Increased vegetation escalates chances of encounters with snakes

Courtesy photo Jody Evans, of Valencia, came across this 4-foot-long Southern Pacific rattlesnake Saturday while hiking on Taylor Elder Loop, a Towsley Canyon trail, off The Old Road near Santa Clarita.

Our winter and spring rains have provided us with spectacular grass and flower blooms across our mountains, making for some spectacular scenery. As we approach the summer months, this increased vegetation will provide greater food sources for mice and rats, the primary food for snakes.

Mother Nature works in such mysterious ways, and the balance of nature is such an intricate and complex subject. The boom-and-bust cycles vary among species but, generally, work the same.

When food is plentiful, both predators and prey alike will reproduce in larger numbers.

As the prey is consumed, food will become scarcer for the predators and their numbers will begin to decrease. With the summer months rapidly approaching, the potential for snake and human interactions will more than likely increase this year.

The more you know about snakes, the less you will fear them and the better you will understand just how to protect yourself, your family and your pets from snake interactions.

Snakes can be found anywhere in the city of Santa Clarita and throughout our mountains. They are cold-blooded vertebrates and cannot regulate their body temperatures. It is not uncommon to find snakes sunning themselves on concrete, asphalt or rocks to warm their bodies while digesting their most recent meal.

During the hottest times of the days, snakes will usually retreat to cooler shady places not exposed to direct sunlight. If you are concerned about snakes in your yard, make sure to remove all wood piles or debris that might make for a safe and cool hiding place for a snake.

In addition, these places may also attract mice and rats, which will attract snakes looking for a quick meal. If you know you have a rat or mice problem, I implore you to think twice about using poisons to rid your rodent problem.

You certainly might effectively reduce the number of rodents in your yard but this effect could have unintended catastrophic ramifications on all kinds of wildlife. Not only do snakes eat mice and rats, but so do birds of prey, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and other wildlife in our area. The poison in a rat or mouse can serve a lethal dose to whatever predator finds it and eats it.

Since most people are terrified of snakes, their first reaction is to kill it. Learning to properly identify a venomous versus a nonvenomous snake will prevent you from killing snakes that are extremely helpful to reducing the rodent population and really do not pose a threat to humans.

In Santa Clarita, we have three commonly seen snakes in our yards and on our hiking trails: the gopher snake, king snake and the feared Southern Pacific rattlesnake.

King snakes are less common but are by far the easiest to identify by their beautiful brown/black rings around their yellowish/white bodies. King snakes are immune to rattlesnake bites and have been known to kill and eat them.

Gopher snakes are most often seen and more commonly mistaken for a rattlesnake in that their coloring can be similar.

It’s important to note that not all rattlesnakes have rattles. Baby rattlesnakes may not have their rattles yet, so it is important to never reach for a snake until you are confident that you have identified it correctly.

I use a general rule of thumb: If the head is bigger than the neck of the snake, it is most likely a rattlesnake. Nonvenomous snakes’ heads are more streamlined, similar to your fingers, while rattlesnakes’ heads are more triangular.

Most importantly, snakes do not chase people. As with any animal, they may become aggressive when defending themselves against what they perceive as an apparent threat. In most cases, snakes are just as afraid of you as you are of them.

They want to avoid confrontation as much as you do. When hiking in the mountains, stay on the trails and avoid hiking through tall grass. Rattlesnakes can usually strike to a distance of about half of their body length. If you find yourself within striking distance, freeze, remain calm and very slowly back away.

Snakes do not hear, so if you are in an area where you think there might be snakes, walk with heavy steps or bang a stick on the ground as you walk. These vibrations will often notify a snake of your presence and to stay clear of you.

As a Realtor, I am always looking for ways to give back to the community that supports me. Last year, I went on six snake calls — two were rattlesnakes. If you have a snake in your yard, you can call Animal Control at 661-487-1603.

If they are not available, you can certainly call me. If I am available, I will come to your home and safely extract the snake and release it somewhere far from your home. I highly recommend leaving all nonvenomous snakes alone and let them do what they do best — eat your mice and rats.

Gary Kassan is a Realtor with Pinnacle Estate Properties Inc. but has had a lifelong passion for snakes and their preservation. If you need a snake removed, he can be reached at 818-438-5150 or [email protected].

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