Rattlesnakes of Southern California

Rattlesnakes of Southern California

rattlesnakes1     rattlesnakes2 


Crotalus ruber

As springtime calls people and snakes alike to the outdoors, encounters with snakes become inevitable. California has a variety of snakes, most of which are benign. The exception is California’s only native venomous snake - the rattlesnake.

California rattlesnake species include the northern Pacific rattlesnake (in northern California), and the Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled rattlesnake, Red Diamond rattlesnake, Southern Pacific, Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake (all found in Southern California). Though rattlesnakes are dangerous if provoked, they also provide humans with a tremendous service ? they eat rodents, other reptiles, and insects, and are in turn eaten by other predators. In California where rattlesnakes are found from sea level to the inland prairies and desert areas and to the mountains at elevations of more than 10,000 feet, enjoying the outdoors means learning how to avoid contact with rattlesnakes.

Generally not aggressive, rattlesnakes strike when threatened or deliberately provoked, but given room they will retreat. Most snake bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing. The majority of snakebites occur on the hands, feet and ankles.

Rattlesnakes can cause serious injury to humans on rare occasions. The California Poison Control Center notes that rattlesnakes account for more than 800 bites each year with one to two deaths. Most bites occur between the months of April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors. About 25 percent of the bites are “dry,” meaning no venom was injected, but the bites still require medical treatment.

The potential of running into a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors, but there are several precautions that can be taken to lessen the chance of being bitten when out in snake country - which is just about anywhere in California.

Is it a rattlesnake?  How to distinguish rattlesnakes.

Many a useful and non-threatening snake has suffered a quick death from a frantic human who has mistakenly identified a gopher snake, garter, racer or other as a rattlesnake. This usually happens when a snake assumes an instinctual defensive position used to bluff adversaries. A gopher snake has the added unfortunate trait of imitating a rattlesnake by flattening its head and body, vibrating its tail, hissing and actually striking if approached too closely.

A rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied, blunt-tailed snake with one or more rattles on the tail. It has a triangular-shaped head, much broader at the back than at the front, and a distinct “neck” region. The rattlesnake also has openings between the nostrils and eyes, which is a heat-sensing pit. The eyes are hooded with elliptical pupils. Additional identifying characteristics include a series of dark and light bands near the tail, just before the rattles which are different from the markings on the rest of the body. Also note that rattles may not always be present, as they are often lost through breakage and are not always developed on the young.


-California Department of Fish and Game


Living with Rattlesnakes - the Do's and Don'ts of Snake Country

What to do in the Event of a Snake Bite


Books in this Exhibit:


Campbell Ernst Greene Hayes Klauber



Biology of the Rattlesnakes Symposium (2005 : Loma Linda, Calif.)
The biology of rattlesnakes / edited by William K. Hayes ... [et al.] ; foreword by Gordon W. Schuett.

Campbell, Jonathan A.
The venomous reptiles of the Western Hemisphere / Jonathan A. Campbell, William W. Lamar, with contributions by Edmund D. Brodie III ... [et al.].

Charas, Moyse, 1619-1698.
New experiments upon vipers: with exquisite remedies that may be drawn from them, as well for the cure of their bitings, as for that of other M. Charas.  Connect to the online version.

Ernst, Carl H.
Snakes of the United States and Canada / Carl H. Ernst, Evelyn M. Ernst.

Greene, Harry W., 1945-
Snakes : the evolution of mystery in nature / Harry W. Greene ; with photographs by Michael and Patricia Fodgen.  Connect to the online version.

Klauber, Laurence Monroe, 1883-1968.
Rattlesnakes : their habits, life histories, and influence on mankind / Laurence M. Klauber.



This exhibit was created on August 10, 2010 by Carla Arbagey.

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Last modified: 8/16/2010 10:06 AM by C. Arbagey

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