Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Readers Write In: What is this Snake I Came Across While California Biking?

      This week someone posted a link on Reddit to my giant dead rattlesnake post and a flood of about 4,000 people linked through. Fortunately, at least some stayed to take a look around.

"Hey David,

I stumbled across your site from reddit! About a week ago I was mountain biking with my father in Southern California specifically in the city of mission Viejo. Which is almost dead center between Los Angeles and San Diego, and we are also about 20 miles in from the ocean. The snake had a red color on top with very small tan diamonds about the size of a half dollar running down his back, he had tan on bottom and had black eyes it seemed (didn't want to get too close to look for a slit). Could you help identify this snake for me? I'm sorry for the distance from the snake, I had just biked past his head by about 5 inches with my bike and I didn't want to alert him anymore by getting closer.



      I told Nick that it's a good thing that he decided not to get too close to examine this animal's eyes. If he had, he would have noticed that it did indeed have pupils that looked like those of cat because this animal is a rattlesnake. I made that determination based on the animal's body shape, particularly the head, and the color patterning (of course, the characteristic rattle would have made this identification very easy but it is hidden in the bush). 

     One of the incredible things about living in the southwestern United States is that there are lots and lots of rattlesnakes. It's not that they are just abundant, there are actually lots of different kinds of rattlesnakes. Here in the southeastern United States, we've got the Timber, Eastern Diamondback, and the Pygmy Rattlesnake. In the southwest, on the other hand, there are about a dozen different rattlesnake species. Sometimes this can make it more difficult to identify a rattlesnake from Arizona or California than one from Alabama or Georgia.

    I'm fairly certain I know which species of rattlesnake this is (an exciting find because they can only be found in a very small portion of this country) but I'm going to call on some western rattlesnake experts to chime in and lend their expertise (attention SocialSnakes and Bryan Hughes). Of course, I encourage everyone to chime and help identify this animal, please add some natural history information for this species, which is making its first appearance on this blog.

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