Spring is here and with it brings warm weather and hot, dry conditions in many areas of California. Human encounters with snakes are more likely as these elusive animals become more active this time of year. Most native snakes are harmless. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommends avoiding the rattlesnake, a venomous species, and knowing what to do in the rare event of a bite.
Rattlesnakes may be found in diverse habitats, from coastal to desert, and are widespread in California. They can be attracted to areas around homes with heavy brush or vegetation, under wood piles where rodents may hide, as well as well-manicured landscapes to bask in the sun.
Rattlesnakes are not generally aggressive, unless provoked or threatened, and will likely retreat if given space.
“Snakes are often misunderstood. They provide significant ecosystem benefits, such as rodent control, and are an important part of California’s unique biodiversity,” said CDFW’s Conflict Programs Coordinator Vicky Monroe. “Snakes prefer to avoid people or pets and are not naturally aggressive. We encourage people to be rattlesnake safe, take time to learn about their local wildlife and take appropriate safety precautions when enjoying the outdoors.”
Most bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally brushed against by someone walking or climbing.
Most bites occur between the months of April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors.
On occasion, rattlesnake bites have caused severe injury – even death.
The California Poison Control System notes that the chances of being bitten are small compared to the risk of other environmental injuries. The potential of encountering a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors.
CDFW provides tips on its website to “Be Rattlesnake Safe,” how to safely coexist with native snakes and what to do (or not do) in the event of a snake bite.
Other resources can be found on the California Herps Living with Rattlesnakes web page.
In 2019, CDFW confirmed the state’s first case of Snake Fungal Disease (SFD), a newly emerging disease in snakes. SFD can cause significant mortalities in species of conservation concern. There is no evidence that SFD is transmittable from snakes to humans. You may assist CDFW’s efforts by reporting sightings of snakes with skin sores or unusual behavior. Do not attempt to touch or handle.