Believe it or not, you can find SEVEN types of rattlesnakes in California!
But please don’t live in fear, thinking that you are going to be bitten. In general, rattlesnakes try to avoid any contact or interaction with people. The whole reason they have a rattle is to warn you to stay away! As long as you leave them alone, you shouldn’t have any trouble.
*If you come across any of these species, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB! Rattlesnakes are dangerous animals and should be left alone. The more you agitate them, the more likely you could get bitten. DO NOT RELY ON THIS ARTICLE to correctly identify a rattlesnake that has recently bitten you. If you have recently been bitten, GO DIRECTLY to the nearest hospital to get help and determine if the snake is venomous.*
RELATED: The 28 Types of SNAKES Found in California! (ID Guide)
#1. Western Rattlesnake
- Crotalus oreganus
- Adult size varies widely over their range, with the largest individuals being 6 feet long.
- Coloration varies greatly and can be dark brown, yellowish, dark gray, or olive-brown.
- Triangular head. A dark stripe with white borders that runs from the eye towards the jaw.
Also known as the Northern Pacific Rattle Snake, this species occupies a wide range of habitats. They can be found in mountainous areas, woodlands, and grasslands. They often occur in close proximity to humans.
Western Rattlesnakes have excellent camouflage and unique coloring, as these snakes show considerable variation. When they’re young, they have a distinct color pattern, but it fades over time as the snakes mature.
These snakes may be active during the day or night and are often curled, waiting to ambush various prey. They’ll feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They may also eat bird eggs, and young snakes often feed on insects.
Like other rattlesnakes, this species gives birth to live young. Healthy, sexually mature females can give birth to up to 25 babies!
#2. Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
- Crotalus atrox
- Adults typically grow to about 4 feet in length.
- Coloration ranges from brown, gray, brick red, pinkish, and chalky white. Look for the darker diamond-shaped blotches down its back, outlined by white scales.
- Broad, spade-shaped head with a black mask over the eyes.
- A rattle on the tail alternates between black and white-colored bands.
This famous rattlesnake has a wide range of habitats in southern California!
You might spot them in deserts, grassy plains, forested areas, rocky hillsides, or river bottoms. But your best chance to see a Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake is probably on a rural road in the evening because of the heat the pavement retains.
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake Range Map
These rattlesnakes feed on small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, prairie dogs, rabbits, mice, and rats. They will also consume birds that fly within reach. Like other pit vipers, they bite their prey and track them while the venom takes effect.
When threatened, the Western Diamond-backed will typically stand its ground. They rattle and coil, lifting themselves off the ground to prepare to strike.
If you hear their characteristic rattle, leave the area slowly! Due to their specialized fangs and large venom glands, these Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes can deliver a lot of venom in a single bite! Untreated bites have a mortality rate of 10 – 20%, so make sure to get to the hospital quickly if struck!
#3. Mojave Rattlesnake
- Crotalus scutulatus
- Adults range from 2 to 4 feet in length.
- Coloration is green, gray, brown, tan, or yellow with darker diamond or diamond-like markings down the back.
- Heavy-bodied, triangular head, and a white-banded rattle at the end of the tail.
Mojave Rattlesnakes are generally found in arid habitats. They prefer desert flatland with sparse vegetation, high desert, mountain slopes, grassy plains, Joshua tree woodlands, and scrub brush areas.
Mojave Rattlesnake Range Map
This species is one of the most dangerous rattlesnakes in California!
Their venom contains neurotoxins that attack the nervous system and hemotoxins that attack the blood. Mojave Rattlesnakes are ambush predators and use their camouflage to wait for unsuspecting lizards, rodents, toads, and snakes.
When disturbed, they give the characteristic tail rattle as a warning. Their potent venom means that you should give them distance and respect. If someone is bitten, chances of survival are good as long as medical attention is sought immediately.
#4. Red Diamond Rattlesnake
- Crotalus ruber
- Adults typically range from 39 to 59 inches in length. However, size varies widely over their range.
- Reddish coloration with diamond-shaped blotches down the back and alternating black and white bands on the tail.
- Thick body, large triangular head, and tail rattle.
These moderately sized rattlesnakes can be found in southern California. They occupy coastal and mountainous habitats as well as deserts. They prefer dense chaparral areas, cactus patches, and areas with many boulders and brush.
The Red Diamond Rattlesnake preys on various small mammals, including rabbits and ground squirrels, as well as birds, lizards, and other snakes. Please note that they are also commonly called Northern Red Rattlesnakes in California.
Compared with other rattlesnakes, this species has one of the least potent venoms. They’re also considered to have a mild disposition and are unlikely to bite. However, they should still be treated with respect, and if bitten, you should go directly to the hospital.
#5. Speckled Rattlesnake
- Crotalus mitchellii
- Adults typically don’t exceed 39 inches in length.
- Coloration is a faded tan or light brown.
- The end of the tail has white coloration with narrow black rings that end in a rattle.
Look for this rattlesnake in southern California inhabiting rocky, arid country, including canyons, rocky hillsides, and rock ledges. Their color usually matches the color of the rocks and soil in their habitat.
Speckled Rattlesnakes spend most of the daytime in the shelter of rocks and burrows to avoid the heat of the desert during the day. They’re mostly nocturnal and spend their nights hunting small mammals, though they also consume birds and lizards.
Like other rattlesnakes, this species gives birth to live young. Mating occurs in the spring, and in late summer, the females give birth to litters of up to 12 young.
#6. Panamint Rattlesnake
- Crotalus stephensi
- Adults range from 23 to 52 inches in length.
- Coloration varies, and snakes can be mixtures of tan, yellow, off-white, gray, or brown with vague or distinct speckled banding.
- Thick body and neck, large triangular head, keeled scales, and a tail rattle.
The Panamint Rattlesnake is an ambush hunter and primarily waits by rodent trails for prey to pass by. They also feed on other small mammals, lizards, and birds and use their heat-sensing pits to help locate food. Once they strike, they let their victim run away, only to track them once the venom takes effect.
Panamint Rattlesnake Range Map
These rattlesnakes will rattle when threatened. If you encounter an agitated one in California, back away slowly and leave the area. If pressed, Panamint Rattlesnakes will strike, and bites require immediate medical attention due to their potent venom.
During the spring breeding season, males engage in what is known as the “combat dance.” Neither male is hurt, but they twine together and try to wrestle the other to the ground to determine who will get to mate with the desired female.
- Crotalus cerastes
- Adults are small and range from 17 to 30 inches in length.
- Coloration may be cream, buff, gray, yellowish-brown, or pink with dark blotches down the middle of the back and smaller dark blotches down the sides.
- They have distinctive supraocular scales, which look like horns over the eyes. Also commonly called Horned Rattlesnakes.
These rattlesnakes are most active in California at dawn and dusk.
Sidewinders have a habit of submerging themselves in the sand with a practice called “cratering.” They shift their body from side to side to bury themselves. So if you see “J” shaped tracks leading to a depression in the sand, be careful as a dangerous rattlesnake may be buried underneath!
While buried in the sand, the Sidewinder waits to ambush unsuspecting prey. They feed on small mammals, lizards, and birds. Juvenile snakes may use caudal luring with their tail tips, mimicking the movements of moths. The young snakes feed primarily on lizards, while mature snakes feed more on desert rodents.
Sidewinders get their name from their unique form of locomotion, where it appears they are slithering sideways! This adaptation allows them to travel quickly over loose sand (up to 18 mph) and helps them stay cool in the desert heat. This movement leaves a characteristic “J” shape in the sand.
Sidewinder Rattlesnakes have moderately toxic venom and a relatively low venom yield compared to other rattlesnakes. Symptoms of a bite include pain, dizziness, necrosis, weakness, and discoloration. However, fatalities have occurred, and these rattlesnakes are known to be somewhat aggressive. They should be treated with caution, and bites should be handled as a medical emergency.
Do you need additional help identifying a rattlesnake?
I recommend purchasing a Peterson Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America. These books have lots of helpful information, including pictures and range maps.
Which of these rattlesnakes have YOU seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!