Western Rattlesnake

Western Rattlesnake
Crotalus oreganus

Western rattlesnakes are found in the warm, dry habitats of the Bay Area where they hunt rodents, small mammals, birds, other reptiles, and amphibians.  Rattlesnakes are also on the menu for other animals—hawks, roadrunners, kingsnakes, and wild pigs all hunt and eat rattlesnakes.

Although drab in color, the distinct triangular-shaped head and tail rattles distinguish this snake from others.  Western rattlesnakes usually keep to themselves and strike only when hunting, startled, or in defense.

Known by many names the western rattlesnakes has 20 different common names: Western rattlesnake, northern Pacific rattlesnake, Pacific rattlesnake, black rattlesnake, Arizona diamond rattlesnake, black diamond rattlesnake, black snake, California rattlesnake, confluent rattlesnake, diamond-back rattlesnake, Great Basin rattlesnake, Hallowell’s rattlesnake, Missouri rattlesnake, Oregon rattlesnake, Pacific rattler, rattlesnake, southern rattlesnake, western black rattlesnake, western rattler, and north Pacific rattlesnake.

How do you determine the age of a snake? Some people think you can count the rattles to tell the age of a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes do gain a rattle every time they shed their skin; however, they also often break off old and worn rattles.  So more rattles indicate an older snake, but you cannot age a snake by the number of rattles.

Lindsay Wildlife’s resident rattlesnake is an albino Western Rattlesnake named Tyro that came to the wildlife rehabilitation hospital in 2018. Tyro was brought to Lindsay after he was attacked with a set of tree trimmers. With damage to his eye, multiple lacerations and a fractured jaw, Tyro was lucky to survive. After his wounds healed, it became clear that Tyro could no longer see out of his left eye and it was removed. The attack was so severe that part of his forked tongue fell out during rehabilitation, making him unable to return to the wild, though he can still eat by finding his mice (injected with hot water!). 

Did you know? There are two strains of albinism: Tyrosinase positive and Tyrosinase negative. Tyrosinase negative is the complete absence of pigmentation and produces bright white, yellow, and red pupils. Tyrosinase positive causes some darker pigmentation to remain. That’s why T+ albino morphs are typically referred to as “Caramel morphs”. Leucistic animals usually have very disrupted and/or missing patterns in addition to jet black eyes (pupils and irises alike) OR black pupils with blue irises. Our snake is T+.

Tyro is a very curious rattlesnake that always interacts with enrichment placed into his enclosure. He will do what is called “periscoping”, holding his head a few inches above the ground to investigate his surroundings. He very rarely rattles, even while volunteers and keepers are cleaning nearby enclosures. He just likes to watch and see what’s going on.

Rattlesnakes are not aggressive but they are shy and careful. They will use their rattle to warn nearby animals/people that they are uncomfortable. It’s important to listen to what animals are telling us in their own ways.