Spring Time is Snake Time

by By Bob Garrison

Be on the lookout for snakes on your outings during the spring and summer. The warm temperatures and longer daylight hours that stimulate people to get out and enjoy nature also trigger the same response in snakes. Pick up a field guide on California snakes before you head out you will be surprised at the diversity and beauty of this much maligned group of animals.

Snakes lead the list of most misunderstood and feared of all animals. The rattlesnake is the only type of snake in California that is dangerous to humans, but unfortunately, many harmless snakes have met untimely deaths at the hands of shovel-wielding humans. Snakes are an important part of the natural food chain, eating a great variety of prey, from rats and birds to frogs and other reptiles. Besides their ecological value, snakes offer the careful wildlife viewer a chance to watch one of nature’s most efficient predators.

Even if you do not go out in search of snakes, you may encounter them on your spring and summer adventures. Watch for rattlesnakes in all parts of California. They deserve your healthy respect-for your safety as well as theirs.

If you encounter a rattlesnake, move away and watch for these tell-tale signs that you are too close. First, a rattlesnake, in fact most snakes, will coil into a defensive posture if they cannot escape by crawling away. If you continue to get closer, the rattlesnake will warn you with its distinctive rattle. The last defensive move of any snake is to strike. Unless you completely surprise a snake by accidentally stepping on it or reaching up onto a ledge, you will receive fair warning. Remember, all of these warnings are meant to help avoid conflict. If you use good wild life viewing skills, you will be able to spot these behaviors early so you can step back and enjoy these animals with little risk.


Here are some tips you can use to help minimize conflicts with rattlesnakes while hiking.

  • Stick to well-used, open trails.
  • Avoid walking through thick brush and willow thickets.
  • Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see.
  • Wear over-the-ankle boots and loose-fitting long pants.
  • Watch all snakes from a distance and be aware of defensive behaviors that let you know you are too close.

Bob Garrison is the Department of Fish and Game’s Interpretive Services Coordinator.