[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Partly sunny
Partly sunny
51°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
February 19
1803 - Indian family members removed from Caamulus (Camulos) village, Piru area, are baptized at San Fernando Mission [record]


Commentary by Sarah Brewer Thompson
| Saturday, Mar 1, 2014

sarahbrewerthompson_mugWith the warm weather we have been having, it seems we have skipped right over winter and jumped into spring. In the last few weeks, critters such as insects, lizards, birds and snakes have been making their way out into the sun, drawn to the warmth of these sunny days.

During this time, some helpful friends come out to enjoy the warmth, as well.

Two of the most common snake species we have in the Santa Clarita Valley are the San Diego gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer annectens) and the Southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri, often incorrectly referred to as the diamondback).

Because they are often mistaken for one another and because of the obvious venomous nature of the rattler, it is important to be able to distinguish between the two. I hope to offer a brief rundown of some of those differences in order to save you stress if you come across one of these animals, and more importantly to save the lives of many snakes that are killed because people panic when they see anything that slithers.

Gopher snake. Photos by Sarah Brewer Thompson.

Gopher snake. Photos by Sarah Brewer Thompson.

For many good reasons, we are brought up to have a fear of rattlesnakes, or more broadly, snakes in general. While it is, of course, smart to have a healthy respect for them, it is important to keep in mind the realistic aspects of a snake.

Often when I am on the trail hiking with children and adults, some have a nearly irrational fear of these interesting creatures. For example, one woman told me she was afraid of them because she heard they could literally jump up onto your face. While it is true that snakes, including rattlers, have an impressive striking range, it is important to keep in mind that we are much scarier to them than they are to us, and unless you have your face down near the ground, pilfering through a good hiding spot, they are not, in fact, going to “jump onto your face.”

Most of the time when a snake hears you coming, it finds the nearest exit before we even see them. Living out here, however, it is not uncommon to come across one basking in the sun or taking shelter in a protected spot.

Snakes, like other reptiles, are ectothermic (sometimes referred to as “cold-blooded”), meaning they cannot regulate their own body temperatures as we can. When we are cold, we shiver, and when we are hot, we sweat. Reptiles do not have this ability; they must rely on the environment to warm up or cool down when necessary.

Heat is a vital part for these animals – they must keep their body temperature up, while at the same time not overheat. Having the right amount of heat and sunlight helps maintain normal body functions such as skin shedding and food digestion.

sarah-gophersnakeWhen you stop thinking about snakes as pests, you realize how useful they really are.

Obviously, both species are excellent critter control, eating small (or sometimes larger) rats, mice, gophers and other species we consider nuisances. You have to keep in mind the cycle that if you knock out a predator, you’d better be ready for its prey to increase in large numbers.

Surprisingly, snakes such as the gopher snake and king snake have been known to prey on rattlesnakes, if that offers any additional comfort. Another bonus of non-venemous snakes like the gopher snake is that although they can bite if threatened and cornered, they are overall not harmful to you or your animals.

A bite needs to be properly cleaned and monitored, as with any other injury, but a gopher snake bite is not life-threatening to your animal. Most of the time, however, I have noticed that my dogs do not want anything to do with (or don’t even notice) the snake and leave it alone.

There are physical aspects to keep in mind when you see a snake and are trying to assess what to do about it. If you have the option, the best thing to do is leave it alone. Put your pets in the house or another part of the yard, if possible, and the critter will eventually work its way down the road. Quite often when you see an individual, you won’t see it again. If you come across one on a trail or in a confined area, try your best to not panic, and retreat from the animal slowly. Do not charge it, try to move it or taunt it. When given a chance to escape, they will usually take advantage and leave on their own.

There are a handful of traits to recognize when you see a snake.

 

1977882_10152119674753241_1495746268_o

Scale sheen and texture:

Part of the reason gopher snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes is that they can have similar coloring and patterning. Most of the time, people catch a glimpse of any snake and panic. However, if you can get a look at the scales – especially if the animal is in sunlight where you can see better – the scales on a gopher snake are smooth and glossy, while those of the rattlesnake are matte.

 

Head shape:

This is one of the most obvious differences between these two species. Ideally, you can see the animal’s head, body and tail, but this is not always the case – which is why familiarization of the other traits is important.

The head of the gopher snake, contrary to popular belief, is not the same size as its body, although it is much smaller and less pronounced than that of the rattler. The head of a rattlesnake is large in proportion to the animal’s neck, in order to accommodate its large glands that produce and store the venom. The head has a distinctive triangular shape, and the pupils of the eyes are a vertical slit, similar to those of a cat. The pupils of a gopher snake are circular, and the iris is often orange in our San Diego subspecies.

Not a gopher snake.

Not a gopher snake.

The nose of the rattlesnake is also distinctive in its prominence, while that of the gopher snake blends in more with the overall shape of the head. One of the mimicking behaviors that gopher snakes have taken on, however, is to puff themselves up in their body and heads to resemble a rattlesnake more closely. However, the difference of the head shape is still quite obvious when you compare the two species. (This is where photographs or visiting a nature center are extremely helpful in getting you used to what the heads really look like).

 

Length and body proportion:

While rattlesnakes can get fairly long, they are usually shorter in length than our gopher snakes. It is not uncommon to see a gopher snake that approaches 3 to 4 feet in length; however, it would be quite a find to spot a rattlesnake of that length in this area.

Gopher snakes have a long, slimmer silhouette, while rattlesnakes have a thicker, more substantial body compared to their length. Because of this increased girth, rattlesnakes appear a bit flatter than gopher snakes, which typically appear more rounded.

 

Tail:

Also not a gopher snake.

Mature rattlesnake.

Interestingly, people are often convinced a snake is a rattler, even when they do not see a rattle on the tail. This is partly because many folks have an automatic panic reaction to any snake they see – but it can also be because gopher snakes have taken up an interesting mimicking behavior. If threatened, they can shake the ends of their tails back and forth so quickly that they both look and sound like a rattlesnake. They will also coil and puff up their bodies to try their best to resemble their venomous cousins.

If you can see the tail and it tapers off to a fine point, it is not a rattler (unless you have an extremely young specimen, in which case you will know by its small size that it is a baby).

A site note: The number of buttons on a rattlesnake’s tail does not accurately distinguish the snake’s age. Certainly, it can give you an idea if you are dealing with a younger or older snake, but each button forms with each time the skin is shed, and depending on the animal’s health and diet, this can be more or less frequent than other individuals of the same species.

There is much more to know about these natives of ours. If you are interested in learning more about them, feel free to visit parks such as Placerita Canyon or Vasquez Rocks. Each park has venomous and non-venomous snakes on display, where you can really see the differences between the species.

Once you become familiar with what they look like, you will breathe easier having the confidence you know what you are dealing with. Typically there are even docents or staff available to show you one of the non-venemous species up close, so you can really get a good look.

No fears, however, for the faint of heart: The rattlers are only enjoyed only through the safety of their glass terrariums.

 

Sarah Brewer Thompson was born and raised in Agua Dulce, where she learned to love and appreciate nature and history. She is a master’s student at California State University, Northridge, and a docent at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. Her areas of interest are local history, archaeology and animal studies.

 

Beware this one, but not the others below.

Beware this one, but not the others below.

 

10000214_10152119671968241_1734167977_n 10000128_10152119673463241_1677028315_n 1982773_10152119675473241_1433534465_o 1981378_10152119673613241_819449200_o 1972584_10152119673488241_1203365679_o 1969775_10152119672433241_309342456_o 1969621_10152119673598241_435795947_o 1966594_10152119672453241_733107616_o 1613103_10152119672308241_1836731021_o 1925490_10152119672323241_556880245_o1969734_10152119675538241_1619662850_o

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

6 Comments

  1. Chris Hulse Chris Hulse says:

    Snakes don’t have ears, ie they can’t (hear) they will feel the vibration of your walking close to them.

  2. Chris Hulse Chris Hulse says:

    Snakes don’t have ears, ie they can’t (hear) they will feel the vibration of your walking close to them.

  3. My cats are taking care of them lol

  4. My cats are taking care of them lol

  5. I like the fact that we havent completly eliminated wildlife…frm my car to the train track…I need to excercise caution…what other city can say beware of…critters? Usually its muggers…

  6. Great article and quite informative Ms. Sarah

Leave a Comment


Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
RECENT COMMENTARY
Thursday, Feb 15, 2018
There was broad public support for the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which struck a careful balance between lands available for large-scale renewable energy development and the environment. Now the federal government is rethinking it - putting the important and much-needed protections at risk.
Tuesday, Feb 13, 2018
You can prevent vision loss by finding and treating problems early. Medicare covers a glaucoma test once every 12 months for people at high risk for glaucoma
Wednesday, Feb 7, 2018
Sierra Club Angeles Chapter SCV Group Chair Sandra Cattell urges Santa Clarita Valley residents to contact their congressional representatives to push legislation to kill the Cemex mining project in Soledad Canyon.
Friday, Feb 2, 2018
Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin highlights the city's customer service efforts in his message for February 2018.
Friday, Feb 2, 2018
If the Department of the Interior is successful in destroying this national monument, the next one slated for destruction is Grand Staircase-Escalante, then Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument along the California-Oregon border.
Friday, Feb 2, 2018
Here’s what is happening on February 24: a rally to organize students in the Los Angeles Unified School District "against" the highly effective Los Angeles School Police Department.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
NextSCV, newly rebranded from SCV Emerging Leaders, will host a behind-the-scenes tour of the Princess Cruises world headquarters in Valencia, followed by a mixer at The Dudes’ Brewery, on Wednesday, February 28.
Feb. 28: NextSCV Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Princess Cruises HQ
The Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation has added three new members to the board of directors -- Don Kimball, community president at FivePoint; Tracy Lawrence, MD, director of Emergency Services, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital; and Robert Stern, CPA, Stern, Kory, Morgan & Sreden.
Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation Adds 3 to Board
Hollywood Boulevard will be closed for the Oscars between Highland Avenue and Orange Drive from 10 p.m. on Sunday, February 25 to 6 a.m. on Wednesday, March 7.
Hollywood Blvd. Closed for Oscars Feb. 25 to March 7
Westmont scored a 54-41 home win over The Master's University women's basketball team Saturday night, as the Mustangs scored the fewest points in a game this season, shooting just 31 percent from the floor.
The Master’s Can’t Find Groove in Santa Barbara
The TMU Mustangs rallied from a deficit late Saturday afternoon to beat Hope International 4-3 in the nightcap, completing a series and a doubleheader sweep of the No. 8 Royals.
Mustangs’ 4-3 Comeback Sweeps Royals in Closer
Josh Robison slugged a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning and No. 14 The Master's University rallied from a three-run deficit to beat No. 8 Hope International 7-6 in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Lou Herwaldt Stadium.
Robison Rallies Mustangs Past Royals in Opener
Farmers Insurance agent Jon Albert will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening of his new Santa Clarita office on Tuesday, February 20 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Feb. 20: New Farmers Insurance Agent Hosts Grand Opening
The Mustangs opened the second half of their 101-82 win at Westmont College on Saturday with a flurry of steals and blocks and buckets, which helped TMU claim at least a share of the first GSAC title in program history.
Mustangs Claim Share of 1st GSAC Title in Program History
CSUN's fifth annual Maurice Amado Foundation Lecture in Jewish Ethics will feature respected scholar Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, who will examine issues surrounding reconciliation and forgiveness in his talk at Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue in Encino on Wednesday, March 14 starting at 7:30 p.m.
March 14: CSUN Amado Lecture to Explore Forgiving the Unforgivable
A federal grand jury on Friday indicted a 32-year-old Texas man accused of carrying out a five-day, 2 million-email attack on the Los Angeles County Superior Courts computer system in July 2017.
Feds Indict Texas Man in LA County Court Email Hack
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will host live Oscars viewing parties in New York and London for its members and invited film industry guests on Oscar Sunday, March 4.
March 4: Academy to Celebrate Oscar Night in New York, London
College of the Canyons' baseball team beat Chaffey College 12-9 in a wild game on Saturday when the home team scored eight runs in the 7th to gain the win and improve to 7-4.
College of the Canyons Outruns Chaffey College 12-9
The next Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting at the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge includes a meet-and-greet with 25th District Congressional candidate Michael Masterman-Smith on Wednesday, February 21, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Feb. 21: Canyon Country Advisory Committee Meeting
"NCIS" producer-writer Scott Williams has been added to the lineup of speakers at the 2018 Economic Outlook Conference hosted by the SCV Economic Development Corporation and COC at TPC Valencia on March 8 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
March 8: ‘NCIS’ Producer Joins 2018 SCV Economic Outlook Panel
The William S. Hart Union High School District's Career & College Readiness Department is celebrating Career Education Month in February by providing students a variety of pathways to success.
Hart District Celebrates Career Education Month
Arroyo Seco Junior High School and Saugus High School have partnered to introduce Career Pathways to students, with automotive technology the focus of the next panel on Friday, February 23.
Arroyo Seco, Saugus High Team for Career Pathways Panels
Los Angeles County's Interim Health Officer has issued a Cold Weather Alert for the Santa Clarita Valley through Wednesday night due to the National Weather Service’s forecast for wind chill temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cold Weather Alert Chills SCV Through Wednesday
1803 - Indian family members removed from Caamulus (Camulos) village, Piru area, are baptized at San Fernando Mission [record]
1955 - Actor and nightclub owner Ace Cain incorporates the Rocky Springs Country Club in Sand Canyon [story]
1949 - Short-lived oil drilling operation on Newhall's Arcadia Street ends [story]
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, February 20, starting at 1 p.m.
Feb. 20: LA County Board of Supervisors Meeting
Little, Brown Books recently published CalArts alum Vashti Harrison's (Film/Video MFA 14) debut illustrated book, "Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History."
Vashti Harrison Talks ‘Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History’
UCLA's Hammer Museum has announced the 32 artists including six CalArts alumni who will participate in "Made in L.A. 2018," the fourth edition of the museum's biennial exhibition, which runs June 3 to Sept. 2 at the Westwood museum.
6 CalArtians Among Artists Selected for ‘Made in L.A. 2018’
The Isaura String Quartet will present an evening of music by CalArtians at Human Resources LA in Downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, February 18 starting at 8 p.m.
Feb. 18: Isaura String Quartet to Perform at Human Resources LA
Two films directed by alumni of California Institute of the Arts' legendary Character Animation program, "Coco" and "The Boss Baby," are nominated for "Best Animated Feature" Academy Awards.
Oscar Buzz: Will 2018 Bring Oscar No. 11 to a CalArts Animator?
Crime Prevention deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station, assisted by Crime Impact Team deputies, conducted checks on probationers at six different locations on Thursday but made no arrests.
SCV Deputies’ Latest Probation Check Nets No Arrests
Artist Bob Hernandez will give a charcoal/pastel inspirational talk at the Monday, Feb. 19 meeting of the Santa Clarita Artists Association at Barnes & Noble in Valencia starting at 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 19: Bob Hernandez Charcoal, Pastel Demo at Barnes and Noble
U.S. Air Force Airman Taylor M. Lingscheit has graduated from basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, San Antonio, Texas.
West Ranch Alum Taylor Lingscheit Graduates USAF Basic Training
The city of Santa Clarita, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the Hart District and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps celebrated the growth and continued success of the school district’s recycling program with a media event at Valencia High School Thursday.
Santa Clarita, LA County Celebrate School Recycling Push
The Master's University women's basketball team hopes it finds its offensive mojo by Saturday evening when it takes on No. 4 Westmont College in Santa Barbara.
Master’s Seeks Offensive Mojo Ahead of Westmont Showdown
The Master's College Mustangs men's basketball team (25-1) can lock in at least a share of the program's first-ever GSAC regular-season title with a win at No. 8 Westmont College on Saturday.
Mustangs Could Clinch GSAC Title Saturday in Santa Barbara
College of the Canyons' baseball team tasted both victory and defeat on Wednesday, dropping a 6-5 extra innings decision to Cerritos College in a make-up game and following with a 4-3 win in the regularly scheduled contest.
Cougars Hold On for 4-3 Win Over Cerritos College
With a hard-fought 81-77 victory over visiting Bakersfield College on Wednesday night in the Cougar Cage, College of the Canyons' men's basketball team moved into the conference top spot one win away from winning a conference championship.
Cougars Claw Bakersfield 81-77, Move Into Conference Top Spot
College of the Canyons women's basketball team won its eighth straight game Wednesday night in the Cougar Cage, knocking off conference rival Bakersfield College 88-60 and clinching at least a share of WSC South Division championship.
COC Women’s Hoops Team Wins 8th Straight, Share of WSC Title
The Los Angeles County Community Development Commission has earmarked $1.5 million in Affordable Housing Trust Funds for construction and financing of Six Four Nine Lofts, a supportive housing development for homeless military veterans and special-needs households on L.A.'s Skid Row.
LA County, City Team to House Homeless Veterans, Special Needs Households
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station, the city of Santa Clarita and Valencia High School officials will partner to bring the “Every 15 Minutes” program to the school on Tuesday, February 20.
Feb. 20: ‘Every 15 Minutes’ Clocks in at Valencia High School