Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Speckled Rattlesnake in Cuyamaca Woods! Plus some additional rattlers of the region...

In over three decades of roaming the back country of San Diego County I've encountered plenty of Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oregonus helleri) and Red Diamond Rattlesnakes (Crotalus ruber). The Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus) has eluded me in all these years, but thanks to a thoughtful neighbor, I was able to not only see, but photograph a very young speckled specimen.

Since I was beetle-chasing in Arizona when the snake was initially found, the snake was kept safely in a plastic tote, in full shade, misted with water periodically for the couple days before I got back.

The little snake was in fine shape and ready to go when we visited.

Ready to slither - only one rattle segment present (the "button" or first rattle segment) so this is a very young individual. Each subsequent shedding event will result in a new segment being added.
We released the little snake some distance away and its first priority was to get away and hide! It was a warm morning, so it moved rapidly. I managed a few photos before it found shelter under a rock.

The best image when it stopped briefly and assumed a semi-coil. This species has less-obvious diamond markings than the other two rattler species in the region. This snake tends to occur where there are boulders (which are typically granite), so it is well camouflaged for a landscape rich in granite.

On the move, and nicely camouflaged here also!
Here are images of the other two rattlesnake species commonly found west of the deserts in San Diego County.

Crotalus oregonus helleri, the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake. This was a young one I encountered in the mid-1990s at Naval Air Station Miramar when I was doing vertebrate survey work in graduate school. In over five years of year-round field work on this Navy base, I probably saw a rattlesnake on average every other day in the warm seasons. Usually I detected them by walking within a foot of so of them. Sometimes they rattled and sometimes not! Needless to say, I (and my colleagues) wore metal-mesh knee-length gaiters in the field!

A "newborn" Southern Pacific on our patio in Cuyamaca Woods in October of 2010. Rattlesnakes retain their eggs which hatch internally, and then the babies are "born" (which is called ovovivipary).

A close-up of the snake shown above. That looks like a "pre-button" on its tail - the VERY first rattle segment present directly following birth.

An older Southern Pacific on our property, August 2013. The jays' mobbing behavior tipped me off about the whereabouts of this snake. 

Another adult Southern Pacific, NAS Miramar, Green Farms Road, mid-1990s.

Crotalus ruber, the Red Diamond Rattlesnake. For some reason, this is the only photograph I have of this fairly common species (common at least in my experience). This one was under a board that had been set out for the purpose of attracting herps (reptiles and/or amphibians) during the vertebrate survey on NAS Miramar in the mid-1990s. There was an (empty) mouse nest under the board also! This species is much redder than the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, and has a "coon tail", a black and white banded terminal portion to the tail, just before the rattle. This is a Federal Special Concern species, and a California Special Concern species.  
Below are two other southern California rattlesnakes, found east of the mountains.

Crotalus cerastes, the Sidewinder. This species can exist in sandy regions of the deserts. I have seen it in the Anza Borrego Desert State park, and the individual below was photographed in the Algodones Dunes in Imperial County (south of Glamis). This particular snake above slithered up to less than six inches from my right thigh when I was crouched in the sand photographing dune-dwelling insects last August. I spotted it before actually putting my hand down on it, and reflexively lurched towards the left in the sand. It went the other way, and then cooperated for a (cautious-on-my-part) photo-session.

Crotalus atrox, the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. I found this one in the region of the Algodones Dunes a couple miles north of Glamis in April of 2010. I stepped fairly near it while hiking out of the dunes back towards my car in the late morning before seeing it. I was wearing snake gaiters! Notice the "coon tail" again - a feature of this species as well. 
This last snake is not a California resident, but instead is found in Arizona and regions of Mexico south of Arizona. It is a beautiful and seldem-seen (at least for me!) snake, so I can't resist including it at the end here.

Crotalus tigris, the Tiger Rattlesnake. Thanks to a herper (reptile/amphibian enthusiast) who found this snake in Montosa Canyon, Arizona last July. Many participants in the "Bugguide Gathering 2013" saw and photographed the snake.
Robyn (in orange T-shirt), and fellow bug people, taking a vertebrate-break.
NOTE: Rattlesnake venom varies in its effects, depending on the species, but is always highly damaging to tissues and can lead to death if untreated. Take serious caution when walking or exploring in places where rattlesnakes can live. If you're unfamiliar with rattlesnake behavior, it's not recommended that you photograph rattlesnakes, especially when they are coiled.

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