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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California



Northern Mohave Rattlesnake - Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus

(Kennicott, 1861)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Northern Mohave Rattlesnake Range Map Range in California: Red




observation link



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Venomous and Potentially Dangerous!

Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
Adult, San Bernardino County Adult, San Bernardino County
© Carl Brune
Adult, Kern County
© Todd Battey
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
Adult in defensive pose, Kern County. (Note that the rear light
stripe extends beyond the corner of the mouth.) © Jeff Ahrens
Ault, San Bernardino County. © Ben Smith
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
Adult crossing pavement at night,
Kern County
Albino adult, Kern County
© Brad Alexander
Juvenile resting during daytime inside a small burrow, Kern County Tail and Rattle

Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake    
Top of the head close-up showing two large scales between the supraoculars.
© Patrick Briggs
Top of the head close-up showing two large scales between the supraoculars.
Compare with the several small scales between the supraoculars of the Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake.
This adult in San Bernardino County was so angry that it struck repeatedly, biting its own tail, which shows some blood. 
© Patrick Briggs
 
       
Northern Mohave Rattlesnakes from Outside California
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
Adult, Cochise County, Arizona.
(Note that the rear light stripe extends beyond the corner of the mouth.)
Adult, Cochise County, Arizona Adult in extreme defensive pose, Santa Cruz County, Arizona © 2004 Tim Burkhardt
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake
Adult, Santa Cruz County, Arizona Adult, Cochise County, Arizona
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake    
Adult, Hidalgo County, New Mexico
Juvenile, Pima County, Arizona Sub-adult, Cochise County, Arizona  
       
Breeding Pair
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake      
A pair of in situ adults (probably a breeding male and female) found in a field of blooming poppies and coreopsis on an early April afternoon in the Antelope Valley, Kern County © Brian Blackwelder
   
     
Feeding
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake   Northern Mohave Rattlesnake    
Adult, Los Angeles County, eating a Harris Antelope Ground Squirrel. © Erin McGuire
 
Habitat
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake Habitat Mohave Glossy Snake Habitat Desert Tortoise Habitat Northern Mohave Rattlesnake Habitat
Habitat, San Bernardino County
© 2004 Carl Brune
Habitat, Inyo County desert Habitat, desert flats, Kern County Habitat, San Bernardino County desert

Northern Mohave Rattlesnake Habitat      
Habitat, Los Angeles County desert      
       
Short Videos and Sound
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake Northern Mohave Rattlesnake speaker icon

 
Several views of a Northern Mohave Rattlesnake rattling and taking a defensive posture. A Northern Mohave rattlesnake crawls off a road in Arizona. Click on the play button or the speaker to hear a Mojave Rattlesnake rattling  
       
 
sign Rattlesnake Sign sign
  California Park sign.
Click 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 24 - 51 inches long (61 - 129 cm) Most snakes encountered are from 18 - 40 inches in length. Newborns are about 10.5 inches.

Appearance
A heavy-bodied, dangeously venomous pit viper, with a thin neck and a large triangular head.
Pupils are elliptical.
Scales are keeled.
Usually there are 2 or 3 large scales on the top of the head between the supraoculars.

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
A light stripe runs from behind the eye diagonally to the upper lip beyond the corner of the mouth, but does not cross over the lip.
(The posterior light stripe of the Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake extends to the upper lip in front of the corner of the mouth, crossing over the lip.)

Ground color varies from greenish gray, yellow, tan, olive green, to brown. Irregular, dark, well-defined, diamond or near diamond-shaped dorsal markings.

Black and white rings surround a thick tail. The black rings are narrower than the light rings, and often offset. A rattle on the end of the tail, consisting of loose interlocking segments. A new rattle segment is added each time the skin is shed.
Young
Newborn snakes do not have a rattle - just a single button which does not make a sound.
Similar Snakes
(The Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake usually has 4 or more small scales between the supraoculars.)
Similar to and easily confused with the Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, though there is little range overlap 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.

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.

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, including ground squirrels, mice, rats, rabbits and hares, and occasionally lizards, snakes, and toads.
(Adult California Ground Squirrels are immune to rattlesnake venom and will intensely confront any snake they feel to be a threat.)

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 immobilize the prey.
The snake can control the amount of venom injected and the fangs are replaced if broken.

Bites on humans are potentially deadly without immediate medical treatment. Even a dead snake can bite and inject venom if the jaws reflexively open when they are touched.
Breeding
Live-bearing; young are born July - September. Male to male combat occurs. You can see two snakes wrestling on this UTube movie.

Geographical Range
Found in southeastern California from the Colorado river north of the San Bernardino County line, west through the Mojave desert to the Antelope Valley, to Walker Pass in the Sierra Nevada, and east of the Sierra Nevada into Inyo County. Absent from the southeastern Colorado deserts, but there are unconfirmed reports of sightings west of the Colorado River in Imperial County.
Outside of California, ranges north into Nevada, east into west Texas, and far south into Mexico.

Habitat
Inhabits grassland, desert scrub, rocky slopes, creosote bush flats, open juniper woodland, and light chaparral.

Notes on Taxonomy
None

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Viperidae Vipers Crotalidae - Pitvipers
Genus Crotalus Rattlesnakes Linnaeus, 1758
Species scutulatus Mohave Rattlesnake (Kennicott, 1861)
Subspecies

scutulatus Northern Mohave Rattlesnake (Kennicott, 1861)
Original Description
Crotalus scutulatus - (Kennicott, 1861) - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 13, p. 207

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
scutulatus
- Latin - having a shield shaped patch - refers to the dorsal pattern

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

Alternate Names
Mohave (or Mojave) Green Rattlesnake
Mohave (or Mojave) Rattlesnake

Related or Similar California Snakes
C. atrox - Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
C. ruber - Red Diamond Rattlesnake
C. c. laterorepens - Colorado Desert Sidewinder
C. c. cerastes - Mohave Desert Sidewinder
C. m. pyrrhus - Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake
C. o. helleri - Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
C. o. lutosus - Great Basin 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.

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.



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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