CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Great Basin Rattlesnake - Crotalus oreganus lutosus

Klauber, 1930

(= Crotalus lutosus)
Click on a picture for a larger view




Range in California: Orange

Click the map for a guide
to the other subspecies.


observation link






Venomous and Potentially Dangerous!

great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake
Adult, from the eastern border of Siskiyou county
great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake
Adult, from the eastern border of Siskiyou county Adult, Mono County © Michael Clarkson. Specimen courtesy of Jeff Mintz Adult, Mono County © Michael Clarkson. Specimen courtesy of Jeff Mintz
great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake
Juvenile, Mono County © Michael Clarkson. Specimen courtesy of
Jeff Mintz
Adult, Mono County
© Chris Morrison
Adult, Mono County
© David Tobler
Adult, 8,000 ft., Mono County
© Chris Lima
great basin rattlesnake rattle
rattle
 
Adult, Siskiyou County
Adult tail and rattle Adult tail and rattle  
       
Great Basin Rattlesnakes from outside California
great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake
great basin rattlesnake
Adult, Washoe County, Nevada Juvenile, Washoe County, Nevada
© Don Johnson
Adult, Mineral County, Nevada.
© Brad Alexander
great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake
Den site in Washoe County, Nevada, where snakes have been seen for at least 20 years.
© Tom Green - TomGreenPhotography.com
Adult, Mineral County, Nevada.
© Brad Alexander
great basin rattlesnake great basin rattlesnake    
Adult, Washoe County, Nevada
   
     
C. o. oreganus  can be similar to C. o. lutosus at their southern range limit
northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake northern pacific rattlesnake  
Adult C. o. oreganus, Greenhorn Mountains, Kern County Robert Herndon found this adult C. o. oreganus near Three Rivers in Tulare County. © Robert Herndon

This Panamint Rattlesnake - Crotalus stephensi, Inyo County © Carl Brune, and others like it are also sometimes mistaken for C. o. lutosus or a hybrid of the two species, although no contact zones between the two species are yet known in California.  
Crotalus oreganus oreganus near its southern range limit is variable in appearance, often looking very much like C. o. lutosus. An example is the Kern County snake seen in the row above. Identification of rattlesnakes found in this region can be confusing and open to debate. Some of these controversies should be resolved when the results of further studies on these species are published.

According to Robert Hansen who has studied the area in depth: "Among populations of "oreganus" inhabiting arid landscapes near their southern range limits (e.g., southern San Joaquin Valley, Carrizo Plain), there is a tendency toward small size, light ground color, and reduced dorsal blotch size...features that cause these snakes to superficially resemble lutosus."..."The southern extent of the range of lutosus in eastern California (e.g., the Mono/Inyo counties region) has been mapped in reasonable detail, and thus far, there are no known instances where the ranges of oreganus and lutosus come into contact.
However, farther north, where the Sierra Nevada crest is much lower and the potential for populations of oreganus and lutosus to meet is likely greater, careful field studies are lacking. Ultimately, reliance on features of coloration and pattern to distinguish one form from the other in areas of potential contact is not advised."
 
Habitat
great basin rattlesnake habitat great basin rattlesnake habitat great basin rattlesnake habitat great basin rattlesnake habitat
Habitat, 4,400 ft. Siskiyou county Habitat, 4,300 ft. Siskiyou county Habitat, Surprise Valley, Modoc County Habitat, Siskiyou county lava beds
great basin rattlesnake habitat great basin rattlesnake habitat lutosus habitat  
Adult in habitat, Mineral County, Nevada.
© Brad Alexander
Habitat, Mono County
Habitat, Great Basin desert,
4,000 ft., Lassen County
 
       
Videos and Sound
great basin rattlesnake habitat great basin rattlesnake habitat speaker

 
A Great Basin Rattlesnake rattles at night in the Nevada desert. A Great Basin Rattlesnake crawls under a bush and rattles in the afternoon in eastern Siskiyou County. Listen to a Great Basin Rattlesnake rattling.  © Jeff Rice
Not to be used without permission.
(Listen to more recordings of this snake at the Western Soundscape Archive)
 
       
 
sign rattlesnake sign sign
California rest stop warning sign.
Click on the picture to see more rattlesnake 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 of this species range from 15 - 65 inches long, ( 38 - 165 cm) but typically the adults seen are 3 - 4 feet long.
Newborns are around 10 inches long.

Appearance
A 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.
Color and Pattern
The ground color is variable, matching the environment - pale grey, tan, light yellow, buff colored.
The back is marked with dark blotches with light centers, usually in the shape of bars or ovals, about as wide as the spaces between them.
The underside is pale, sometimes weakly mottled.
Two light stripes extend diagonally across the sides of the head, but they are sometimes faded and not evident.
The tail is barred, and without white rings.
Young
Young have a bright yellow tail with no rattle - just a single button which does not make a sound.
The pattern is brighter on juveniles than on adults.
Similar Snakes
This is the only rattlesnake found in its range. Two other subspecies of this species also occur in California.
Notes on identifying subspecies of Western Rattlesnakes, Crotalus oreganus, found in California.

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.
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, including ground squirrels, mice, rats, rabbits and hares, birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, and insects.

Prey is found while the snake is actively moving, or by ambush, where the snake waits 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.

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.
Breeding
Bears live young.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Crotalus oreganus lutosus - Great Basin Rattlesnake, is found in California in the far northeastern corner and in a small region east of the Sierras near the Mono Lake area. It continues outside the state north into eastern Oregon, and east to western Utah, southern Idaho, most of Nevada, and barely into extreme northwestern Arizona.

The species Crotalus oreganus - Western Rattlesnake, occurs from the Pacific Coast of northern Baja California north through most of California except the southern deserts, through Oregon and eastern Washington into British Columbia, Canada, and east into Idaho, Nevada, Utah, southwestern Wyoming, western Colorado,and northern Arizona.

Full Species Range Map
Approximate Range of Crotalus oreganus - Western Rattlesnake

Green = C. o. abbyssus - Grand Canyon Rattlesnake
Purple = C. o. concolor - Midget Faded Rattlesnake
Blue = C. o. helleri - Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
Yellow = C. o. lutosus - Great Basin Rattlesnake
Red = C. o. oreganus - Northern Pacific Rattlesnake

Elevational Range
Elevation record of 12,112 ft. (3962 m.) Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park, White Pine County, Nevada. (Herpetological Review 41(1), 2010)

Habitat
Inhabits rocky hillsides, barren flats, sagebrush, grassy plains, and agricultural areas.

Notes on Taxonomy
The taxonomy of Western Rattlesnakes is controversial and still being studied.

Some researchers still use the former species name Crotalus viridis and for them this snake remains Crotalus viridis lutosus .


A 2002 study* split C.viridis into 7 distinct species:

Crotalus oreganus oreganus
becomes Crotalus oreganus,
Crotalus oreganus helleri
becomes Crotalus helleri
Crotalus oreganus lutosus
becomes Crotalus lutosus.

The common names remain the same.

* Douglas, Douglas, Schuett, Porras, & Holycross
[2002. Phylogeography of the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) Complex, With Emphasis on the Colorado Plateau]. Pp. 11-50. In Biology of the Vipers [Schuett, Höggren, Douglas, and Greene (editors). Eagle Mountain Publishing, Eagle Mountain, Utah]

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Viperidae Vipers Crotalidae - Pitvipers
Genus Crotalus Rattlesnakes Linnaeus, 1758
Species oreganus Western Rattlesnake Holbrook, 1840
Subspecies


lutosus Great Basin Rattlesnake Klauber, 1930
Original Description
Crotalus viridis - Rafinesque, 1818 - Amer. Month. Mag. Crit. Rev., Vol. 4, No. 1, Nov. p. 41
Crotalus viridis lutosus - Klauber, 1930 - Trans. San Diego Soc. Nat. Hist., Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 100

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
oreganus
- belonging to the state of Oregon - referring to the type locality, "banks of Oregon or Columbia River"
lutosus - Latin - muddy, full of mud - referring to the brownish dorsal color

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

Alternate Names
Crotalus viridis lutosus

Crotalus lutosus

Timber Rattlesnake (It is not uncommon for a rattlesnake found in a forested area in California to be called a Timber Rattlesnake. The true Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is not found in California. It occurs from southeast Minnesota down to central Texas and east to northern Florida up to south-central New Hampshire.)
Related or Similar California Snakes
C. o. helleri - Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
C. o. oreganus - Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
C. atrox - Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
C. s. scutulatus - Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
C. stephensi - Panamint Rattlesnake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

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.

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.


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 snake 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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