It can be very unnerving to walk in one’s backyard and find a snake slinking along a retaining wall or sunning on a rock. The first thought that comes to mind is, “Does this pose a danger to me or my pet?”
According to Officer Sheila Risinger from Animal Friends of the Valleys, snake season has arrived to Canyon Lake. Although there are a few types of snakes that call this community home, Rattlesnakes are the only local species that is poisonous. If a snake is spotted, it’s best to leave it alone or, if poisonous, call AFV at 951-674-0618.
According to Sheila, there is no reasonable need to kill any snake that is encountered, which often occurs due to the instinctive and emotional fear people have of snakes. Snakes are a natural and necessary part of any healthy environment. They can be especially beneficial when they consume and control rodent populations. Some are also helpful by killing the deadly Rattlesnake.
It’s important to note that, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, snakes do not aggressively attack humans. They attack only in self-defense or when feeding.
But how does one know which snakes should be reported and avoided, as well as which are safe. The following should help residents with identifying most of Canyon Lake’s slithery residents.
Keep in mind that many species are similar in appearance and may be hard to tell apart. Even snakes of the same type can vary in appearance. When snakes move, the pattern and colors often blend together, also making them difficult to identify.
Rattlesnakes are poisonous/venomous snakes. Rattlesnake bites can be dangerous but these days are very rarely fatal to humans. With speedy and proper medical treatment, bites are rarely serious. Most people are bitten by snakes when they inadvertently stepped on one — so watch where those feet go!
The sound made by a Rattlesnake’s tail is quite distinctive; however, it only makes the rattle noise when threatened. They also have a pretty loud hiss. There will be no rattle or hiss if the snake is quietly sunning on a rock, so it’s important to know what it looks like too.
The Rattlesnake is a heavy-bodied snake with a triangular-shaped head, about three to five feet in length. Its basic color ranges from brown to gray to pinkish, depending on the shade of its habitat. Its back is lined with dark diamond-shaped blotches outlined by lighter-colored scales. Its head is distinguished by two dark stripes, one on each side of its face, which run diagonally, like Zorro’s mask, from its eyes back to its jaws.
Its tail is circled by several alternating black and white bands, like the pattern of a raccoon’s tail. Do not attempt to capture or kill a Rattlesnake. Rather, call AFV and try to safely keep an eye on the snake, if possible, so as to direct AFV to its location.
Red Racers or Coachwhips are non-venomous. A Red Racer averages four to six feet in length. It is slender-bodied with a long, thinly tapered tail. It ranges from dark brown to tan to yellowish to gray with its dominant color, often blending with the soil.
Dark brown to black at the head, its color fades, with minimal patterning, to light brown at the tail. The neck area may have some cross banding. Typically, the snake’s belly is lighter colored. It has a somewhat angular head with large eyes, hooded and protected by scales with shapes similar to eyebrows. The Red Racer hunts in early to mid-morning and late afternoon. It is very quick and moves with its head elevated.
The King Snake is non-venomous. King Snakes are carefree and go about their business of hunting rattlesnakes and other reptiles. King Snakes are not known as biters and are common in the pet trade. If seen, please allow them to continue doing whatever they are doing. With a King Snake around, Rattlesnakes will be on the run to get away!
Gopher Snakes are non-venomous. They are the biggest snake in Southern California, reaching up to six feet in length. Regularly they are mistaken for Rattlesnakes since they are the same color and may even imitate a Rattler by flattening their heads, hissing loudly, and shaking their tails when threatened. However, Gopher Snakes are normally friendly, posing no harm to people. In fact, they are a main controller of the rodent population.
There are several websites to help with identifying local snakes. For more information and/or photos, visit California Herps at www.californiaherps.com or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at wildlife.ca.gov.