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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California





California Rattlesnakes

 








Rattling Sounds





observation link

 

All rattlesnakes in California are venomous and potentially dangerous.  (Poisonous)

A bite by any rattlesnake can be very dangerous without immediate medical treatment.  Treatment can require hospitalization and great expense.

There are 7 different species of rattlesnakes found in California. Two of these species consist of more than one subspecies, making a total of 10 different types of rattlesnakes found in the state.

All rattlesnakes in California have a blotched pattern on the back and a rattle on the end of the tail which the snake sometimes uses as a warning sound.
(The rattle is sometimes missing on young snakes and may be broken off on adults, so don't automatically assume that a snake with no rattle is not a rattlesnake.)

To identify a rattlesnake you have seen, look for a picture that is similar to the snake you want to identify, clicking on it to enlarge it if necessary. Read the
brief descriptions of behavior and habitat, and if it fits your snake's appearance, click on the link to continue your search. All of these rattlesnakes can vary in appearance, so if you don't see one here that looks like the rattlesnake you want to identify, check the range maps to see which species occur in your area, then look at the pictures found on the page for each individual snake.

California Rattlesnakes
  Viperidae Vipers    
  Crotalus Rattlesnakes Linnaeus, 1758  
1 Crotalus atrox Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake Baird and Girard, 1853  
  Crotalus cerastes Sidewinder Hallowell, 1854  
2   Crotalus cerastes cerastes Mohave Desert Sidewinder Hallowell, 1854  
3   Crotalus cerastes laterorepens Colorado Desert Sidewinder Klauber, 1944  
  Crotalus mitchellii Speckled Rattlesnake (Cope, 1861)  
4   Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (Cope, 1867 “1866”)  
  Crotalus oreganus Western Rattlesnake Holbrook, 1840  
5   Crotalus oreganus helleri Southern Pacific Rattlesnake Meek, 1905 Crotalus helleri
6   Crotalus oreganus lutosus Great Basin Rattlesnake Klauber, 1930 Crotalus lutosus
7   Crotalus oreganus oreganus Northern Pacific Rattlesnake Holbrook, 1840 Crotalus oreganus
8 Crotalus ruber Red Diamond Rattlesnake Cope, 1892  
  Crotalus scutulatus Mojave Rattlesnake (Kennicott, 1861)  
9   Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus Northern Mohave Rattlesnake (Kennicott, 1861)  
10 Crotalus stephensi Panamint Rattlesnake Klauber, 1930  




1. Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake

A large rattlesnake, found in the southern deserts in the southeast corner of the state. This rattlesnake
has black and white rings around the tail. The rings are about equal in width. Active day and night.

Notes on distinguishing this species from the similar Northern Mohave Rattlesnake.

Notes on distinguishing this species from the similar Red Diamond Rattlesnake.

 
         
Sidewinders

Small rattlesnakes with unique sideways locomotion. Found in open sandy areas in the southern deserts.
Active at night and sometimes during the day. A small horn-like projection is visible above each eye.

 
2. Mohave Desert Sidewinder
 
    3. Colorado Desert Sidewinder  
       
4. Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

A large rattlesnake, found mainly in rocky areas in the southern deserts and south coast.
Saddled pattern on adults appears slightly faded, not distinctly outlined, unlike other rattlesnakes in its range.
Color changes to match the rocks in its habitat. Active at night and day.

 
         
Western Rattlesnakes

The most commonly seen rattlesnake in California, found throughout the state, except the southern deserts.
Active day and night. Often seen while hiking in undisturbed areas, or on roads at night. These rattlesnakes do
not have black and white rings around the tail. They may have dark and light rings, but not black and white.

 
5. Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
 
6. Great Basin Rattlesnake
 
7. Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
 
Notes on identifying subspecies of Western Rattlesnakes, Crotalus oreganus, found in California.
 
8. Red Diamond Rattlesnake

A large rattlesnake, found in the Colorado desert and south coastal region. Active day and night.
Color is various shades of reddish brown.

Notes on distinguishing this species from the similar Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake.

 
         
9. Northern Mohave Rattlesnake

A large rattlesnake found in the Mohave Desert. Active at night, and sometimes during the day.
This rattlsnake has black and white rings around the tail. The black bands are smaller than the white bands.

Notes on distinguishing this species from the similar Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake.

 
         
10. Panamint Rattlesnake

A large rattlesnake, found mainly in rocky areas in the northern and eastern Mohave Desert.
Saddled pattern on adults appears slightly faded, not distinctly outlined, unlike other rattlesnakes in its range.
Color changes to match the rocks in its habitat. Active at night and day.

 
         
Range Maps of Rattlesnakes in California
 
  Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake Sidewinder - Crotalus cerastes
  1. Red: Crotalus atrox 2. RedCrotalus cerastes cerastes -
 Mohave Desert Sidewinder


           3. Orange: Crotalus cerastes laterorepens -
   Colorado Desert Sidewinder
 
  Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake Western Rattlesnake - Crotalus oreganus (viridis)
  4. RedCrotalus mitchellii pyrrhus
5. Blue: Crotalus oreganus helleri
 Southern Pacific Rattlesnake


   6. OrangeCrotalus oreganus lutosus
 Great Basin Rattlesnake


7. RedCrotalus oreganus oreganus
 Northern Pacific Rattlesnake



 
  Red Diamond Rattlesnake Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
   8. Red: Crotalus ruber 9. Red: Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus


     
  Panamint Rattlesnake    
  10. OrangeCrotalus stephensI





   
Frank Buchter contributed this chart to help identify rattlesnakes in California (other than sidewinders.)




Recognizing the Differences Between Rattlesnakes and Gopher Snakes
                 sign
Click on the posters above to read them.
Harmless and beneficial Gopher Snakes are often mistaken for dangerous rattlesnakes and killed unnecessarily. It is easy to avoid this mistake by learning to tell the difference between the two families of snakes as shown in these signs. If you do not have experience handling venomous snakes, you should never handle a snake unless you are absolutely sure that it is not dangerous.

 

"Rattlesnakes are also among the most reasonable forms of dangerous wildlife: their first line of defense is to remain motionless; if you surprise them or cut off their retreat, they offer an audio warning; if you get too close, they head for cover. Venom is intended for prey so they're reluctant to bite, and 25 to 50 percent of all bites are dry - no venom is injected."   Leslie Anthony. Snakebit: Confessions of a Herpetologist. Greystone Books, 2008.
 

Rattlesnake bites can be extremely dangerous, but rattlesnakes should not be considered as vicious and always ready to attack without provocation. They will not strike without a reason, but they will aggressively defend themselves. They are often portrayed with the body partly coiled, the tail rattling loudly, and the head up ready to strike. This display is a warning not to come any closer or they will strike; a defensive behavior that some rattlesnakes use when they sense that crawling away would put them in danger. If they are given some space and some time to escape to a safe place, they will usually crawl away as fast as possible.

Because they cannot crawl to safety as fast as some snakes, rattlesnakes often use their cryptic color and pattern to blend into their surroundings in order to hide from their prey and from other animals that could threaten them. They often hunt by sitting still and waiting for a warm-blooded prey animal to pass close enough for the snake to strike it. Sometimes a passing human will be struck instead, mistaken for food. When they sense the presence of something that might threaten them, rattlesnakes often lie still to avoid detection and do not rattle, because that would give away their location. At other times they rattle loudly, sometimes from a good distance, to warn potential enemies of their presence. In both cases they are doing everything they can to avoid confrontation and to avoid striking and biting and using up their valuable supply of venom which they need to kill and digest their food.

   
More Information About Rattlesnakes
  Living With Rattlesnakes Rattlesnake Signs and Art Rattlesnake Sounds  
         

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