Juvenile eating a rodent on a road at night, Hidalgo County, New Mexico
Habitat, Imperial County desert
Habitat, Imperial County desert
Habitat, New River, Imperial County
Habitat, Imperial County desert
Habitat, Riverside County desert
Habitat, Imperial County
Habitat, Imperial County desert
California National Wildlife Refuge warning sign, Imperial County.
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Short Videos and Sound
Several views of a Cochise County, Arizona Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake rattling and taking a defensive pose with its head and tail elevated.
A Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake rattles in a defensive pose in Sierra County, New Mexico.
Listen to a Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake rattle and hiss.
(This is the snake shown above in the first row, at the far right.)
California Park warning sign.
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Rattlesnakes are important members of the natural community. They will not attack, but if disturbed or cornered, they will defend themselves. Reasonable watchfulness should be sufficient to avoid snakebite. Give them distance and respect.
"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.
A bite by this snake can be very dangerous without immediate medical treatment.
Treatment can require hospitalization and great expense.
The largest rattlesnake in California, and in the West.
Adults grow to 30-90 inches (76-229 cm). Most snakes encountered are from 1 to 4 feet in length.
A long, heavy-bodied pit viper, with a thin neck, a large triangular head, and a rattle on the end of the tail consisting of loose interlocking hollow segments.
A new rattle segment is added each time the skin is shed, which can be more than one time per year.
Pupils are elliptical.
Scales are keeled.
Usually 4 or more small scales occur on top of the head between the supraocular scales.
Color and Pattern
The ground color and the intensity of the pattern are variable, often matching the habitat; grey, brown, olive, tan, or yellowish. Diamond-shaped blotches on the back are brown or black, with light edges.
Broad black and white rings, fairly equal in width, circle a thick tail just before the rattle.
A light stripe extends from behind the eye diagonally to the upper lip in front of the corner of the mouth crossing over the lip. (The posterior light stripe of the Northern Mohave Rattlesnake extends back beyond the corner of the mouth and does not cross the lip.)
Newborn snakes do not have a rattle - just a single button which does not make a sound.
Sometimes 3, but usually 4 or more small scales occur on top of the head between the supraocular scales.
(The Northern Mojave Rattlesnake has 2 large scales between the supraocular scales.)
Also similar to and easily confused with the Red Diamond Rattlesnake, but in California the ranges of these two snakes barely meet, and the Red Diamond Rattlesnake is typically light reddish brown or red in color.
Life History and Behavior
Primarily nocturnal during periods of excessive daytime heat, but also active during daylight when the temperature is more moderate.
Not active during cooler periods in Winter.
Even a dead snake can bite and inject venom if the jaws reflexively open when they are touched.
Sound - The Rattle
When alarmed, a rattlesnake shakes its tail back and forth. The movement rubs the rattle segments together producing a buzzing sound which serves as a warning. Juveniles are born with only a silent button at the end of the tail.
When disturbed, in self-defense Western Diamond-backs will often aggressively hold their ground, raising the head high in a striking coil with the tail elevated and rattling, and hissing loudly.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small mammals, birds, lizards. Juveniles sometimes eat large insects and frogs.
Pits on the sides of the head sense heat. These heat sensors help the snake to locate prey by their warmth.
Long, hollow, movable fangs connected to venom glands inject a very toxic venom which quickly immobilizes the prey.
The snake can control the amount of venom injected and the fangs are replaced if broken.
An ambush hunter, it typically sits near the trail of a mammal, waiting for it to pass by, then strikes at and releases the prey. The snake then follows the trail of the envenomated animal and swallows it whole.
Adult male snakes engage in ritual combat mostly during the breeding season to defend territory.
Necks and forebodies are intertwined, with the stronger snake slamming the smaller one to the ground until the weaker snake leaves the area.
Found in southeast California in Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties.
(The 1990 California Dept. of Fish and Game California Wildlife Habitat Relationships System range map for the species shows it ranging farther west into San Diego County, overlapping the range of C. ruber.)
Outside of California, the species ranges through Arizona, New Mexico to Oklahoma Arkansas and East Texas, and south into Mexico.
Generally found at elevations less than 1000 ft. (300 m).
Inhabits arid and semiarid areas including mountains, deserts, canyons and rocky vegetated foothills.
When a Pet Gets Snake Bitten: The amazing story of Andy Cat, a very lucky cat who was bitten by a rattlesnake and survived, thanks to the smart actions of its owners.
Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.
Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.
Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.
Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.
Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.
Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.
Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press.
Ernst, Carl. H. Venomous Reptiles of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999.
Hayes, William K., Kent R. Beaman, Michael D. Cardwell, and Sean P. Bush, editors. The Biology of Rattlesnakes. Loma Linda University Press, 2009.
Hubbs, Brian R., & Brendan O'Connor. A Guide to the Rattlesnakes and other Venomous Serpents of the United States. Tricolor Books, 2011.
Klauber, Laurence M. Rattlesnakes. University of California Press. (Abridged from the 1956 two volume Rattlesnakes:
Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind.) University of California Press, 1982.
Rubio, Manny. Rattlesnake - Portrait of a Predator. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998.
Walls, Jerry G. Rattlesnakes: Their Natural History and Care. T. F. H. Publications, Inc., 1996.
The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.