I was recently made aware of an apparently giant rattlesnake that slithered up to a wastewater treatment plant in Cameron Park, California. Although geographically distinct from any area I know well, the theme is one I'm intimately familiar with. So, let's proceed with our usual protocol of examining this dead snake and explaining why the stated size is outside the realm of biological possibility.
Wait a minute...What do you mean they didn't kill the snake? You mean to tell me they let this murderous beast go free? Don't they know a snake this big could terrorize local communities and eat your children? Just ask the local concerned resident (and amateur herpetologist?) quoted here.
I am, of course, being facetious, but the mindset of the individuals that came across this snake is in stark contrast to what the typical "giant" rattlesnake encounters when unfortunate enough to be found by humans. When this California rattlesnake was noticed by treatment plant workers, it was fortunate to be relocated to a nearby unpopulated area, but not before the obligatory photograph was taken.
One associated article notes this rattlesnake was estimated to be five to six feet long. That's a large snake and probably an exaggeration. That's not their fault though, most people tend to overestimate the size of rattlesnakes. Even small animals can appear quite impressive when they puff themselves up, assume a defensive posture, and start rattling away. But, the snake in the photograph is definitely a large and healthy adult snake, it could very well be upwards of five feet long. However, posing the snake closer to the camera than the man holding it is a camera trick explained ad nauseum here.
Identifying rattlesnakes in the western portion of the country is harder for me than when dealing with our southeastern animals because we only have a handful of different species and they are relatively distinct. In addition, the resolution of the above photograph is relatively poor, but by examining the range of California rattlesnakes we can narrow it down.
The snake in the photograph appears to have a black and white striped tail. This is often associated with Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, Crotalus atrox, (a species often killed and photographed), but the species doesn't range as far north as Cameron Park, California. Another species, the Western Rattlesnake, Crotalus viridis, might appear in the area, but the coloration and patterning don't appear right. I initially gave the snake a tentative identification of Mojave Rattlesnake, Crotalus scutulatus. This species can be found in central California and also tends to have a similar tail. But a reader more familiar with the species of the region suggested it was too far north for Mojaves and it was likely a Western Rattlesnake after all.
The largest known Western Rattlesnake (I'm referring to a specific species here, Crotalus viridis) was a little over five feet long. So, the lower end of the measurement on the scene is feasible (but would make this one of the largest known individuals of this species ever); but again, the measurement was an estimate (and it's a good thing, because I don't recommend taking reliable measurements on a live rattlesnake).
But, eyeball estimates are usually accurate, right? It's not like anybody is going to say this snake was....Oh, I don't know...Eight feet long, right? Well, besides this newspaper.