock outcrops

    Raw Conservation Status Score

    Score 3.5 + 0 (geographic distribution) + 0 (environmental specificity) + 0 ( trend) + 0 (intrinsic vulnerability) = 3.5

 
General Description
EGGS:
The Northern Rubber Boa is viviparous, eggs develop internally, and females give birth to live young.

NEONATES:
Newborns are lighter in color than adults and are typically tan/pink dorsally with a yellow/cream ventral side. Newborns weigh 7-8 g (0.25-0.28 oz) and total length averages 215 mm (8.5 in.) (Erwin 1964, Hoyer 1974, Nussbaum et al. 1983, Werner et al. 2004).

JUVENILES AND ADULTS:
Total length (TL) ranges from 36-71 cm (14-28 in) with females reaching greater lengths than males (Stebbins 1985, Russell and Bauer 2000, Werner et al. 2004). Dorsal coloration is typically brown, tan or even olive fading to yellow ventrally sometimes with orange, brown or black mottling. This snake looks and feels like rubber, hence its name. Key features of the Northern Rubber Boa are the uniformly wide body and blunt, wedge-shaped head. Small uniform scales and chin shields relatively identical in size to adjacent scales are also key features. The tail is short ending in a rounded plate. Downward facing anal spurs (remnant hind limbs) on each side of the cloacal opening are well-developed in males and in females the spurs typically project straight toward the rear. Eyes are small with vertical pupils and there are 9-11 upper labial (lip) scales (Nussbaum and Hoyer 1974, Nussbaum et al. 1983, Russell and Bauer 2000, Werner et al. 2004).

Diagnostic Characteristics
The Northern Rubber Boa (Charina bottae) has a uniform, tube-like shape and the coloration easily distinguishes this species from other snakes in Montana. The North American Racer (Coluber constrictor) is much more active, has larger eyes, and has a thin, tapered tail.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions

Native

Western Hemisphere Range

 


Range Comments
The Northern Rubber Boa ranges from the northern Rocky Mountains west to the pacific coast and south into California, Nevada and portions of Utah (Stewart 1977, Werner et al. 2004). Three subspecies of Rubber Boa are recognized, although there has been considerable debate about subspecies designations (Nussbaum and Hoyer 1974, Stewart 1977, Rodriguez-Robles et al. 2001). Of the three subspecies, only the Northern Rubber Boa (Charina bottae bottae) occurs in Montana. Previously this species was found in 16 western counties of Montana. In 2008, an individual was documented in eastern Big Horn County resulting in a range extension of 185 km (115 mi) from the previous most eastern record near Red Lodge. Currently, this species has been documented in 26 Counties in Montana and the most eastern record in the state is in Rosebud County (MTNHP 2023).

Maximum elevation: 2,426 m (7,959 ft) in Park County (D. Taylor, MTNHP 2023).


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 496

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

 

(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)



Migration
Non-migratory.

Habitat
Northern Rubber Boa are secretive, slow-moving, docile snakes. They can be found under rocks and logs, in either moist or dry forest habitats and by searching through rotting stumps (Nussbaum et al. 1983, Werner et al. 2004). Northern Rubber Boa can also be found under man-made debris such as boards, metal roofing, and cardboard (Hoyer 1974, Hoyer and Stewart 2000a). Individuals have even been observed climbing trees and swimming (Russell and Bauer 2000, St. John 2002, Werner et al. 2004). In western Oregon, individuals have been found in a variety of habitats except areas with regular grazing or cultivation, or areas periodically flooded (Hoyer 1974). Northern Rubber Boa are most associated with forested habitats in Montana; however, use of non-forested habitats has been recorded in other regions (Hoyer 1974, Nussbaum et al. 1983). Most records of Northern Rubber Boa in Montana are close to areas with high human densities and the species may be more common than previously thought (Maxell et al. 2003). In Mission Mountains, this species was usually found in large talus slides or under logs/rocks near slides (Brunson and Demaree 1951) or in leaf-litter in deep shaded Douglas-fir/Cedar forest (Franz 1971). Often found in areas with many flat rocks and near water (Baxter and Stone 1980).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: mtnhp.org/requests) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Most foraging occurs at night and the diet consists largely of small mammals that they kill through constriction (Rodriguez-Robles et al. 1999, Hoyer and Stewart 2000b). One found dead on a road contained a Long-tailed Vole (Microtus longicaudus) (Brunson and Demaree 1951). Northern Rubber Boa are especially effective at locating and consuming nests of young rodents (Rodriguez-Robles et al. 1999). They have been known to use their tail to fend off adult mice when preying on nestlings (Hoyer 1974, Hoyer and Stewart 2000b).

Ecology
Largely crepuscular or nocturnal (Stebbins 1954), but occasionally may be observed sunning on roads, trails, or in open areas. Typically, individuals are active from April-October; even in temperatures as low as 10 °C (50 °F). Northern Rubber Boa hibernate for the remainder of the year and although accounts are limited, hibernacula were found in rock outcroppings in California (Hoyer and Stewart 2000a). St. John (2002) discovered communal hibernation even in sawdust piles. The tail may also be used as defense against other predators such as raptors and weasels (Werner et al. 2004). Little is known about the life history of Northern Rubber Boa in the wild, however, individuals in captivity can live for more than 18 years (Werner et al. 2004).

Reproductive Characteristics
Northern Rubber Boa breed in the spring and young are born between late summer and early fall. Litters range from 2-8 with an average of 4.4 (Fitch and Fleet 1970, Nussbaum et al. 1983, Russell and Bauer 2000, Werner et al. 2004). The time required to reach sexual maturity is unknown; however, Werner et al. (2004) report that individuals with a total length > 360 mm (14 in.) can breed and Nussbaum et al. (1983) state that maturity is reached at lengths > 450 mm (18 in.) for females and 545 mm (21.5 in.) for males in Oregon.

Management
The following was taken from the Status and Conservation section for the Northern Rubber Boa account in Maxell et al. 2009.

Observations of Northern Rubber Boa in Montana are rare, but are often associated with areas of human activity, indicating that this cryptic species is relatively common and is just observed relatively infrequently. There is little research that addresses the conservation status or impacts of anthropogenic disturbances to Northern Rubber Boa in Montana. For example, no studies have assessed the potential impacts of habitat alteration to Northern Rubber Boa. Individual studies that specifically identify risk factors or other issues relevant to the conservation of Northern Rubber Boa include the following: (1) Specimens have been collected as a result of roadway mortality (Ortenburger 1921), but we do not know the level of impact roads may have on Northern Rubber Boa populations. Roadways have been shown to have negative impacts to other reptile and amphibian populations (Maxell and Hokit 1999) but research that has linked roadways to population level parameters typically involved species concentrated within a particular habitat, such as frogs and turtles near ponds (Maxell and Hokit 1999). Roadways could have negative impacts in areas where Northern Rubber Boa are highly concentrated, such as adjacent to hibernacula. Snake mortality on roadways, at times in great numbers, has been documented widely with some drivers even purposely swerving to kill snakes (Langley et al. 1989, Krivda 1993, Rosen and Lowe 1994, Hammerson 1999). Negative impacts to herpetofauna from off-road vehicle (ORV) use have been documented. Both reptiles and their associated prey were less abundant in areas with high ORV use compared to areas with no ORV use (Maxell and Hokit 1999). (2) Generally, snakes near human population centers or areas with high levels of recreational use can experience mortality from humans, predation from pets or even predation from small carnivores that can exist at higher densities near human concentrations (Maxell and Hokit 1999). Stuart et al. (2001) found snakes entangled in plastic netting that is commonly used to protect fruit trees and gardens from pests. (3) Although the Northern Rubber Boa is extremely docile and non-venomous, a general lack of knowledge about snakes coupled with deeply anchored fears sometimes leads humans to destroy snakes on sight, regardless of the species (Dodd 1993, Maxell and Hokit 1999). (4) Chemical contamination may adversely affect snakes (Werner et al. 2004). However, changes in agricultural practices and federal laws can sometimes mitigate these impacts. For example, DDT levels in snakes have declined since the banning of pesticides (Fleet and Plapp 1978). Snakes may bioaccumulate pollutants and may be used as valuable bioindicators of overall environmental health (Bauerle et al. 1975, Stafford et al. 1976, Anderson 1977).

References
  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • Franz, R. 1971. Notes on the distribution and ecology of the herpetofauna of northwestern Montana. Bulletin of the Maryland Herpetological Society 7: 1-10.
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    • Hoyer, R.F. 1974. Description of a rubber boa (Charina bottae) population from western Oregon. Herpetologica 30(3): 275-283.
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    • Hoyer, R.F. and G.R. Stewart. 2000b. Biology of the rubber boa (Charina bottae), with emphasis on C.b. umbratica. Part II: Diet, antagonists, and predators. Journal of Herpetology 34(3): 354-360.
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    • Nussbaum, R.A., E.D. Brodie, Jr. and R.M. Storm. 1983. Amphibians and reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. University of Idaho Press. Moscow, ID. 332 pp.
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    • Rodrigues-Robles, J.A., C.J. Bell, and H.W. Greene. 1999. Gape size and evolution of diet in snakes: feeding ecology of erycine boas. J. Zoology (London) 248:49-58
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  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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