The temperatures are warming up which means our reptile friends in the wild will be emerging from their cozy dens underground.  One of the most feared, misunderstood, and only venomous reptile in the Conejo Valley is the Western Rattlesnake.  

This week's newsletter will look at the unique characteristics of the rattlesnake, as well as some behaviors that are commonly misunderstood.  While there is never a good reason to intentionally handle a rattlesnake, we can learn to respect this creature that plays the important role of rodent control in our
open space. 
What's that Rattlin'
A rattlesnake's rattle is made up of the same keratin that is found in your fingernails.  A rattlesnake is born with one little cap at the end of its tail.  After each shed, it gains another cap.  The more caps a rattlesnake has, the louder the hissing noise it will make.   The hissing noise you hear are the segments of the rattle hitting against each other.  

Fun Fact:
Burrowing Owls mimic the hiss of a rattlesnake to ward off any predator who is approaching their nest.
Rattlesnake Family Life
Baby rattlesnakes are usually born between August and October.  Unlike other reptiles, they are live-born and not born from eggs.  The mama rattlesnake gives birth to about 4-12 babies and will stay to watch over them until their first shedding of skin.  About one to two weeks after they are born, the young snakes will be ready find a new place to live on their own.  Rattlesnakes live about 20 years in the wild. 
Where in the Conejo to Spot a Rattlesnake
The short answer is EVERYWHERE.  

Rattlesnakes favorite meals are small mammals like squirrels, mice, and rabbits.  They usually find a trail and then settle next to it waiting for the next meal to come by.  Unlike other snakes that actively search for prey, rattlesnakes prefer the sit, hide, and ambush approach.  This is one reason you should proceed with caution if you do spot a rattlesnake.  Rattlesnakes tend to be territorial and do not like to move very far from what they call home. 

Pop Quiz:
How does a rattlesnake make a home?

It doesn't. It simply finds one and takes it.  Rattlesnakes do not have hands or limbs to help it dig.  It does not have rodent-like teeth to help it dig, so it simply finds a hole or burrow (like under an old shed in the picture above) and calls it home.  If there happens to be a current tenant like a rat or mouse living there, the snake settles into its new residence by eating the previous owner.  
Rattlesnakes do not desire human interaction and if they sense or see a human coming, they will more than likely leave.  If they are startled, they will begin their rattle.  Their last resort is to attack. 

If you see a snake on the trail, simply back up and let it pass.  If it refuses, turn around and go another way. Wild animals always have the right away.  

The picture above is of me and a snake shed I found along the side of a trail.  That is pretty much as close as I desire to get to any of our wild creatures. 
Other Snakes in the Area
The California kingsnake is a large non-venomous snake that was given their name as the "king" because they are known to prey on other snakes.  They do prey on rattlesnakes and are immune to rattlesnake venom. 

The zoomed-in picture of the one above was taken of a very curious kingsnake at Rancho Sierra Vista. 
Another popular snake seen in our open space is the gopher snake.  This snake has similar coloring to a rattlesnake but its head is narrower and it does not have venom or a rattle.  It will take advantage of its similarities to a rattlesnake if a predator tries to attack.  As a defense mechanism, it will inflate its body, hiss loudly, and then push its head on the ground so that it resembles a rattlesnake's triangular head.

The gopher snake in the picture above was one I encountered on the Hidden Meadows Trail.  It was not alarmed by me at all and took its sweet time moving across the trail.  I simply waited for it to cross and then continued on my hike. 
Poisonous Vs. Venomous
Venomous is a term used for a creature that injects toxins through a sting or bite.  Poisonous creatures carry toxins in their body and release them when they are consumed or eaten.  Rattlesnakes inject their venom through a gland that is connected to their fangs.  When they bite, the venom is released.  Rattlesnakes are not poisonous and their venom is only located in the glands near its jaw. 
Spring Flower Contest Winner
During the month of February we featured flowers found in the area.  Last week, we held a contest for readers to submit springtime flowers they have encountered.  The submissions were entered into a drawing and the winner won two stickers created by a local artist Fabiola Gonzales.

Congratulations goes to Allison Colton!  Thank you so much for submitting your beautiful picture. 
Information for this newsletter was collected from
the following resources: 

"Wild LA: Explore the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles"
by Jason Goldman
If you would like this information in a format you can distribute to your class, let's chat! Email Christina at naturekidsactivities@gmail.com
This week, share your nature pictures using the hashtag: #CONEJOVALLEYNATURECLUB
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