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Rattlesnakes and You

Last Spring my brother-in-law Bill was two miles along his favorite hiking trail at Granite Dells in Prescott when a frantic woman ran up to him. She thrust a convulsing poodle into his arms. The unfortunate dog had been bitten by a Western Diamondback rattler on the trail. The poodle became limp in his arms before they reached her car. It was dead.

I was one step away from putting my leg by an active baby rattler on the shady path up to the cave at Sayers Spring off Constellation Road, until I heard its rattled warning.

Black Rattlesnake

Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus cereberus) by Ed Block. This snake grows up to 42″ long. The young are vividly patterned and can look very different from adults.

Finally, my husband encountered a black rattlesnake guarding the entrance to an adit in the Bradshaws off Senator Highway. Most of these encounters occurred mid-morning or late afternoon, though we’ve seen large “coon-tail” rattlers,(Diamondbacks), some five feet long, in warm mid-day sun in San Domingo Wash, east of Wickenburg.

You also have probably seen/heard about/photographed rattlesnake encounters! A rattlesnake is technically a “pit viper”, which means it has a small pit between the nostril and eye on each side of the head. The bite of the Pit Viper is a lightning-like strike, usually on the legs or hands, as the snake injects venom from two fangs in the forward portion of the upper jaw. These fangs leave two distinctive puncture wounds at the point of entry. Rattlers use the “loreal pit”, a heat-sensing organ between the nostril and the eye, to locate prey and potential predators and any threatening animal like you or your pet. Their glands make venom, much like your saliva glands make saliva. The rattle is made of keratin, the same material found in your hair and fingernails, and the age of a rattler can’t be determined by counting the segments of its rattle!

According to information on a colorful poster available from the BLM, there are at least 13 species of rattlesnakes in Arizona. A total of 36 rattlesnake species are found living only in North and South America. A free booklet, available from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, “Arizona Wildlife Amphibians and Reptiles”. has sketches and information about 12 snakes, 8 of which are non-poisonous. Of the 13 venomous rattlesnakes found in Arizona, 5 definitely may be found near Wickenburg. An excellent website, www.reptilesofaz.org, offers color photos and information on snakes, reptiles, and amphibians found in Arizona. The snakes most often seen in the Wickenburg area are:

  • Poisonous: Mohave (the most deadly), Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, and Black-tailed rattlesnakes. You may also encounter a Black rattlesnake and Speckled Rattlesnake.
  • Non-poisonous: Gopher snake (tragically often mistaken for a rattlesnake), Rosy Boa, common Kingsnake, and Coachwhip.
Speckled Rattlesnake

Speckled Rattlesnake. (Crotalus mitchelli). Photo courtesy of Allan Hall. This beautiful snake grows up to 51″ long. The color, which often matches its surroundings, can vary greatly from nearly white to pink, gray or brown.

Rattlesnakes serve an important role in desert ecology, with their diets (varying by species) of primarily lizards, centipedes, rodents, small mammals, birds, small-sized snakes, spiders, and sometimes carrion. A friend sent a photo of a rattlesnake eating a small rabbit! They can also be food for hawks, owls, roadrunners, and other predators, depending on size. I have talked with people who have eaten rattlesnakes meat and claim it tastes somewhat like bony chicken. There was a small business near Tombstone, Arizona where the owners made wallets, pendants, etc. from cured rattlesnake skins. Unless you or your pet are threatened by a snake (which will often slither away and hide when threatened instead of blindly striking), please don’t wantonly kill it just because it’s a rattlesnake. We often slow down to allow snakes to cross the road, if safe for us to do so.

Avoiding Unpleasant Rattlesnake Experiences

Here are some tips for avoiding unpleasant encounters with rattlesnakes while hiking, horseback riding, or camping in the Wickenburg area:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and preferred snake habitat. Snakes seek cover in rocks, brush, cool dark spots during the heat of mid-day. They often emerge mid-morning and late afternoon. Dens may be in mine adits, small caves, amid piles of rocks, or under brush piles, or in cavities in washes. Look and listen before you walk near their habitat or put your hands or feet up on rocky paths or climbing areas. We (my husband Ed and I), while hiking out to lava caves in S.E. Oregon, have seen a rattler coil and began rattling only after several people had walked past its hiding place in rocks! Many people wear “snake chaps” if hiking or exploring in brushy, rocky areas.
  • If you should encounter a rattlesnake on a road or path and want to take a photo, stay a respectful distance of at least six feet away. Consider taking a telephoto shot. A fat Western Diamondback we encountered in San Domingo Wash east of Wickenburg was stretched out full length — a least 5 feet — on the road. As soon as I approached to take a photo, it began to coil into a striking position. They can move faster than one might think. They don’t always rattle a warning. The Vulture Mine office used to have a cage with several young Diamondbacks. Our BLM office, in Lake Havasu City, has a live display of typical snakes and reptiles of the area. It had a Diamondback they named “Houdini” because he escaped so often from his “escape proof” aquarium. The gals would fear opening up the office, as he sometimes sought shelter under their desks. He was finally returned to the desert!

Mohave Rattlesnake

Mohave Rattlesnake. [Corrected identification; thanks to reader Bryan Hughes for pointing this out.] Photo courtesy of Bonnie Helten.

The distinctive black and white tail helps identify Diamondbacks. A note on tail patterns. If the black and white bands are equal width, then it’s the Diamondback. If the last few inches of the tail are whitish with narrow black bands and black bands are narrower than light bands, then it’s most likely the deadly Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus). The Diamondback preys mainly on small mammals. The Mohave eats primarily rodents, but also eats lizards, amphibians, and birds. The Diamondback is considered to be one of the most dangerous snakes in the U.S, due to it’s large size, wide distribution, and nervous disposition. The Mohave has very potent venom, making it also one of the most dangerous snakes in the U.S. Two to eleven young are born live to Mohave green rattlers,, and have fully developed fangs and venom, as with all rattlesnakes.

Black Tailed Rattler

Black-tailed Rattlesnake. (Crotalus molossus). Photo courtesy of Allan Hall. This snake grows up to 48″ long and colors can vary greatly from brown or beige to green or golden yellow.

Keeping Dogs and other Animals Safe

Besides keeping your dog on a leash and incidentally watching any small children when you are out on a trail or in brush, there are other ways to keep your pet safe.

Aversive conditioning is one option for dogs especially. A shock collar is placed around the dog’s neck, The dog is exposed to a defanged rattlesnake. As the dog approaches, following a natural tendency to sniff out and investigate a strange scent or animal, it receives a shock. I have been told that this works well in most cases, with few “learning” shocks necessary!

A preventive rattlesnake vaccine for dogs is produced by Red Rock Biologics and is available thru veterinarians. It works by stimulating an animal’s immunity to defend against potentially harmful agents in the venom. It is, quoting from their informational brochure, “intended to help create an immunity that will protect your dog against rattlesnake venom.” It costs about $45 for one shot, then another $45 for a booster, for protection that lasts about one year.

Snake Eyes

Notice the eyes in this photo by the late Lee Pearson, courtesy of Allan Hall.

What to Do if You or your Pet are Bitten

Remember the dying dog my brother-in-law tried to rescue? There is a lot of information on the Internet . Here’s a quick summary of important steps to take. Some writers recommend printing out first aid information and affixing it to a card to carry with you. Other people carry rattlesnake bite kits (which we do) that have quick first aid information on a small card.

  • Recognize the symptoms of a poisonous bite: bloody wound discharge; fang marks in skin and swelling in the site of the bite; severe localized pain; diarrhea; burning sensations; convulsions, fainting and/or weakness; blurred vision; excessive sweating, fever; increased thirst; loss of muscle coordination; nausea and vomiting; numbness and tingling; and rapid pulse. Not pleasant!
  • Get away from the snake. DO NOT handle the body or head (if it was severed). A rattler can bite up to an hour after decapitation. A spasm from a “dead” snake will reflectively deliver the full load of venom, which can be worse than from a live snake!
  • If possible, call 911 immediately. But, if you are in a remote or inaccessible areas, you and/or your companion will have to deal with the bite. Try to stay calm!
  • DO NOT elevate the wounded area. Keep the bite BELOW the level of the heart. Most bites are on the legs, but if you are bitten on an arm, keep it lowered. This will slow the spread of venom thru your system. This makes venom-carrying blood work against, rather than with, the pull of gravity to reach your heart or the rest of your body.
  • Wash the area, if possible, with warm water and soap.
  • Remove constricting clothing and jewelry from the extremity. The area may swell and constricting items will cause tissue death.
  • Do not cut or suck on the wound. Some snake bite kits use extractor pumps with suction devices. Any kit is useless unless used immediately after the bite. Even just a few minutes later the venom (if any) will have spread too far thru your bloodstream to be sucked out!
  • If there’s a digital camera available, take a photo of the snake, rather than trying to handle a “dead” snake. But, it’s not that important to identify the rattlesnake, as medical crews in areas prone to snake bites (like some areas around Wickenburg) can often identify whether it was a pit viper just from the wound.
  • Antivenin (correct spelling) is usually administered when a victim is taken to a hospital.

Snake Head and Tongue

Closeup of rattlesnake head and tongue. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Helten.

Dogs (and possibly humans) can be treated by a very expensive antivenin called crotalidae polyvalent, made by a company called Fort Dodge in Fort Dodge, Iowa. It’s a concentrated preparation of “equine serum globulins obtained by fractioning blood from healthy horses that have been immunized with venoms.” One venom is from Western Diamondbacks. The antivenin neutralizes the venom with a protective substance. A dose of 10 to 50 ml (one to five vials) is given intravenously. Dosage varies by severity of the symptoms, lapse of time after the bite, size of snake, and size of victim. Then, additional doses may be required every 2 hours if pain and swelling persist or recur. Supportive therapy includes antibiotics, called dexamethasone, for four days afterward. Cost? At least $500 for ONE vial for a small dog! Plus further treatment and clinic expenses. Vaccines are much more reasonable!

The death incidence worldwide from snake bites is greater in dogs than in any other domestic animal. The area most frequently bitten is the head region, sometimes the shoulders, thighs or legs. Fatalities in horses and cats are less common, though may occur if the animal is bitten on the face or neck. In the Southwest, most snake bites to animals are from the Western Diamondback.

Human bite statistics are not compiled nationwide. Here’s some data:

  • Of poisonous bites in the U.S., 55 percent are from rattlesnakes, 34 percent from copperheads, 10 percent from water moccasins, and only 1 percent from coral snakes.
  • Rattlesnake bites account for 70 percent of fatalities, and 95 to 98 percent of their bites occur on extremities.
  • Baby rattlers are capable of inflicting a venomous bite at birth.
  • As many as 25 percent of venomous pit viper bites have NO venom injected, possibly because their fangs may be injured, venom sacs may be empty at the time of the bite, or the snake may not use the fangs when it strikes.
  • There are about 400 rattlesnake bites a year in Arizona. Fewer than 275 are treated. An internet article by Kate Nolan, “Is Rattlesnake’s Bite Growing Deadlier?” The Arizona Republic, June 14, 2008, suggests that despite a slight rise in the number of snakebites reported, state wildlife and toxicology experts remain skeptical of both the supposed rise in venom toxicity and the significance of the small increase in the number of serious bites. Instead, probable causes are habitat destruction, more people moving into snake territory, and variations in toxicity of venom among individual snakes. A researcher found that venom from one rattlesnake can be up to ten times as toxic as that of another of the same type, depending on the location of the snake.
  • Dead Snake

    Giant Rattlesnake. Better make sure it’s dead! (Sent by friend).

    There is a death about every 24-36 months on the average. At least 5 deaths have occurred in Arizona since 2002. Everyone bitten, whether they die or not, has long- lasting consequences including some loss of motor dexterity and loss of tissue.

  • Ninety percent of those bitten are doing something they should not be doing in the first place . That includes crowding too close, trying to handle the snake (either when it’s dead or alive), and general carelessness in the snake’s territory.

Final Word

Be aware; be respectful of rattlesnakes and their territory. Know what to do if you or your pet are bitten!

Thank you to Lisa Luna, DVM, and Glen Mishkin of Paws and Claws Veterinary Clinic in Lake Havasu City, Arizona for information on dog vaccines and antivenin treatments.

Last 5 posts by Kathy Block

24 comments to Rattlesnakes and You

  • Kathy,

    Good article. If I may offer a few corrections.

    – The snake in the photo labeled as a Western Diamondback is actually a Mojave.

    – The guy holding the dead rattlesnake is exactly what you SHOULDN’T do … being messing with the snake to begin with. It’s also quite a trick of perspective, and that ‘giant’ rattlesnake is probably not even 4′ long.

    – Rattlesnakes in Arizona in the 5′ range are INCREDIBLY rare, most maxing out just under 4′. I have found many hundreds of rattlesnakes in the wild in Arizona, and only one was 5′ long.

    That AZ Black rattlesnake looks amazing! Where was that one found?


  • Hi, sorry about the mislabeling, neither myself nor my husband caught that, but some of our sharp-eyed friends did! Thanks! I don’t have any way of knowing about the “trick” perspective on the giant rattler, have seen several photos like that! In the article I did mention not handling “dead” rattlers even if the head is missing! Anyway, the black rattlesnake was photographed at the entrance to an adit of a mine in the Bradshaws at high elevation off Senator highway by my husband. He’d hiked up to it and the snake seemed to be somewhat sluggish, maybe due to the cold morning. It was still pretty much in the same position as when he took the photo at least 30 minutes later! Beautiful snake, isn’t it. Thanks for your comments. Kathy

  • Kathy,

    No need to apologize! It takes awhile to be able to spot ID a mojave vs diamondback with complete accuracy.

    That black rattlesnake looks a good bit different than those I usually see in the Bradshaws, having a lot less of the brown/tan coloration of the juveniles. That one will grow up to be almost entirely black. I have one from a different range in my office that is so dark it has lost all pattern completely, and looks like a shadow. They’re one of the coolest snakes around, in my opinion.

  • Hugh Jarce

    We have had a couple of Western Diamondbacks pay us a visit in our yard, and let me point out a few of my own observations here.

    1. They are NOT afraid of us. They rattle and when we move away they go about their business with no sign of any fear.

    2. If you provoke them, they not only strike, but will actively pursue you, and they are FAST. You can out run them easily, but you will need to run.

    3. They follow food. If you have a mouse or rats nest anywhere in your yard, they can smell them out, and they will come a visiting. Set rat traps for the rodents, and glue traps for the rattlers – kill both. If you are outside of the city limits and are able to use a firearm, use either a large caliber handgun loaded with shot cartridges, or a 12 gauge loaded with birdshot. After you kill one, leave it alone for 24 hours and then move it carefully with a long pole or stick.

    These things seem to be growing in number, you are allowed to kill dangerous examples – and I have yet to meet a safe one.

    One of my neighbors was backed into his garage by a particularly aggressive example, he used a bucket carefully placed in the snakes path to distract it, and then came over the top with a shovel to remove the dangerous end. That works well.

  • Allan Hall

    I doubt there is any statistical basis for saying the number of rattlesnakes (or snakes in general) is increasing in the Wickenburg area, or anywhere else. It is more likely that you are seeing them because it has finally warmed up. Finding two Western Diamondbacks on your property is not an alarming statistic. I have seen six snakes on my property, including one Mohave rattlesnake, in the past few days.

    As you say, snakes are on the hunt for mice and other rodents, and lizards. This time of the year snakes will also look for bird eggs, whether on the ground (quail and dove) or in tree nests. Rodents will be attracted to your yard if you feed quail. I gave up that enjoyable practice because the population of mice increased dramatically. More rodents, more snakes…

    While it may be true that Western Diamondback and Mohave rattlesnakes are not easily intimidated, the simple fact is that any snake will defend itself if it believes it is threatened. The best solution is to be aware of what is on the ground around you and give rattlesnakes a wide berth.

    Your suggestion that snakes should always be killed is – at best -poor advice.

  • Hugh,

    Let me help frame your observations with some facts:

    First, they are afraid of you; this is the reason they rattle. The rattle may end very shortly after you leave (or even while you’re still there), and some may not even rattle. Don’t take this to mean that they’re not concerned with your presence. Rattlesnakes have different temperaments just like any other animal.

    Rattlesnakes will not chase you. If continually provoked and prodded, one MAY advance slightly. If one is standing directly in front of a burrow of place of cover, the snake could also try and get to that place via the shortest route possible. Even if one were to give chase, they’re not able to move faster than one can walk. The idea that a rattlesnake will chase you down upon sight is a line of pure BS. Your neighbor was not backed into a garage, either. He either has grossly misunderstood typical behavior or is a flat out liar.

    Snakes are not growing in number; in fact populations are in a massive decline due to population fragmentation, rednecks with shotguns and glue traps, and many other reasons.

    There is nothing good to come from your brand of ignorant, fear-based misinformation. Your advice to kill snakes whenever possible, and then leave them alone for 24 hours for some reason, is like some long-brewed stone soup from generations of bizarre bravado.

    • Andy

      Yo … Brian Hughes … I was chased by a large adult Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at my home in Lake Hughes , California. I discovered the snake as I was attempting to drain a plastic pool full of water in my yard . (The snake was under the pool) . Initially ,while rattling, the snake made a slow graceful retreat . As the snake was approximately ten to twelve feet away from me , I took a step twords the snake to follow it . Big mistake ! It instantly made a bee line twords me , and I had to jump out of the way as it made up the twelve feet between us in less than two seconds. Perhaps it was a pregnant female. Perhaps it had mated with a mohave green . I was shocked to learn that rattlesnakes are indeed capable of giving quick chase !

      • Andy,

        I believe you’ve miscalculated some of the distances involved. Within 5 feet or so, a snake may move forward as part of front-pressure against an attacker. Most don’t realize how ridiculous the situation is from a perspective other than that of just standing there staring at the snake or even advancing on it … it’s like that bird on the road that frantically flies in front of the car, and just has to move to the side to be safe. You may have also misinterpreted behavior as a ‘chase’. If you’re standing in front of a hole or retreat, a snake may dart in that direction, even if you’re in the way. Sometimes this ‘retreat’ is just a shadowed rock, or slit under a garage door, etc.

        Gravid females are slower than normal snakes, and a SoPac will not mate with a Mojave; they are different species. At any rate, no, they don’t just chase people down on sight. If this really did happen as accurately as you’ve said it, then you need to get a paper ready, since it defies behavior of the thousands of wild Crotalids I’ve seen in the wild, my peers have seen, as well as in any literature or research in the history of herpetology. You’ve truly witnessed a one of a kind miracle of nature.

        … or, you’re full of it 🙂

  • Kathy Ellison

    I agree with Hugh Jarce. As an avid hiker I noticed a small (1 foot, approx) Western Diamondback rattler on a rock about 6 feet from the trail, and the darned thing chased me.

    A few years ago a full grown rattler was chasing a baby squirrel across the round pen while I was working a horse and there was no way I could have outrun it if I were the squirrel.

    There are other experiences I have had and I guarantee you that some of these pit vipers are definitely not shy. When I hear people say, “If you leave them alone they won’t bother you.” I think most got their information from a coffee table book.

    • Kathy,

      The snake did not chase you. I realize that you may believe it to be the case, but please consider the warped perception our minds are capable of when threatened.

      Just today someone send me tales of a five foot chuckwalla, and this week I have also received stories of a 6’+ black sidewinder, out at noon, South of Tucson, as well as a 7′ diamondback somewhere in the N. Phoenix area. The first two are absurd fiction, and the latter was actually an Eastern Diamondback that was killed in October in Florida that someone received in an email from a coworker. What these have in common, along with all of the other similarly spectacular accounts, have two things in common. First; the observer has uniformly outrageous encounters which oppose all documented knowledge of the animals, and second; the response to information is a cranky flavor of “I know what I saw!”. There is some misunderstood need to create monsters in the mind and consider perceived threats to be actual threats. I don’t pretend to understand why people feel the need to create and perpetuate myths, but certain personality types tend to find it useful. In keeping records of false accounts of the ‘ridiculous’ kind for 30 days last August (the time of greatest rattlesnake activity), I found vastly disproportionate numbers of individuals who involve themselves in popular pseudoscience of all flavors, and are ultimately quite used to rejecting further understanding in favor of what they believe they already understand. Meanwhile, people like Andy seem to encounter exactly the same animals, and do so with absolute respect, remain perfectly safe, and manage never to witness the behavior in question. I casually take it as one more example of our Nation’s recent and unfortunate trend of anti-intellectual self entitlement, granting powers of truth to uninformed anecdotes over peer-reviewed research, and continually confusing fact and opinion.

      If, as the first instance of this behavior ever being documented, a 1 foot rattlesnake were to actually chase you upon seeing you, the maximum speed would be less than 2 miles per hour. If you have legs, which you clearly do as an avid hiker, you’re not in danger. If we return to reality, rattlesnakes do not give chase on sight, as documented by any herpetological study on the subject.

      The second story was either not at all a rattlesnake, or a simple misidentification. For many reasons, rattlesnakes do not chase down their prey. In fact the very existence of venom negates any biological reason to chase anything at all. The least of which reasons being their physiology does not allow movement approaching anywhere near that of a ground squirrel. If you did indeed see a snake actively chasing a squirrel, it was much more likely have been one of the Coluber genus, who are large, fast, sleek-bodied snakes build for such activities. In fact, I had one beat me in a foot-race to a tree 3 days ago over open ground.

      As for my coffee table book; I do my own research. I have found, documented, and photographed thousands of rattlesnakes in the wild. The majority of people I talk to every day do the same. Name a body of modern herpetological text, and I’ve read it. I am typing this just as I have returned from a dawn observation of rattlesnakes in New Mexico. If you type “Field Herpetology” (which is the study of wild reptiles) into Google, my website is in the top three. I see more rattlesnakes in any given week in Spring than a rancher will see in his entire life. I know a lot of people who know a lot more than me on the subject, but I can definitely speak with some confidence. My coffee table is thicker than most.

      If you want your own coffee table book, start with Lawrence Klauber’s “Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind”. If you’d still rather reject all facts in favor of a more fanciful tale; then I don’t think you could learn anything more on the subject.

  • Kathy Block

    WOW, thanks for all the great comments everyone. I have accidentally picked up a rock, like around old fire rings at camps, and a sleepy rattler has slowly come “to life”, then always slithered AWAY as quickly as it could towards some nearby brush or shelter! The only incident I’ve ever seen of snake eating wildlife was in eastern Nevada when a large gopher snake climbed a tree into a nest of meadow larks, grabbed a baby, and swallowed it whole while the parents helplessly screeched and flew around. I got a few blurry photos, in those pre-digital days. Then the snake, with bulge working down its body, slowly came back down along the branch and trunk. Fascinating! Kathy Block

  • Allan Hall

    I am not the expert that Bryan Hughes is, as I have only encountered several hundred rattlesnakes in Arizona while hiking, backpacking or hunting. But, I must concur with Bryan in his assessment. I have never had an encounter that began with the snake “attacking” me. There have been a few instances where the rattler struck at me (I once had venom sprayed on my wrist in a close call), but it was because the snake had been provoked by another individual. In most of my close encounters – that is when the snake went into a coiled position – it was because I was not being observant. In every such instance, the snake eventually uncoiled after I and others backed away. Then the snake would continue on its course.

    I was once sitting on a large granite boulder when a Diamondback crawled out of a hole and moved in my direction. It came to within three feet of me and went into another hole. Tense? Yes, but it did not attack.

  • Allan Hall

    By the way, the second photo in Kathy’s article (the Speckled Rattlesnake) is proof that they will relax and go on their way if left alone. I was hiking in lower Slim Jim Creek with Lee Pearson when we encountered this fellow. Lee was looking “up” toward the canyon walls and was in front of me. I saw this Speckled coil up when Lee was about five feet away and headed in its direction. I grabbed Lee by the shoulder and pulled him back in time! We took a few telephoto shots from a safe distance and the snake became relaxed. In this photo, it was heading for a tree with a hole near the base – probably on the hunt for mice.

  • Alan,

    Was that speckled rattlesnake found in Yavapai county?

  • Allan Hall

    Yes – in lower Slim Jim Creek, perhaps 1/2 mile from the river. I would say that 100% of the Speckled Rattlesnakes I have seen have been in Yavapai County, generally between 2500 – 4000 feet and almost always on steep ground. The earliest time of the year I have seen a Speckled is January 25th (2009) when I was guiding a hiking group on the ATOS Loop Trail. The snake shown in the photo was encountered on a very cold and blustery day in April 2008.

  • Allan,

    Very cool. The speckleds in Yavapai county are my favorites. I have one that is bright pink with blue eyes; one of the coolest snakes I’ve ever seen.

  • Lin Llamas

    Can you answer this question? I know roadrunners eat rattlers and scorpions. Once swallowed, why isn’t the scorpion’s stinger harmful or the snake’s venom toxic?

    • That is the difference between VENOMOUS and POISONOUS. Venom is toxin that must be delivered into the bloodstream, whereas poison can take a more passive route.

  • Kathy Block

    The question about roadrunners vs rattlesnakes and scorpions prompted a quick Internet search and look at my 1936 Birds of America Book (which has some classic comments about roadrunners!) Anyway, apparently roadrunners grab the snake often by the tail, slam its head against hard surfaces for up to an hour and a half, and then swallow the now-dead snake. Sometimes part of the snake hangs out its mouth while it is digested. Potent stomach juices break down the rattlesnake and other creatures'(like tarantulas) poisons. One description said the poison is high in protein and gives the roadrunner an energy jolt. Apparently the poison doesn’t affect them at all!!!We regularly see these unique birds with lizards they’ve caught in our backyard rockery. Hope this answers the question. Maybe an expert would have more information!

  • Dave Weber

    I have to agree with Bryan on this topic. I have never been chased or had a rattler come at me. In fact, they usually either sit statue still or they rattle their tails and skeedaddle out of the way.
    The only snakes I have had bum rush me were a California Kingsnake (all 3 non venomous feet of him) and a large adult Gophersnake.
    Gopher snakes are commonly mistaken for rattlesnakes as when agitated they will flatten their heads to look like a rattler and vibrate their tales in brush or whatever is handy to sound like a rattler. Gopher snakes are non venomous and are therefore NOT a threat to you or me.

  • tammy

    Have to agree with Bryan on most of this – I am a 5th generation native to Arizona – daddy lives in wickenburg and has had to get rid of many snakes over the last 30+ years. He’s an old cowboy (late 80’s now). I grew up watching my grandma kill rattlers with just a rock thrown at them – they never chased any of us. Was working a roundup when two rattlers block the trail, no way around them, the ranch manager got off his horse, grab a stick, kept the snakes from coiling and stomp on their heads. Now I don’t recommend any of this – just saying, they are just a snake. All snakes may bite if provoked, surprised or handled. All snakes are an important part of the environment – we had floods here in the valley one year that killed many of rattlers, due to that, the rodents, especially the rats, over populated and caused major problems with peoples cars. In one weekend of not being used, the cars wiring was all chewed up. Please don’t kill what is not necessary – just leave them alone. O

  • rory white

    A rattlesnake absolutely, and without any doubt, can chase you, and even strike from this chasing “posture”. I believe it is rare, evidenced here by the strong statements stating the normal belief that they never will, nor can, chase a human.

    I have had a lot of experience with rattlesnakes having lived in snake country. I, like the doubters here, previously believed the rattlesnake would never give up its coiled posture in a threat/fear situation as it is obviously more vulnerable, unless it had the clear opportunity to escape by retreating into nearby brush or rock cover.

    However, once when catching a rattlesnake with a method i often used, grabbing a 1″x6″ plank of wood and pinning them down behind their neck, I had an admittedly rare and amazingly strong energetic and aggressive (well, in its defense, it was me, not it, that began the altercation) rattlesnake (in the santa monica mountains near los angeles) not only pull their head out from the board i was actually pinning it down with but then rush me, while snapping and striking, as i ran backwards as fast as i could swinging the board at it and exceedingly frightened as I’d never seen anything like this before. it chased me about 12 feet across my hard packed dirt “driveway” until i ran up (still backwards) a lumber pile.

    it then races back across the driveway towards another large lumber pile within which it would have become immediately lost to me. However I was IMMEDIATELY struck by the dangerousness of this particular snake and immediately also perceived i did NOT want it living in one of my lumber stacks.

    i ran after it as it went for the other lumber pile, attempted to pin it again, it again pulled out and chased me a second time but this time while swinging at its head with the 1″x6″ board (with as much adrenaline running through me as i’ve ever experienced… i was terrified… i did not chase the snake this second time through bravery, i was, as stated terrified of a snake of that capability living near my house…)… but again with a huge amount of adrenaline and swinging as hard as i could i, basically lucked out, and hit it dead sidewise across its head and at a moment its head was raised significantly above the ground to hit it square.

    i hit it so hard it made “crack” sound like a gun report. it was like hitting a golf ball with a driving club (i don’t play golf, so i’m guessing here).

    the snake, STILL, amazingly, turned and headed back toward the other wood pile. it was moving, however, MUCH slower. I was amazed it was alive.

    this time i pinned it down with the 1×6, getting the board totally perpendicular to the ground and put my whole weight upon it.

    my girlfriend by this time came walking out of the house with a friend of hers. she’d seen me catch snakes so often she wanted
    to grab it behind its head and show off to here girlfriend.

    i was so terrified i could hardly speak, and though i was shouting at her to stay away, i have no idea what i sounded like. she tried to grab the snake behind the head, so i pivoted in between her and the snake and grabbed it myself behind the head, and lifted it.

    i was so terrified i held it like a vice grip. i then, as was common, but never in such a shaken state (although i ALWAYS had adrenaline running through me in every encounter with a rattlesnake), threw it into a drum like carton with a lid and
    air holes punched in it.

    it was still alive but very weak.

    i drove it 5 miles up dirt Mulholland drive and, out of respect for the creatures amazing “bravery”? i let it go, though was very doubtful whether it would recover. it moved off very slowly into the brush and disappeared.

    i don’t know the species, but i’m sure there are only a few types in the santa monica mountains (it was near, but above, Topanga Canyon, and close to Mulholland Drive, in a very arid area, off a then totally dirt road, the Santa Maria Ranch Road).

    if someone wanted to ascertain species i can offer that the snake was very dark in color and maybe four feet long, maximum, perhaps three and a half feet long.

    rattlesnakes, i assure you, no matter how rare this may be,
    can chase you.

  • rory white

    Important postscript regarding size of snake. i just pulled out a tape measure, and my estimate on size would probably be 3 feet. (36 inches). definitely not four feet.

    there was nothing radically big about the snake but it was not a small rattlesnake nor a baby which I encountered often.

    again, i don’t mean to offer wild stories, but i swear before God, (something i do not do lightly whatsoever) my account of what happened is true. the snake definitely chased me twice. i would have never believed a rattlesnake could strike while “running” forward, either, as i assumed they had to either be coiled, or at least be fairly stationary and have a bit of a coil equivalent in the upper quadrant of their length. but it definitely had the ability to strike out as it moved forward. I would guess, very roughly here, it was striking closer than six inches from my fleeing feet. it “felt” closer. i was fairly convinced it was going to successfully bite me in those short terrifying moments. it was also obvious, as i was running backwards, that if i tried to pivot so that i could run away from it in normal running position, (and thus be able to run away much faster) it simply would have successfully struck me, as i slowed down to pivot.

    I THINK THERE IS AN IMPORTANT POINT HERE: While we think we know an animal’s full range of behavior, we do not know about its eccentric abilities beyond our studies. To assume any study, no matter how large the test group, such as in a clinical trial of a medication using, let us say 5000 participants, offers absolutely conclusive results that there shall not be anomalies beyond what the study encounters, is not a correct use of empirical science.

    We can make a very high prediction based on such studies, but to absolutely rule out behavior beyond our test group is not correct. However, if we are viewing something like the effect of gravity, and notice that we ourselves have never dropped an apple, and watched it “drop upward”, away from the planet’s surface, nor have most people in all of human history, we can then rather safely make a prediction on the absolute rule of gravity.

    However, even there, such observations could precede the discovery that the earth is a sphere in space and that “down” is a relative term with a different meaning than was assumed prior to the discovery of the earth’s roundness.

    Backing away from the domain of empirical science, which by definition is about observation of the natural world around us, and which includes making hypotheses and theories, (in which gravity is still a type of theory, although we see its consistent effect 100% of the time, or close… i’m not sure when other things occur… i guess before one saw a helium balloon they might have thought that impossible also), but to back away from theoretical speculations and statements about the philosophy of science, (where i’m actually treading outside my areas of knowledge… so i’m getting nervous),
    I will close by saying that I clearly witnessed a rattlesnake chasing a man, and that man was me, and i’m not telling some “whopper” or some such thing.

    in fact, the reason i found this discussion board is that, after many years of never encountering anyone else describing a rattlesnake attacking in such a matter, i thought i’d do a google search on the topic. I assumed i would find some people who had, based on how large a population internet can access.

    i didn’t study every entry above, but it reading quickly through them, i didn’t see any observations as clear as my own experience, so i’m sure it’s probably pretty rare.

    if you work with rattlesnakes though, i advise you to tuck away my little “anecdotal” account in your brain somewhere, as you make
    your decisions based on their ability to chase or strike.

    it could spare you having, at minimum, a very ruined day.

  • rory white

    okay, i went and read the other accounts above.

    the incident described by Andy above of the rattlesnake first gracefully trying to exit but then when perceiving that it was
    being advanced upon (it’s noteworthy also that Andy describes only taking a step toward it) that it rather “charged” straight forward, is similar in gestalt to my experience though not as extreme and prolonged.

    yet Andy only took a step towards the snake and i had “attacked” the snake in my situation aggressively (certainly from its perspective). i hadn’t just taken a step toward it. in fact it didn’t even coil before i grabbed the board and pinned it.

    i imagine it would have been happy to, just as Andy described, “gracefully” move off on its own, even if i just would have thrown a handful of gravel at it from a very safe distance.

    back to gathering empirical data and examining or recording anecdotal encounters and observations. while perhaps Andy, and Kathy Ellison above, and Hugh Jarce, and myself, are not trained scientists, i don’t believe any of the stories have the incredible aspects of “tall tales” (no homophonic pun intended).

    I’m sure my account sounds the most fantasy-based, but my description is also very clear and there can be no doubt in what i’m describing that the snake is intentionally chasing and striking at me. (in other words i can’t be misinterpreting its behavior, as its too specific and elaborate. i’m either rather hallucinating or lying, or else fairly accurately describing a specific behavior).

    While its behavior totally surprised me (and what i thought i “knew” previous to that experience) nevertheless it seemed to “know what it was doing”. In other words it was quite coordinated in its charging striking assault and it was very effective. It chased me away. And I was a huge enemy that had just attacked it. If it would have bit me, also, I would NOT have gone after it the second time, and its assault would have been 100% effective in dealing with the threat at hand (me) in that instance.

    So, in addressing Bryan, I would say that it is obvious that you, Bryan, have tremendous expertise and knowledge about rattlesnakes, and that far exceeds my own. I say this sincerely and humbly and because it is obviously true. But it would behoove you, being an expert, to perhaps make a further serious study of a rattlesnake’s rarely reported, but nevertheless reported (and by four people even in this one odd little internet thread), potential ability to charge. Obviously you would have to have the time to make such an eccentric study, so i’m not trying to be presumptuous.

    Before my one experience I would have been very in harmony with Bryan, and especially with Tamy’s posting above as it is a very sound description of snake behavior. She sounds very experienced and is making a rational conclusion. It’s only due to my personal experience that i disagree with her conclusion.

    But nothing here approaches exhaustive study, nor conclusions on the matter.

    In simply dismissing any validity to the four accounts here of rattlesnakes charging, while I truly understand such a position, I think it is, in this case, ignoring four parallel anecdotal descriptions by unrelated parties witnessing a particular defense strategy (charging) that is at least worth further examination by the experts as to whether it is used on occasional by certain rattlesnakes.

    Because the four accounts don’t jive with most peoples experience, I do NOT expect that anyone needs to BELIEVE the four accounts as fact.

    But an absolute dismissal of these reports by an expert or scientist in such a dynamic is, in my opinion, erring through tautology: Their hypothesis itself discounts all evidence that contradicts the premise of the hypothesis. To say such behavior by rattlesnakes has never been documented by trained scientists, filmed, nor even confirmed by 99.9999% of most anecdotal accounts, is okay. To say such behavior is impossible and any reports describing such behavior are absolutely definitely false is taking a step beyond appropriate application of empirical science or logic.

    Furthermore, in my subjective experience in the case at hand, based on my own clear observation, I have to still, for the sake of accuracy honesty and prudence (for others’ safety) yet once more say that rattlesnakes definitely can effectively charge a potential threat, and even when such a threat is far to big to be considered a potential meal.