As the temperatures warm up and more people are getting outdoors, we wanted to share this previous blog post on rattle snakes along with a few updates…
The vast majority of snakes in California are harmless, save for one, the rattlesnake. California is home to eight species of rattlesnake; the one we find in Northern California is the northern Pacific rattlesnake.
Rattlesnakes live in a variety of habitats including deserts, prairies, and forests, but prefer a rocky area that allows them to bask, hide, and hunt. All species of rattlesnake are keystone predators which are crucial to keeping the ecosystem in balance.
Rattlesnakes are in the pit viper family and hunt with a neurotoxic venom that paralyses its prey. They hunt birds, rodents, insects, lizards and other snakes which help to keep disease spreading, pest, populations in check. Rattlesnakes are characterized by their triangular shaped head, elliptical pupil, fat bodies, and notorious rattler; many snakes and insects mimic this predator’s infamous rattle to prevent being eaten themselves.
Although potentially dangerous, the risk of being bitten by a rattlesnake is quite low. California reports approximately 800 snake bites per year with only 1-2 being fatal.
The rattlesnake is the definition of cautionary beauty; absolutely majestic and a specimen of evolutionary perfection, but deadly. Anyone who grew up the country is well aware of this snake’s power. Fortunately, the rattlesnake merely prefers to be left alone and will only strike when agitated or startled which allows it to coexist with people peacefully if everyone exerts a little caution in the warmer months.
The rain this year has created an abundance of tall grass making it more difficult to see the “snakes in the grass”. Use caution when you’re out hiking as the snake will blend in with the surroundings. They are most active between the months of April and October. Typically bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing.
Here are some helpful tips to reduce your chance of being bit by a rattle snake:
- Don’t wear open toed shoes, flip flops, or go bare foot when walking in grassy or bushy areas. Wear sturdy shoes or boots and long pants.
- Avoid walking through tall grass if possible or carry a stick. It’s best to stay on well-used trails.
- Look before you reach for something and be sure you can see where you’re putting your feet.
- Make sure children are well informed and know where they shouldn’t play.
- Keep tall grass, bushes, wood piles, and rock piles away from your home.
- Check out stumps, logs or rocks before sitting down. The snakes often hide in the cracks.
- Hike with a buddy or group, and keep your cell phone handy in case of emergency.
- If hiking with your dog, make sure to keep them on a leash.
- Keep your home rodent free and encourage the presence of king snakes which deter rattlesnakes.
If you are bit, here’s what you should do:
- Stay calm and still, avoid moving the bitten area as much as possible.
- If bit on the hand or arm, remove any watches or rings which may constrict swelling.
- Call 911 for emergency responders or to find out where the closest hospital is that has anti-venom.
- Keep bitten area below level of heart to reduce venom flow.
If you have a consistent rattlesnake visitor that is causing you worry, call a pest control company to remove the snake. Rattlesnakes are a beautiful predator and are an important facet of the ecosystem. With a little extra vigilance and preparation people can continue to coexist with this magnificent creature.
For more information, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/News/Snake
(Modified from the original blog by Alyssa Harmon. Photo credit Natalie McNear)