CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake - Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus

(Cope, 1867 “1866”)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Range MapRange in California: Red

Orange: Panamint Rattlesnake




Rattlesnake Sounds and Video




observation link






Venomous and Potentially Dangerous!

Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, Imperial County Adult, Imperial County
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, Imperial County, that eventually climbed a low bush to hide from the camera lights.
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, San Diego County Adult, San Bernardino County Adult, Riverside County
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, Box Canyon, Riverside County Adult, Riverside County, colored to blend in well with its rocky substrate. Adult, San Bernardino County.
© Steven Krause
Juvenile, San Bernardino County
© Michael Clarkson
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, Santa Ana Mountains, Riverside County © 2005 Ken Pitts Adult, San Diego County
© Ryan Shatto
Adult, San Diego County © Bruce Edley Adult, Imperial County
© John Stoklosa
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, San Bernardino County
© Michael Clarkson
Adult, San Diego County © Taylor Henry Adult, San Diego County mountains.
© Stuart Young
Adult, San Diego County © Taylor Henry
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, Granite Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Keith Condon Adult from lava beds habitat, San Bernardino County. © Steven Krause
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, Granite Mountains, San Bernardino County. © Keith Condon Adult on stone fence, San Diego County © Sean Kelly
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Klauber graffiti
Adult, Orange County © David Feliz Tail and Rattle Tail and Rattle


The great California herpetologist and rattlesnake expert Laurence Klauber made his mark on a support column underneath a highway bridge in the San Diego County desert, writing:
"L. Klauber caught Crotalus m. pyrrhus here, 1953."
It remained untouched for almost 50 years before it was tagged over (as you can see here.) It is now completely painted over, but his classic book on rattlesnakes still remains.
       
Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnakes From Outside California
Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake
Adult, Yuma County, Arizona
© Gary Nafis
Specimen courtesy of Marty Feldner
Adult, Yavapai County, Arizona Adult, Yavapai County, Arizona Adult, Yuma County, Arizona
© Michael Clarkson
       
Males in Combat
Speckled Rattlesnakes Speckled Rattlesnakes    
Lara hartley photographed these two male snakes in combat in the Newberry Mountains, San Bernardino County. © lara hartley    
     
Feeding and Predators
Red Coachwhip Speckled Rattlesnake Speckled Rattlesnake  
Though they are not solely snake-eaters, Red Coachwhips will eat whatever they can find and overpower, including snakes. Darrel Roberts found this one eating a young Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake in his Phoenix driveway one morning.  © Darrel Roberts Sean Kelly found this juvenile Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake eating a Great Basin Fence Lizard behind his garbage can one afternoon in San Diego County.
© Sean Kelly
 
     
Habitat
Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, Riverside County Habitat,Imperial County
Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat
Habitat, Riverside County Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, San Diego County Lava beds habitat, San Bernardino County. © Steven Krause
Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat Speckled Rattlesnake Habitat Southern Desert Horned Lizard Habitat  
Habitat, Imperial County Habitat, Orange County © David Feliz Habitat, San Bernardino County  
       
Short Videos and Sounds
Speckled Rattlesnake Video Speckled Rattlesnake Video Speckled Rattlesnake Video Speckled Rattlesnake Video
A coiled Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake rattles, uncoils, and crawls into a bush. (Some loud background noise has been deleted in the middle of the video.) A speckled rattlesnake crawls across a road and up into a bush in Imperial County. A speckled rattlesnake rattles from up in a bush in Imperial County. A large adult speckled rattlesnake rattling and crawling away on a windy night.
  speaker

 
  Listen to a rattlesnake rattling.  
     
 
sign rattlesnake sign rattler sign
  Anza-Borrego State Park warning sign.
Click the picture to see more rattlesnake warning signs.

 

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.

Description

Dangerously Venomous (Poisonous)

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

Size
Adults are 23-52 inches in length (58-132 cm) averaging 2 - 3.5 feet.
Young 8.5 - 10.5 inches.

Appearance
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.

Bites on humans are potentially dangerous without immediate medical treatment.
Even a dead snake can bite and inject venom if the jaws reflexively open when they are touched.
Color and Pattern
Shows a great variety of body coloration which usually allows the snake to blend into its environment, from off-white, yellowish, gray, tan, pinkish, pale orange, to brown. Snakes from dark lava bed environments can be almost all black.
The body is marked with a vague pattern consisting of dark speckled banded markings.
Dark and light rings surround a thick tail.
The tail rings are in considerable color contrast with the body color, with the terminal rings being black and with an ash-gray ground color on the tail often present. Compare with C. stephensi.
Young
Newborn snakes do not have a rattle - just a single button which does not make a sound.
Similar Snakes
Found in sympatry with other species of rattlesnakes, including Crotalus ruber, Crotalus oreganus helleri, Crotalus atrox, Crotalus scutulatus and Crotalus cerastes. Can be differentiated from these species by color, pattern, and tail rings, and the lack of horns over the eyes.
Very similar to Crotalus stephensi, which was once thought to be the same species. Information on differentiating the two species can be found here.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Primarily nocturnal and crepuscular during periods of excessive daytime heat, but also active during daylight when the temperature is more moderate. Not active during cooler periods in Winter.

An ambush hunter, it may wait near lizard or rodent trails, striking at and releasing passing prey. The snake then follows the trail of the envenomated animal and swallows it whole. Prey is also found while the snake is actively moving.

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.
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.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small mammals, lizards, and birds.

Heat sensing pits on the sides of the head help the snake to locate prey by their warmth.
Long, hollow, movable fangs connected to venom glands inject a very toxic venom which quickly immobilize prey.
The snake can control the amount of venom injected and the fangs are replaced if broken.

An ambush hunter, it may wait near lizard or rodent trails, striking at and releasing passing prey. The snake then follows the trail of the envenomated animal and swallows it whole. Prey is also found while the snake is actively moving.
Breeding
Live-bearing; young born July and August.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus - Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake, is found throughout much of southern California north to aproximately the Mojave river, east into Nevada and extreme southwest Utah, south into Arizona and southern Baja California Norte.

The species Crotalus mitchellii is found from California south to the cape region of Baja California, Mexico, and east into Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

Full Species Range Map
Red = Approximate Range of Crotalus mitchellii - Speckled Rattlesnake

Elevational Range
From sea level to 8,000 ft. (2,440 m)

Habitat
Associated mostly with arid areas strewn with rocks and boulders - alongside buttes, mesas, and desert outcroppings, but sometimes found on loose soil. Occurs in areas vegetated by sagebrush, creosote, thornscrub, chaparral, pinon-juniper woodland, succulent desert.

Notes on Taxonomy
In a 2007 paper, * using molecular data, Douglas et al showed that this snake is a distinct species, not a subspecies of Crotalus mitchellii.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Viperidae Vipers Crotalidae - Pitvipers
Genus Crotalus Rattlesnakes Linnaeus, 1758
Species mitchellii Speckled Rattlesnake (Cope, 1861)
Subspecies

pyrrhus Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (Cope, 1867 “1866”)
Original Description
Crotalus mitchellii - (Cope, 1861) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 13, p. 293
Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus - (Cope, "1866" 1867) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 18, p. 308

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Crotalus - Greek - krotalon - a rattle - refers to the rattle on the tail
mitchellii
- honors Mitchell, S. Weir
pyrrhus - Greek - pyrrhos - flame colored, reddish

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
None

Related or Similar California Snakes
C. atrox - Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
C. ruber - Red Diamond Rattlesnake
C. s. scutulatus - Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
C. c. laterorepens - Colorado Desert Sidewinder
C. c. cerastes - Mohave Desert Sidewinder
C. stephensi - Panamint Rattlesnake
C. o. helleri - Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

SDNHM

Living With Rattlesnakes

California Department of Fish and Game: Rattlesnakes in California

University of California: Rattlesnakes Management Guide

Tucson Herpetological Society: Living With Venomous Reptiles pdf

Florida Museum of Natural History: How to Get Along with Snakes

Southwestern Field Herping Associates: Venomous Snake Safety

Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management - Rattlesnake Control / Snake Control


Rattlesnake Bites


California Poison Control System (search for "rattlesnake bite")

University of Arizona: Rattlesnakes

Justin Schwartz' Rattlesnake Bite Story and Pictures

Sean Bush MD: Venom ER - When snakes strike!

eNature - How to Avoid Snakebites and How to Treat One

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.


Publications

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.

* Douglas, Michael E., Marlis R. Douglas, gordon W. Schuett, Louis W. Porras, and Blake L. Thomason. Genealogical Concordance between Mitochondrial and Nuclear DNAs Supports Species Recognition of the Panamint Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii stephensi). Copeia, 2007(4), pp. 920–932.

Conservation Status

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 animal is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.

Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None

 

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