More and more people are coming in contact with rattlesnakes because we humans have moved into their backyards out in the countryside.
In the United States there are four main types of venomous snakes, rattlesnakes, water moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes. There are over 30 species of rattlesnakes with a great number of subspecies.
The rattle located at the end of their tails is part of the snakes’ warning device. The snake shakes its tail when threatened, making a very distinctive rattling sound. A rattlesnake will form a new rattle every time is sheds its skin which can be up to three to four times a year.
Newborn live rattlesnakes form what is called a button. This small button is noiseless until it sheds its skin and forms a secondary rattle. Baby rattlesnakes can bite without any form of warning and when their delicate button is broken off there is no opportunity for a snake to give off a warning rattle.
Rattlesnakes are known by some distinctive features:
• Usually a rattle at the end of its tail, but not always
• A wide and arrow-shaped head (triangular) on a narrow neck
• Elliptical pupils instead of round ones, almost like a cat’s-eye
A rattlesnake will burrow into holes in the soil like gopher tunnels and will use those resources (the rodents) until they are eaten up and move on to the next buffet. Rattlesnakes serve as nature’s own way of controlling the native rodent populations. So if you have a large rodent population in your landscape, consider the possibility that snakes of many types may patronize your garden in search of a meal or two.
Rattlesnakes cannot regulate their own body temperature, so they are less active during cool times than during warm months. It is usually at the coming of the warmer summer months that they become more active and can be seen out hunting for chow both during the day and the night time.
It is vital to understand, that when threatened they will defend themselves and can be coiled or not coiled to be in a striking position, so always be careful around any type of snake.
If you are out hiking or just working in the garden, be aware at all times of your surroundings and in tune with your senses. Snakes can pick up vibrations of feet and walking sticks, so be careful when rock climbing, hiking out in the native chaparral or along a boulder path of a riverbank, and stay alert.
If you don’t know what kind of snake it is, leave it alone and don’t bother it.
If bitten by a rattlesnake, it is important to get help as soon as possible. Call 911 for medical assistance immediately. In Southern California we have only one type of poisonous snake and that is the rattlesnake. The antivenin treatment for a rattlesnake bite does not require knowing what species of rattlesnake it is.
Remember some of these key points if bitten:
• Do not ice the bite area
• Do not attempt to suck out the venom with your mouth
• Do not apply a constricting tourniquet to the area.
• Do not cut the bite area
• Seek medical attention immediately.
Since I do a lot of my landscape work out in gardens and wild land areas, I always wear my rattlesnake boots which are knee high with a wire-webbing laminated into the rubber of the total boot surface.
Roger Boddaert is a landscape designer and certified arborist who can be contacted at (760) 728-4297.