Sunday, June 25, 2017

Corralitas Drive: Rattlesnake or Gopher Snake?

Photo: Red Car Property Neighbor, June 18, 2017.  Every year I get a few panicked calls/emails/texts from neighbors who think they've seen a rattlesnake on or around the Red Car Property.  (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Luckily, now most neighbors grab their phones now and take photos from a safe distance.  All photos here have been cropped.  

The neighbor first texting me the story of working in the garden and hearing what sounded like a rattlesnake. "I thought I knew about snakes, I was obsessed as a kid.  I looked at the tail immediately, looked like a gopher snake but the rattle had me shook.  A neighbor's cat started pawing at it and hearing a rattle, I panicked."  The neighbor shooed the cat away safely. and the snake disappeared under the leaves and patio. I asked for photos and to my surprise, there were many to choose from.
Photo: Red Car Property Neighbor, June 18, 2017. (enlarged from previous photo.)  Head: inconclusive from this angle, the light makes it appear articulated from the neck.  It the best head shot the neighbor got.  However, the spotted pattern looks like Gopher snake.

Photo: Red Car Property Neighbor, June 18, 2017. Hard to get both the head and the tail of the 3.5 to 4' long snake in the same shot.  Gopher snakes will mimic rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in the grass or leaves, even coiling up in a defensive position like a rattlesnake because it scares the potential predator (in this case a human).  

I have witnessed such behavior many times, as have a number of neighbors.  Take a step back and stay still, observe, take photos.  If you have pets or children with you, move them away from the snake before you take photos.  Do not put them or yourself at risk.  Use this as a learning experience of how to behave around wildlife.
Photo: Red Car Property Neighbor, June 18, 2017.  Tail enlarged from previous photo, verdict: Gopher Snake.  The neighbor proclaimed, " If it eats gophers, it's my new best friend!"

The last report of rattlesnakes in the neighborhood was from the early 1980s before our part of Silver Lake was completely built out. Before automated trash pick up, the City workers who picked up the trash cans said they found them underneath the cans in the early mornings in our hillsides.  However, there are definitely rattlesnakes in Griffith Park, and there is enough natural habitat in Elysian Park to suggest they exist there too, so there is always the possibility they are in the hills of eastern Silver Lake.  (People did not believe we had foxes and bobcats until we confirmed both with multiple sightings and photos.)

Learn more about Rattlesnakes and Gopher Snakes as well as other reptiles and amphibians:  California Herps

Click here for all our snake posts.