Before I go into the introduction of this local reptile, I have good news and bad news. The good news? It is the only local snake that is truly venomous. Bad news? Well, they are venomous, and as both humans and reptiles enter the summer, the frequency of potential interactions between our two species increases.The intention of this post is to educate readers on identification of , behavior, and importance of the western rattlesnake, so that both humans and snakes leave interactions safe and uninjured.
It is easy to identify a rattlesnake- they possess a short and thick body, diamond-shaped head, and of course, rattles. The Western Rattlesnake gets is scientific name, Crotalus oreganus, because of how it looks and sounds. Crotalus, means “little bell” in greek, in reference to the rattles.
In reality, the color of C. oreganus can range from gray to green to brown, and colors in between. Adult males can reach 60 inches, or 5 feet, in length! In general, rattlesnakes add a rattle made up of keratin (the same stuff as our fingernails) to their tail each time they shed.
Southern Oregon falls within their range, but they are only active when temperatures are above 50 degrees F, typically around April-September. In the heat of the summer, they will avoid moving around during the day, choosing instead to hunt their prey in the cooler temperatures of night. C. oreganus are not aggressive. They will usually flee given the opportunity. Why waste their energy and precious venom on a (giant!) human when they can save both for an appropriate meal, such as a mouse or ground bird?
Snakes survive human-snake encounters far less often than they even envenomate humans. But they have value in our local ecosystem, particularly in controlling populations of small mammals, which can be agricultural pests and carry diseases. So should you come upon a western rattlesnake this summer, don’t kill or injure it, just leave it be!