The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is the most widely distributed venomous reptile in California; it is one of the nine subspecies of the western rattlesnake. The one pictured below is a baby that was born last year.
This rattlesnake is one of the most broadly tolerant of all rattlers in its choice of habitats, though they prefer areas with rocky areas and ledges. It can be found at higher elevations than any other rattlesnake – up to 9,000 feet.
The snake preys upon small mammals, birds and lizards. It uses its tongue and heat sensing pits (the holes in its face between the eyes and nostrils) to hunt.
It uses venom to kill and break down the tissue of the animal, which helps to digest the victim. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake hunts during the day on warm days, but waits until nightfall when the days become really hot.
Rattlesnakes add a rattle to their string each time their skin is shed. The rattle is composed of hardened keratin, the same material as a human’s fingernails.
Adult snakes typically reach 24-60 inches in length. They are stout and have fairly large eyes with vertical pupils and a long, dark cheek patch. Often the blotches that run down the snake’s back become bands further down, giving the snake a “raccoon tail.”
Rattlesnakes are live-bearing, and typically give birth to between 2 and 8 young in mid-September to October. Newborn rattlesnakes are fully venomous but lack a rattle; they have a small, modified scale at the tip of their tail called a “button.”
Though feared, rattlesnakes are valuable predators, and likely an important control agent for some species of small mammals.