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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oh NO! It's a SNAKE!

Here in the Valley we are fortunate to behold all sorts of wild animals, including snakes. This time of year, mid-spring to early summer, we start receiving more and more calls about snakes. Most snakes do hibernate through the winter, or due to the cold weather, are a lot slower and remain less visible. This is also the time of year that baby snakes are emerging from their nests to venture off on their own.
 A couple of months ago I did have a call for a baby rattle snake inside someones house. Yes, inside their house. Of coarse being so early in the season I didn't quite believe it at first. But when I got there sure enough, there was this unhappy little rattler coiled up on this gentleman's staircase. Snake tongs and bucket in hand I carefully removed the baby. Both the man and his little dog could have been bitten had his dog not hear it rattling and raised a commotion. Several of the neighbors, friends of the man, came over to see what was going on. Of coarse I took this opportunity to show them the snake and educate them on rattlesnakes and other snakes that do frequent their area. There aren't too many areas in our county that don't have snakes, especially rattlesnakes. And the closer you are to the River parkways or Lake the higher your chances of seeing them. This seems to surprise people. And once again you have the people who want to live in nature but know nothing about it or what lives in it.
Following is a little guide to the most common snakes we have here in the Valley.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
This is actually the only venomous snake we have in our area. They are not typically an aggressive snake (unlike the Mohave Rattler), unless provoked or cornered. Their coloring it a mixture of rough dusty white (belly),tan and brown. They get their name from the patterning on their back that resembles diamond shapes. Their head is different than other non-venomous snakes, it is wide behind the eyes and almost a heart shape. Their eyes are forward facing on the head, rather than the sides. And then there are of coarse the rattles. Baby rattlers normally only have one small little "button". Adults have several more buttons that when agitated make the "rattle" sound. Sort of like putting a few beans in a paper bag and shaking it. The sound actually comes from the segments of the rattle being loose and rubbing together to make the distinctive sound. Rattlesnakes feed on mice, rats, gophers, ground squirrels, moles and any number of small "pest" rodents. Despite being venomous they are a beneficial creature! Rattle snakes like all other snakes are cold blooded reptiles. They are not typically active at night due to the temperature drop. And because of this they are often seen during the morning and daytime hours on rocks, cement, pathways and roads "sunning" themselves. They need the heat to warn their bodies so they have better mobility, especially for hunting. They will also sun themselves after eating, to help them digest their meal.
What should you do if you see a rattle snake? Or have a rattle snake in your yard? Put your pets away so they will leave it alone and not get hurt by it. And the best coarse of action is to leave it alone yourself. It will go away. If it is however in your home, garage or other area that it may not be able to get out the way it came, then call your local Animal Services Department or there are companies that will come out and remove snakes, for a fee. Should you kill it? This is not necessary, and can be unsafe. A rattler's venom is still potent after it is dead. It's best if you must have it removed to have someone remove it for you. What if you are bitten? Call 911 or have someone take you to a hospital immediately! What if your pet is bitten? Take them immediately to a emergency vet! Dogs are the most commonly bitten pet. And they have a very good recovery as long as veterinary treatment is given immediately. Did you know that there is a Rattle snake Vaccine now for dogs? Check with your vet about getting this is you live in an area where rattle snakes are common, or you frequent places where there are rattle snakes, such as the parkways and lake area. Rattle snakes are not "Bad" snakes. They just need to be respected and left alone.

GOPHER SNAKE (Common and Striped Also called a BULL SNAKE):
Gopher Snake-Common Adult (this is one I caught)
Gopher snakes are the most commonly seen snakes. More so than even the rattle snake. Gophers snakes are very often confused with Rattle snakes. And they have some habits and characteristics that are misleading, often leading to their demise.

Gopher Snake-Young Striped

The Common Gopher snake looks very similar to a rattle snake. Without knowing better many people do make this mistake. The first most common mistake is seeing the pattern on their backs. People don't want to get close enough to find out. However, the Gopher snake has a much darker Brown pattern and a shiny smooth yellow-tan coloring. Their heads are shaped differently as well shaped more in line with their bodies, slender like a finger rather than a fist. Their eyes are on more on the sides of their head rather than on the top or forward like the rattler. Another charteristic the Gopher has to "defend" itself is to fill itself with air and creates a hiss that sounds very much like a rattlesnake's rattle. These are of coarse natural defenses again natural enemies. But people see them as the "bad guy" rattlesnake.They will coil up like a rattler, hiss their rattle sound and even strike like a rattler. And unfortunately they are often killed because of it. Gopher Snakes are Non-Venomous, but they will bite if messed with. And it hurts! Trust me I know! Gopher snakes eat of coarse gophers, but also moles, voles, mice, rats, and other small rodents. They like the snake they mimic, the rattler are a beneficial snake. If they are found, leave them alone they will go away. You can even go as far as to give it a little shove with the soft side of a broom to make it not want to hang around. I personally like having these guys around my house. I have chickens and horses so I have feed that rodents like to get into. I have released a few gopher snakes on my property and have noticed my rodent problem in my barn is pretty low. I even found several baby gopher snakes in my shed. So the snakes are healthy, breeding and eating well!

Common King Snake
Yolo Dark King Snake

King snakes are not a commonly seen snakes. But when you do see them they are really cool looking. King snakes like the Gopher snake will mimic a rattle snake, but look nothing like a rattle snake. King Snakes are non-venomous, they are commonly known to eat other snakes, including rattle snakes. But they will eat lizards, small rodents and other small vertebrae .They are a beneficial predator especially if you live in an area with a large population of rattlers!


Valley Garter Snake
The Valley Garter Snake is another commonly seen snake. Especially around areas where there is water. They eat a wide variety of prey, including  toads, frogs and their eggs, fish, birds, and their eggs, small mammals, reptiles, earthworms, slugs, and leeches.
They are non-venomous and actually fairly docile when caught. However, be careful when handling, they have a offensive defence mechanism. They will poop on you!

GIANT GARTER SNAKE (Threatened Species):
Giant Garter Snake
The Giant Garter snake is much like it's cousin the Valley Garter. However this Garter snake can get up to six feet long! The difference between this garter and it's cousin is it does not have the Valley Garter's bright yellow and red coloring. The Giant garter is an excellent swimmer and most common around canals and water ways. They have been known to frequent rice fields which may have contributed to there demise in numbers. If you see one of these consider yourself very fortunate! They are rare!

Yellow Belly Racer:

The Yellow Belly Racer reminders me of a song from my childhood, "Sneaky Snake" by Tom T.Hall. Racers are fast movers, long slender with coloring ranging from grey to green. They aren't limited to racing through the grass, they climb trees too! But have no fear, they are non-venomous. they are only climbing trees to find frogs, lizards and occasionally birds. "Sneaky snake goes dancing, wiggling and a hissin' , Sneaky snake goes dancing gigglin and a kissin! Oh I don't like that sneaky snake he laughs to much you see, when he goes wigglin through the grass it tickles his underneath!" Tom T.Hall

I know that there are lots of people out there that are terrified of snakes. they think their slimy, slithery evil creatures. But they are none of these. They all serve a purpose in out ecosystem and most of them provide natural pest control.

If even in doubt about a snake in your yard, or a snake comes into your house, please call your local animal services we can help you out.


  1. post a picture of a bull snake. I hate snakes. Remember them especially rattle snakes when I was young. OMG!!! Anyhow, moved to Carson City, NV area and found several of the bull snakes wondering my mini ranch. Relocated one, and let the bigger one stay. ;o) Boy can they mimic the rattle snake.

  2. The Bull Snake is actually another name for the Gopher snake. Thank you for reminding me! I'll make a correction to include that!

  3. I saw a giant garter snake a number of years back along Laguna Creek. Well, I saw most of it. What had drawn me to it was this bizarre squeaking sound, and I saw it head down in what was most likely a mouse nest. Oops for the mice.

  4. My son caught a 2 foot long King Snake just about 2 weeks ago. Found him sunning on the sidewalk in front of God and everyone. Beautiful snake... first time seeing a California King up close and in person!