Sunday, April 12, 2009

Serpent in the Garden

Western Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus helleri, possibly a melanistic variety; San Diego, CA. The dog found this little guy coiled up in the back yard enjoying some joyous Easter afternoon sunshine. The dog was sniffing around and the snake was rattling for dear life! Clearly, it would not have been so joyous if the dog had been bitten; but, he didn't. The snake and the dog both live on (a good thing). The snake notably had taken up residence behind an old log just adjacent to a couple of ground squirrel holes. Coincidence? I'm guessing not. We'll see if the squirrels show up under the bird feeder tomorrow. I guess I'm going to have to be a little more careful when tromping around the scrub brush in the back yard.

Western Rattlers grow to over 50 inches and are around 10 inches long at birth; this one was probably a young adult. They make that telltale S shape that you see when they are poised to strike. They typically rattle their tale when threatened and/or surprised although it's not a given. These guys can bite, even if dead, apparently by reflex.

Western rattlesnakes will wait by lizard or rodent trails and strike when the hapless prey goes by. They will then release the prey and follow it, waiting for it to die. They probably do this to keep from getting bit by angry rodents. This feeding behaviour might explain why this one was hanging out right next to the ground squirrel hole. Adult CA ground squirrels are immune to rattlesnake venom but it is Spring so there are likely baby squirrels in the nest. Western rattlers will eat a whole host of other things including mice, rats, rabbits, birds, lizards, insects, amphibians and even other snakes.

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