COMMON SNAKES OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
A lot of people are scared of snakes. The way they slither on the ground, sticking out their long, split tongue, while making hissing sounds can be intimidating. However, how much of our fear is based on real life experience? Or how much of our terror may be due to the way snakes are depicted in movies and the media as aggressive, venomous creatures?
Snakes are naturally defensive reptiles, whose behavior is often misinterpreted as aggressive. This means a snake is more scared of you. In most cases, you are bigger, stronger, and more capable of winning a fight, so it is a natural instinct for a snake to be cautious around you. A snake would rather not engage with you unless it has to.
Even though most snakes will not attack you unless they feel threatened, it is still a wise choice to be cautious if you discover one on a hike, at the park, or in your yard at home. Some of the more common snakes you might see in southern California are rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, coachwhip snakes and garter snakes.
Snakes don’t generally live in your yard unless there is a reason to, like rodents. If you see one in your yard, the first thing you should do is make sure any children or pets are in the house, then try to identify it and determine if it is venomous. A more common venomous snake you might see is a rattlesnake. They are easier to identify then other snakes because of the rattle on their tail and the sound they make. Sometimes the rattle may be broken or missing, so in any case, don’t get too close. Also baby rattlesnakes might be a little harder to identify since their rattles aren’t very visible. Another way to identify them is by their triangular head and thin neck. If the snake is venomous, like a rattlesnake, you should call animal control to have it removed. Snakes help keep our rodent, bird and insect population in balance. So please don’t kill it.
Some non-venomous snakes you might encounter are gopher snakes. They have round heads, and are commonly misidentified as rattlesnakes because of the coloration of their skin. They also rattle their tail in a similar manner, but have no rattle. Coachwhip snakes love the grass, and are active day hunters. They are very thin, like a whip, hence the name. They are so thin that it can be hard to determine the head from the tail at a distance. They are extremely fast, but also non-venomous. Garter snakes are also common. Some people even have them as pets. They are mildly venomous but unable to kill humans.
If you’re out on a hike, it is important to be cautious of your surroundings. Always look ahead of you and where you are stepping. Avoid going off trail into bushes and places where it is harder to see a snake. Snakes are more active between April and October. On very hot days, they hide under rocks and in holes, so be aware of where you place your hands and feet. If a snake bites you, it is important to stay calm. A snake has two types of bites, a strike and a feeding bite. A “strike” bite is to let you know that you are too close and invading their area. A feeding bite will hold on. If bitten, try to identify the snake to know whether is venomous or not. If it is not venomous, it will probably hurt, but is more scary than anything else. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, you should get to a hospital as quickly as possible, but don’t start running. Running will increase your heart rate and speed up the venom through your blood. Try keeping the wound below heart level and wash the wound with water. Don’t try and suck out the venom with your mouth, or constrict the area by tying something around it. Sometimes a snake doesn’t release its venom when striking, but in any case, go to the hospital to be safe.
Snakes have a pretty bad reputation, but there really is no reason to be scared of snakes. If you stay away from them and watch your surroundings carefully, the chances of you getting bitten by a snake are small.