Anyone who ventures outdoors this time of year should know how to identify California’s only native venomous snake – the rattlesnake. There are several species including the northern Pacific rattlesnake (in northern California), and the western diamondback, sidewinder, speckled rattlesnake, red diamond rattlesnake, southern Pacific rattlesnake, Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake (all found in Southern California).
Rattlesnakes are not confined to rural areas. They have been found in urban areas, on riverbanks and lakeside parks and at golf courses. Startled rattlesnakes may not rattle before striking defensively. DFG recommends the following safety precautions be followed to reduce the likelihood of startling a rattlesnake:
- Wear hiking boots and loose-fitting long pants.
- Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through wild areas.
- When hiking, stick to well-used trails.
- Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
- Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see, and avoid wandering around in the dark.
- Step ON logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood.
- Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use.
- Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers. Rattlesnakes can swim.
- Be careful when stepping over doorsteps as well. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.
- Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
- Do not handle a freshly killed snake, as it can still inject venom.
- Teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone.
The best protection against rattlesnakes in the yard is a “rattlesnake proof” fence. The fence should either be solid or with 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. Keep vegetation away from the fence and remove piles of boards or rocks around the home. Use caution when removing those piles – there may already be a snake there. Encourage and protect natural competitors like gopher snakes, kingsnakes and racers. Kingsnakes actually kill and eat rattlesnakes.
Though uncommon, rattlesnake bites do occur, so have a plan in place for responding to any situation. Carry a cell phone, hike with a companion who can assist in an emergency, and make sure that family or friends know where you are going and when you will be checking in.
- Stay calm.
- Wash the bite area gently with soap and water.
- Remove watches, rings, etc, which may constrict swelling.
- Immobilize the affected area.
- Transport safely to the nearest medical facility.
- DON’T apply a tourniquet.
- DON’T pack the bite area in ice.
- DON’T cut the wound with a knife or razor.
- DON’T use your mouth to suck out the venom.
- DON’T let the victim drink alcohol.
Herpetologists found out that rattlesnake toxin stays active on average for 27 years before it starts to deteriorate. Only one of the toxins starts losing its toxicity after 17 years, that of the Western Diamondback rattlesnake. Lethal dose for humans is about 100 mg; this snake can contain up to 300 mg in its venom sacks. The venom of this species is very hemorrhagic. It contains 17% neurotic enzymes, 53 percent attack the respiratory system and another 30 percent set the process of digestion in motion.
The Speckled Rattlesnake injects about .16 mg, but most rattlers envenom their victims with about 100 mg.