Springtime Rattlesnake Activity & Behavior

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So far this spring, we’ve gone through quite the roller coaster ride in terms of weather. For snakes, this means they’ve generally remained near their dens to head back under their rocks or underground hibernaculum when it gets cold at night or rains. This is about to begin changing. This weekend into what appears to be much of next week, northern California’s temperatures will (finally) begin to stabilize in the 80s for much of the lower elevations during the day.

Nighttime temperatures are actually a bigger factor when it comes to the distance from their dens they will be able to travel, not necessarily daytime high temperatures. That said, it looks like nighttime temperatures will begin creeping into the 50s across much of our half of the state next week. These overnight temperatures aren’t warm enough for much movement overnight, but it means snakes can begin moving earlier in the morning and continue activity later into the evening — slowly increasing the potential range away from their den they may travel. It’s when night time temperatures begin running into the 60s, 70s, and during heatwaves 80s where rattlesnakes can remain active and mobile through the night.

During the few relatively short-lived periods of warm weather we’ve had, rattlesnakes began doing the first two things they do each spring: find a mate & wait for a meal. Over the last 2 months, I’ve documented plenty of rattlesnakes enjoying some spring sun by themselves outside their dens, as well as some rattlesnake love in the past couple weeks. With this warmer weather inbound, this will become a very common sight near and around den sites. Mating season begins in early to mid-spring, and continues through May and perhaps early June.

Top snake: male, bottom snake: female. While checking in on a den site on a warm afternoon ahead of a storm, I noticed the female outside enjoying the sun. After watching for less than a minute, the male darted out of the rocks and found her. He tried to see if she was in the mood, but quickly stopped and just cuddled up with her.

Reproductive behavior in snakes involves males seeking out females and trying to get them in the mood by cuddling up on top of them, making quick jerking movements over her body and flicking his tongue on her as he does so. If she approves of his attempts, they’ll get down to business. If not, she’ll just sit put until he figures it out and gives up.

If two males become competitive over a female or just general areal dominance, they’ll do a combative ‘dance’. Male combat is often mistaken for a male and female mating, and what this combat involves is two males raising their upper bodies off the ground and continually trying to pin the other snakes head to the ground. This all happens while the two males continually intertwine their bodies as they try to stay above the other male. This combat can continue for hours sometimes, but rarely results in injury, nor will they bite each other.

Over the next few weeks, at least during warmer periods, snakes will likely begin expanding outside den areas seeking meals and mates. This will mark the beginning of general snake sightings on trails, and over time, near homes that back up to open space. We encourage people to stay on trails when hiking, and if you discover snake at your home or business not to mess with it — let alone try to kill it.

If you live on or have property in northern California and often run into rattlesnakes during the summer, spring is an excellent time of year to have Placer Snake Removal out to perform an inspection. This is especially the case if your property contains large rock outcrops, debris such as wood and metal that has been sitting for a long period of time,  or old unused structures (such as sheds or barns). Spring inspections can turn up den sites on some properties, and result in the removal of rattlesnakes that could turn up later in the summer.

We’re offering 10% off all property inspections through May, simply mention you saw this offer or post and trim that 10% off faster than a gopher snake disappears into a burrow!

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