- Reptile Conservation Resources, Inc

Rattlesnakes are on the move back to their dens

by Pete Zimowsky, Idaho Statesman - Ask Zimo, October 2, 2008

Q: Last weekend, we were hiking in the Owyhees just east of U.S. 95 at 6,000 feet in elevation and came across what appeared to be a pygmy rattlesnake.
Please give us your take on this critter with the diamond-shaped head.
FRED B., e-mail

A: There are pygmy rabbits in Idaho and Oregon, but there are no pygmy rattlesnakes. They are native to the southeastern United States.
I showed your photo to Frank Lundburg, an Idaho wildlife educator and snake expert, and he says it’s a Great Basin gopher snake.

It’s easy to mistake the gopher snake for a rattlesnake because their colorings are similar.

It’s that rattler mentality. Anything that looks like a rattlesnake makes you jump out of your hiking boots.

You might be jumping out of your boots a little more this time of year because snakes are on the move,migrating back to their dens.

You also might see small rattlesnakes because rattlers are born in late summer and early fall. Actually, rattlesnakes bear live young from eggs. The eggs are kept in the body until they hatch.
If you see a pencil-sized rattlesnake, it was recently born. Maybe the smaller snake you saw made you think it was a pygmy rattler.
Anyway, we’ve got the Great Basin rattlesnake in these parts and they can be small.

Lundburg said a 4-year-old rattler can be as small as 18 inches in length, depending on its food supply. But then again, an adult rattler can be from 2 feet to 5 feet long.

Any time you see a gopher snake, your first reaction is that it’s a rattler. I almost jumped out of my Keen river sandals this summer when I had a gopher snake come out from under the hot tub.
I know it’s difficult to hang around and look at the snake’s head when you think it’s a rattler.

A gopher snake’s head is small and narrow, and a rattler’s is large and triangular. If you can see it, the tail is a dead giveaway for a rattler.

By the way, Lundburg, who is dedicated to the conservation of snakes, wants everyone to know that fall is a time when you frequently see snakes.
They are heading back to their dens and more of them are on the move.
Their sensitivity to temperatures and daylight triggers the call back to the den.

Some rattlesnakes in the open desert, with few highways and towns, range out 10 miles from their dens.

If you see a snake, don’t disturb it. Don’t worry that it will be setting up housekeeping in your basement or yard for the winter. It is probably passing through.

Remember, snakes are good and an important piece of the eco puzzle. They eat rodents.

I was glad to see that gopher snake in my yard this summer because I know it was probably taking care of our mouse problem.

For more information on snakes check out Lundburg’s Web site at
You can click on Snake FAQs and Idaho Fish and Game rules

Posted by Frank - October 3, 2008

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