Rattlesnakes and California love the warmth of the sun, the vast desert, and abundant resources. These versatile creatures comfortably inhabit various parts of the state, from rural landscapes to parks, golf courses and river banks. They have the ability to find suitable hiding places, such as rock crevices and burrows. However, these cold-blooded creatures need sunlight to regulate their body temperature, which makes them sometimes visible on roads and trails.

Their peak activity is in the summer, when they bask in daylight and hunt at dusk. When the weather turns cold, they retire to their burrows, slowing their heart and breathing rates to conserve energy. They are solitary for the most part, but lack of space may force them to share burrows with other reptiles. Do not be surprised that they are hidden in basements and barns, escaping from the cold outside.

Rattlesnake species found in California

  • California is home to seven unique species of rattlesnake:
  • Mojave rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus), the most dangerous of the bunch, call the desert and foothills of southeastern California home.
  • Panamint rattlesnakes (C. stephensi) prefer the interior desert areas of Southern California.
  • Red diamondback rattlesnakes (C. ruber), although not abundant, can be seen from Baja California south to Los Angeles.
  • The smallest rattlesnakes, the side rattlesnake (C. cerastes), live in desert areas at elevations up to 6,000 feet.
  • Speckled rattlesnakes (C. mitchellii) are another desert-loving species that live from Baja California to the Colorado, Mojave, and Sonoran deserts.
  • Western diamondback rattlesnakes (C. atrox) are surprisingly rare in California, found mostly in southeastern desert areas.
  • Finally, western rattlesnakes (C. oreganus) are ubiquitous throughout California, and their three subspecies are distributed throughout the state.

Identifying a rattlesnake

A rattlesnake is always recognizable by its triangular head and distinctive rattle on the tail, whether it’s a three-foot sidewinder or a six-foot diamondback western. The rattle, made of keratin, grows with each shedding of the skin. These creatures have coarse, earth-colored scales for camouflage and dimples on their heads that are sensitive to temperature and help them hunt at night.

When a rattlesnake bites, it doesn’t always inject venom – some are “dry bites” used to fend off larger threats without expending the energy to produce venom. But one can’t be too careful; all bites should be considered venomous and require immediate medical attention.

Encounter Prevention and Survival

Rattlesnakes are mostly reclusive and prefer to avoid human contact. Most bites occur when people unwittingly cross paths with them or try to hold them. Here are some tips on how to avoid a rattlesnake bite and what to do if you are bitten:

Prevention of rattlesnake bites

  • Be alert during warm weather as snakes are most active.
  • Stick to marked trails, don’t run into vegetation or rocks, and don’t wander after dark.
  • Wearing long pants and closed-toe shoes can provide some protection.
  • Be careful when handling items outdoors and listen for any obvious rattles.
  • If you encounter snakes or snake-like objects, stay away.
  • Rattlesnakes are surprisingly good swimmers, so don’t pick up random sticks or twigs in ponds.
  • Make sure your yard is well-kept and always keep pets on a leash when walking.

Survive the bite

  • Stay calm, call for help immediately, and avoid self-medication, such as cutting or icing the wound.
  • Wash the bite area with soap and water and remove any potentially compressive objects from the injured limb.
  • Use the suction device from the snakebite kit, if available, to extract the venom.
  • Transport the victim safely to the nearest medical facility without exceeding the speed limit. If your pet has been bitten, take them to the vet immediately.
  • Take heart in knowing that most victims of rattlesnake bites make a full recovery within a few days.
  • Bees, wasps and scorpions kill more people every year in the US than snakes.

By taking precautions and knowing how to react to a snake bite, one can safely coexist with these formidable creatures.




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