Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Nature Watch: "Snake ID"


Last updated 9/14/2023 at 11:20am

Photos of rattlesnake and gopher snake to demonstrate the difference in venomous vs. non-venomous snakes.

Summer in the desert often means you might encounter snakes, especially at night when they are more active while trying to avoid high daytime temperatures that can be life threatening for them.

Unlike mammals, snakes are unable to regulate their body temperature, so they will adjust their activity to periods when the heat is less intense.

While many people do not like snakes of any kind, it's important to remember that these reptiles provide balance by controlling rodent populations.

A good rule to remember is, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. Even rattlesnakes prefer to be left alone, and when they sound off, it's to warn you to leave.

This quick guide will help you learn how to identify potentially dangerous snakes and which ones to avoid.

In Anza-Borrego Desert State Park the only dangerous snake is the rattlesnake and that includes sidewinders, the red diamondback, southwestern speckled and southern pacific rattlesnakes.

One of the quickest ways of telling between a dangerous, venomous snake and a harmless one is to look at the head.

Rattlesnakes have large, bulky, triangular shaped heads, while non-venomous species have rounded heads.

Of course, the raised tail with a rattle is also a very good sign that you have encountered a venomous snake and when they begin to buzz to let you know you are getting too close, it's an unmistakable sound.

Another clue, but a bit harder to see are the eyes. The rattlesnake has pupils that are vertical slits, while the harmless snakes have round pupils.

Rattlesnakes are known as pit vipers because they have a pit behind the nose that senses heat which assists them in identifying prey. This is also a bit difficult to see.

When in snake country, it's also a good idea to avoid putting your hands into places you can't see and to carry a walking stick to probe into brush or tall grass where snakes might be lurking.

For your safety, and theirs, learn to identify dangerous snakes and simply move away and give them space.

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