“What kinds of venomous snakes can you find in California?”
This question is extremely common. Everyone wants to know if any dangerous snakes live near them and what they look like!
Believe it or not, you can find SEVEN types of venomous snakes in California. But please don’t live in fear, thinking that you are going to be bitten. In general, snakes try to avoid any contact or interaction with people. As long as you leave them alone, you shouldn’t have any trouble!
Did you know that snakes are considered venomous, NOT poisonous? If you eat something that makes you sick, then it’s considered “poisonous.” If an animal, like a snake, delivers its toxins when it bites, then it’s considered “venomous.”
*If you come across any of these species, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB! Venomous snakes 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 snake that has recently bitten you. If you have recently been bitten, GO DIRECTLY to the nearest hospital to get help and to determine if the snake is venomous.*
7 Venomous Snakes That Live in California:
RELATED: The 20 Types of SNAKES Found in California! (ID Guide)
#1. 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, which are outlined by white scales.
- Broad, spade-shaped head with a black mask over the eyes. Elliptical pupils and pits between eyes and nostrils.
- A rattle on the tail alternates between black and white-colored bands.
This famous venomous snake has a wide range of habitats, but lives only in far southerin California!
You might spot them in deserts, grassy plains, forested areas, coastal prairies, rocky hillsides, and river bottoms. But your best chance to see one might be on a rural road in the evening because of the heat the pavement retains.
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake Range Map
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes hibernate in communal caves, dens, or rock ledges called hibernacula during the winter. They sometimes share these spaces with snakes of other species and can survive in hibernation for several months without eating.
The Western Diamond-backed feeds 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 ambush 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, make sure to leave the area slowly! Due to their specialized fang and large venom glands, these snakes 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!
These venomous snakes reach sexual maturity at three years of age and mate in the spring after emerging from hibernation. Females give birth to ten to twenty live babies. The young snakes have a high mortality rate, but those that survive may live for 20 years or more!
#2. 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, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the nostrils and eyes, and a black and white banded rattle at the end of the tail.
Sometimes called the Mojave Green, these venomous snakes 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
The Mojave Rattlesnake is one of the most venomous snakes in California!
Their venom contains both neurotoxins that attack the nervous system and hemotoxins that attack the blood. These snakes are ambush predators and use their camouflage to wait unseen for unsuspecting lizards, rodents, toads, and snakes.
Interestingly they are sometimes confronted by California Ground Squirrels. These ground squirrels are resistant to snake venom and adept at dodging strikes. They will defend their pups from the Mojave Rattlesnake with vigor!
When disturbed, these venomous snakes will 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 so long as medical attention is sought immediately.
#3. Western Rattlesnake
- Crotalus oreganus
- Adult size varies widely over their range, with the largest individuals being 6 feet in length.
- Three subspecies live in California – Northern Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Great Basin.
- Triangular head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, dark stripe with white borders that runs from the eye towards the jaw.
You can find three different subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake in California, and they look completely different. The Northern Pacific and Southern Pacific varieties look similar and are dark brown or black with lighter-edged blotches. Great Basin Rattlesnakes are typically pale yellow, light gray, or tan, with brown and blackish blotches, and are found in the northeastern part of the state.
This venomous species occupies a wide range of habitats in California. They can be found in mountainous areas, woodlands, and grasslands. They also often occur in close proximity to humans.
These snakes may be active during the day or night and are often curled, waiting to ambush a variety of 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 litters of up to 25 babies!
#4. Red Diamond Rattlesnake
- Crotalus ruber
- Adults typically range from 39 to 59 inches in length. 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, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and tail rattle.
These moderately sized venomous snakes 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 a lot of boulders and brush.
The Red Diamond Rattlesnake preys on a variety of small mammals, including rabbits and ground squirrels, as well as birds, lizards, and other snakes. Please note, 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.
- Large triangular head and heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils.
Look for this venomous snake 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’ll 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, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, 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 venomous snakes will rattle when threatened. If you encounter an agitated one, make sure to back away slowly and leave the area. If pressed, these Panamint Rattlesnakes will strike, and bites require immediate medical attention due to their potent venom.
During the spring breeding season in southeastern California, 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 venomous snakes are most active in southern 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. If you see “J” shaped tracks leading to a depression in the sand, be careful as there may be a dangerous snake 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 also 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 venomous snakes 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 venomous snake?
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. View Cost - Amazon
Which of these venomous snakes have YOU seen in California?
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