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

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Mostly sunny
Mostly sunny
68°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
December 13
1900 - Automobile Club of Southern California founded; first car in SCV appeared 1902 [story]


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
Tuesday, Dec 4, 2018
It is hard to believe that 2018 is already coming to an end.
Monday, Dec 3, 2018
In her December message, Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste wishes residents a safe and enjoyable holiday season, and details some fun family events coming up.
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018
Most people with Medicare will pay the standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B, which will be $135.50 next year, an increase of $1.50 over 2018. Your Part B premium is based on your income. People whose tax returns show income equal to or higher than $85,000 pay higher premiums. These income-adjusted premiums apply to about 5 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries.
Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
It makes good sense to review your coverage each year. Make sure your plan still is a good fit for you in terms of cost, coverage, and quality.
Thursday, Oct 4, 2018
Local entrepreneurs, industry leaders and business owners are looking for employees who can communicate clearly, whether writing or speaking; effectively collaborate on teams; and quickly make decisions that benefit both the company and its customers.
Tuesday, Oct 2, 2018
Canyon Country is known as a major residential area in our City, as well as a popular commercial and retail spot.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
iLEAD Agua Dulce, a free public charter school serving grades TK through 6, has been selected to receive a $475,000 grant to bolster its acclaimed project-based and social-emotional learning programs, the school announced Thursday.
Agua Dulce Charter School Selected for $475K Grant
The Saugus Union School District said goodbye to two long serving Governing Board members at the District’s final meeting of 2018. Judy Egan Umeck, who served for 22 years, and Paul De La Cerda, who served for 13 years, left the Board following ceremonies at the Dec. 11, 2018 special meeting.
Longtime SUSD Governing Board Members Bid Farewell
The Saugus Union School District Governing Board conducted swearing-in ceremonies on Tuesday for trustees elected this past November.
SUSD Appoints New President, Clerk; New Members Sworn In
A suspect was taken into custody after reportedly stealing his father's vehicle Thursday morning, according to officials at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.
Suspect in Custody After Reportedly Stealing Father’s Car
Three members of the William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board re-elected last month were sworn in for their next four-year terms Wednesday night at the board’s annual re-organizational meeting
Hart District Elected Members Sworn In
With a focus on transparency and a desire to reassure customers that water rates will continue to reflect the accurate cost of providing services, the SCV Water Board of Directors recently adopted a rate-setting process that includes an independent ratepayer advocate.
SCV Water’s Rate-Setting Process to Include Ratepayer Advocate
Santa Clarita Valley residents and visitors will be able to enjoy 67.5 miles of an expanded network of multi-use trails and trail-related facilities, such as equestrian and outdoor leisure and sports, following approval Tuesday of the Santa Susana Mountains Trails Plan – Phase II, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Santa Susana Mountains Trails Expand into SCV
This holiday season, Princess Cruises Community Foundation (PCCF) sponsored its eighth annual employee holiday giving program benefitting Single Mothers Outreach, a local nonprofit organization that empowers single parents and their children by providing hope, support and resources so that families can become self-sustaining.
Princess Cruises Annual Giving Program Benefits Single Mothers Outreach
The Christmas and New Year’s holidays are ways to spend time with family and friends ringing in another year, but also a time when people can make poor choices that put themselves and others at risk on the road.
LASD: ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ Campaign Begins Friday
A special meeting of the Castaic Union School District's Governing Board will take place Thursday at 5:00 p.m.
Dec. 13: CUSD Governing Board Special Meeting
1900 - Automobile Club of Southern California founded; first car in SCV appeared 1902 [story]
The Cougars posted a pair of victories vs. two familiar foes as College of the Canyons played to a third-place result at the 45th Annual Santa Barbara City College Tournament held Dec. 6-8.
Cougars Take Third at SBCC Tourney
"Milk and Cookies with Santa," a free "sensory-friendly" storytelling and cookie-eating event hosted by the city of Santa Clarita, is set for the Canyon Country Community Center on Monday, Dec. 17, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Dec. 17: ‘Sensory-Friendly’ Santa Event at Canyon Country Community Center
Faith Community Church in Newhall will host its 13th Annual “Festividad for Christ” community Christmas celebration on Saturday, Dec. 15, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Dec. 15: Faith Community Church to Host 13th Annual ‘Festividad for Christ’
College of the Canyons was recognized as a 2018 Champion of Higher Education for Excellence at the 3rd Annual Champions of Higher Education celebration on Tuesday, Dec. 4 in Los Angeles.
COC Lauded as 2018 Champ of Higher Ed for Excellence in Transfer
After a contentious discussion lasting nearly 20 minutes Tuesday night, the five-member Santa Clarita City Council voted 3-2 to appoint Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean the city's new mayor, with outgoing Mayor Laurene Weste casting the deciding vote.
McLean Named Santa Clarita Mayor in Contentious 3-2 Vote
Deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station are out to snag holiday porch pirates in the act of stealing fake shipping boxes planted on residents' doorsteps.
SCV Deputies Are Out to Snag Holiday Porch Pirates
Ten cities and conservation groups recently passed resolutions urging Congress to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired due to congressional inaction in September.
California Cities, Nonprofits Urge Feds to Save Land, Water Conservation Fund
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies nabbed a napping convicted felon from Wasco in Castaic Monday night and arrested him on felony and misdemeanor weapons and drug charges, according to officials.
Deputies Nab Napping Convicted Felon on New Charges in Castaic
California State University, Northridge President Dianne F. Harrison has updated the final exams plan for Thursday, Dec. 13 through Tuesday, Dec. 18.
CSUN Updates Final Exams Plan for Dec. 13-18
A bipartisan multistate coalition of 43 attorneys general including California's have sent a letter urging the prioritization of updates to the Social Security Administration’s electronic databases and verification methods, so financial institutions can instantly check for and flag synthetic identity theft.
State AG’s Push Feds to Update Social Security Databases
Beginning April 1, 2019, out-of-state retailers selling above certain thresholds into California will be required to collect state use taxes on their sales, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration announced Tuesday.
California Sets New Use Tax Rules for In-State, Out-of-State Retailers
Capping years of debate over the financial future of the state’s critical water delivery system, California sued in state court Tuesday to validate contract extensions with its largest water suppliers for another 67 years.
California Suit Seeks to Extend Water Contracts
1891 - Actor Buck Jones, a Placerita and Vasquez "regular," born in Indiana [story]
After a new threat was discovered on the California State University, Northridge, campus, CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison, Ph.D., released a statement regarding final exams scheduled for Dec. 12.
CSUN Instructs Faculty to Provide Alternate Exam Format After New Threat
LANCASTER – The University of Antelope Valley Pioneers (2-8) earned their second victory in as many contests, defeating the Flames of Bethesda University of California (1-8), 110-65, Monday, in intercollegiate men’s basketball action at the Pioneer Event Center.
Pioneers Roll Past Bethesda
Join the Valley Industry Association (VIA) as they review and close the 2018 year and formally install the 2019 Valley Industry Association Board of Directors.
Dec. 18: VIA 2019 Board of Directors Installation
1922 - Piru bank robbed, banker and daughter kidnapped [story]
The county of Los Angeles officially filed a comment on Monday in opposition to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Citizenship and Immigration Services’ proposed “public charge” rule change.
LA County Opposes Feds’ Proposed ‘Public Charge’ Rule Change
The next regular-organizational meeting of the Governing Board of the William S. Hart Union High School District is set for Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Administrative Center, 21380 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita 91350.
Dec. 12: Hart District Governing Board Regular Meeting
The rhetoric of playing a full 40 minutes can easily overshadow the reality of a college team's effort.
Lady Mustangs Defend Their Way to Win Over Hawks
All things considered, the Mustangs could have found themselves in a worse position in the closing moments of Saturday's game in El Cajon.
No. 2 Mustangs Fall to San Diego Christian on Atencia’s Big Night
The University of Antelope Valley Pioneers (1-8; 1-0 Cal Pac) earned their initial win of the season with a 76-61 victory over the Golden Eagles of La Sierra University (2-8; 0-1 Cal Pac) on Saturday.
UAV Men’s Basketball Team Downs La Sierra 76-61 in Opener
The University of Antelope Valley Pioneers women's basketball team (8-2; 1-0 Cal Pac) routed the La Sierra University (3-9; 0-1 Cal Pac) Golden Eagles 106-46 in Saturday's intercollegiate California Pacific Conference women’s basketball action in Riverside.
UAV Women’s Basketball Team Routs La Sierra 106-46
The WiSH Education Foundation ends 2018 on a high note, having supported local public schools with more than $235,000.
WiSH Foundation 2018 Donations to SCV Schools Top $235K