Encounters With Rattlesnakes

The rattlesnake (genus Crotalus ) is a group of venomous snakes belonging to a class of snakes commonly known as pit vipers. Rattlesnakes come in many as 20 distinct varieties with numerous subspecies and color variations, but the jointed rattles on the tail all positively identify them. While most of the rattlers are concentrated in the southwestern United States, they extend north, east and south.

The size of the rattlesnake can be anywhere from 2 to over 6 feet in length, with basic color ranging from brown to gray to pinkish, depending on the shade of its habitat. They are easily identifiable by their broad, triangular heads, narrow necks, relatively heavy bodies and rattle on the tail, or blunt tails if the rattles are missing. Rattles are sometimes lost through breakage and or not always developed on the young. The rattlesnake also has openings between the nostrils and eyes, which is used as 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.

Making their home in the deserts of the American Southwest, the rattlesnake is found throughout a variety of places in the California. The snake occupies diverse habitats from sea level to 10,000 feet, ranging from desert flats to rocky hillsides, grassy plains, forested areas, river bottoms and coastal prairies. The tend to take residence among communities of small mammals such as prairie dogs, rabbits, gophers, chipmunks, ground squirrels, mice, and rats. Given the opportunity, the snake will also eat birds.

Rattlesnakes are generally not aggressive and only strike when threatened or deliberately provoked. Given room, they will often choose to retreat, unless frightened by noise, vibrations or certain odors. Most snakebites 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.

With the cooler temperatures of the autumn and winter seasons, rattlesnakes will head to the community dens in the form of a cave or an area covered with many rocks. Here they will hibernate until emerging in the spring. Rattlesnakes commonly breed in the spring. The female, sexually mature at three years old, will bear her brood, in late summer. The young are born complete with fangs and venom, armed and dangerous just as adults at birth, as the mother abandons them upon delivery.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Keep your yard free of piles of grass cuttings, wood, trash are other debris that attract mice or rats.
Put all trash bags inside the trashcans and keep all outdoor trashcan lids securely fastened to the containers. Place trash bins inside sheds, garages or other enclosed structures.
Plug all ground openings such as gopher holes.
Eliminate cover attraction by maintaining several inches of ground clearance under shrubs.
Clear all tall ground covering.
Move all possible hiding places such as large rocks and boards.
Construct if necessary a “rattlesnake proof” fence to keep snakes out of yard and to protect children. The fence should be solid or mesh no larger than one-quarter inch. It should be at least three feet high with the bottom buried a few inches in the ground. Slanting your snake fence outward about a 30-degree angle will help.

What to Do While Hiking

Always wear hiking boots and loose fitting pants. Never go barefoot or wear sandals.
Avoid tall grass, weeds, and heavy underbrush where rattlesnakes may hide.
Do not step or put your hands in places that you cannot see, and avoid wandering in the dark. Be careful when collecting firewood. Always check stumps or logs before sitting down and always shake sleeping bags before use.
Never hike alone. Always have someone present that can assist in case of emergency.
Never handle a freshly killed snake. It can still inject poisonous venom.

In Case of a Snakebite

Remain calm and wash the bite area with soap and water.
Remove watches, rings, etc. which may constrict swelling.
Immobilize the affected area.
Transport safely to the nearest medical facility and get a doctor as soon as possible.

For additional information on what to do in case of snakebite occurrence, visit the following website of California Pest Control: http://www.calpoison.org/public/snakebite.html

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