March 22, 2011

Q: Where are rattlesnakes found in Washington State?

Rattlesnakes are among the most feared, and perhaps misunderstood, reptiles out there. The last thing many people want to hear is the ominous shake of a rattler. So many may wonder:

Q: Where are rattlesnakes found in Washington State?

A: The only rattlesnake species found in Washington State is the Western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis).  Western rattlesnakes live in warm, dry habitats of desert shrub, grasslands and open pine forests.  Because of these habitat needs, rattlesnakes do not live in Western Washington and only inhabit the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains and eastern parts of the Columbia River Gorge.

Western rattlesnake. Photo by Brad Moon
Rocky habitats are the most common areas to find Western rattlesnakes.  Although these snakes are venomous, they rarely use their well-known rattles and are generally calm creatures.  In fact, they’d much rather remain still and go unnoticed by predators and people by staying quiet and out of the way. 

During the late fall and winter, Western rattlesnakes often hibernate in rock crevices on south-facing slopes, and may be joined in their dens by other snake species as well.  The rattlesnakes emerge from the dens when the weather is warm enough to take them out of a state of torpor, usually between February and April. 

To learn more about other Washington State reptiles, click here.

The Burke Museum partners with the Seattle PI's Big Blog to answer commonly asked questions about the natural and cultural history of our region. This post originally appeared on the Big Blog on March 21.

Posted by: Andrea Barber 

29 comments:

Kuei-Ti Lu said...

I read in several sources that most snakes are not aggressive and prefer hiding to attacking. Is there any kind of snake not having this calm tendency?

By the way, the link to the distribution map on http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/herpetology/cviridis.htm links to nowhere.

Burke Museum said...

Kuei-Ti,

Good question.

Our herpetologist Adam says that "This statement is generally true. Snakes are not aggressive, but some species become aggressive if provoked (e.g. cobra, mambas, cottonmouths)."

Thanks for reading the Burke Blog!

Anonymous said...

If we see a rattlesnake in the distance is it okay to feed it or somehow give it food? We were thinking that if we give it a couple frozen mice if the snake will understand that we arn't trying to harm it in any way. If we keep being nice to the snake is it like a dog or cat? Will it understand that we are only trying to help? If you are nice to a dog or cat then it understands it and becomes more tame. If we talk to the snake, will it become less aggresive? If we keep caring for the snake or helping it and giving it attention, will it uunderstand and not be so aggresive? Is it possible to tame a rattlesnake? Will it recognise a person that is nice to it and will it be more friendly? We really feel sorry for rattlers because everyone dislikes them so much but they do their best to stay out of our way.

Burke Museum said...

We're glad that you are concerned about rattlesnakes and want them to be healthy. Rattlesnakes are wild animals that are good at finding mice and other prey and we should not try to tame them. You summed them up nicely- they prefer to stay out of our way. They are docile but will become aggressive if they feel cornered, so please don't try to approach them.

If you think a rattlesnake is injured or needs help, call your local animal control agency, They have the best information and resources to handle the situation. Otherwise, have fun viewing rattlesnakes from afar!

Anonymous said...

We wrote the earlier comment and agree with you. But we still want to know, what kind of snake can be a domestic snake, like a cat or a dog? A garter snake?

Anonymous said...

The rattlesnakes in Washington are northern pacific rattlesnakes- Crotalus oreganus oreganus.

The western rattlesnake species (formerly Crotalus viridis) was split a number of years back.

Anonymous said...

Why are there rattlesnakes in Spokane Valley (someone was reported to have been bitten the other day) but none in Northern Idaho?

Burke Museum said...

Thanks for the question! We'll check in with our herpetologist Adam and get back to you shortly!

Burke Museum said...

Here's what Adam said "This is a question that is not so easy to answer. The basic answer is that they don't occur there because the habitat and/or environment is not appropriate for the species. The species does occur in the central/western part of Idaho, but perhaps it is too cold in the north. Understanding the variables that limit the ranges of species is a major topic in biology. I'm not certain that this has ever been studied in rattlesnakes in Washington/Idaho."

Anonymous said...

are they near the spokane river???

Burke Museum said...

Yes, the Spokane River has rattlesnakes. That area is getting at the periphery of their range. Here is a distribution map:
http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gap/gapdata/herps/gifs/crvi.gif

Timoteo Luna said...

i have seen many western rattlesnakes on my ranch in 9 mile falls wa. but several years ago I saw a large colorful rattlesnake at the base of Mt. Spokane. I was told it was a Timber rattler. How many types of ratlesnakes are there in the spokane area?

Burke Museum said...

Hi Timoteo - There are only two species of rattlesnakes known to range in that area: Crotalus viridus (Western Rattlesnake) and Crotalus oreganus (Northern Pacific Rattlesnake) - both of which have brown/dark brown patches surrounded my a lighter shade. Timber Rattlers generally stick to the eastern U.S. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi, my husband and I love to go for walks in Eastern, WA since it is so pretty, but I have had a phobia of snakes all of my life. I always wear hiking boots and loose pants and usually walk with a hiking staff. I have heard of special snake leggins to wrap around the lower part of people's legs. Would a rattlesnake be able to bite through the leggins or would I be safe ? I really could not survive a rattlesnake bite without ( most likely) having a heart attack due to my extreme fear of them. We spend a lot of time walking in snake country and I constantly worry about it and suffer anxiety because of snakes but otherwise enjoy the scenery. do leggins work?

Burke Museum said...

Properly constructed leggings/gaiters would definitely serve some degree of protection. In the instance that a rattlesnake fang does happen to pierce through a protective layer, the depth of penetration would be significantly limited. The best possible protection is to be informed of the threat and aware of your surroundings. This site has some good facts/ links: http://www.bentler.us/eastern-washington/animals/reptiles/snakes/western-rattlesnake.aspx.

Anonymous said...

Hi,we are going to explore Yakima River
Gorge with our dog, this weekend. What to do if the dog is bitten by rattle snake? Can we by any antivenin at the store,ex.REI?

Anonymous said...

"Can we by any antivenin at the store,ex.REI? "

NO!!!!!

Anonymous said...

There was a post that said no Rattlers in Northern Idaho, Is this true ? and if so are thererattle snakes in Pend Oreille County / I looked at map on previous page and couldn't tell

Anonymous said...

There is information on several web sites that rattlesnakes in Washington are not found above 6,000 feet. I can find no references to support this. Do you all know what the altitude limit is for western rattlesnakes in Washington State?

Burke Museum said...

Hi there - We're checking on your question about altitude limits. In the meantime, here's more information about Western rattlesnakes on our website: http://www.burkemuseum.org/herpetology/reptile/western_rattlesnake.

Burke Museum said...

Here's what we found out from Stebbins Field Guide: the western rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus, frequents a great variety of habitats: rocky outcrops, talus slopes, rocky stream courses, and ledges are favorite haunts; in cooler areas (more northerly parts of the range and higher elevations), it may den in mammal burrows, rock crevices, or caves, sometimes in large numbers. Sea level to "tree-line" (8-10,000 ft).

Anonymous said...

Are rattlesnakes found in the upper elevations of the Blue Mtns of Washington , say near Godman Camp?

ben ervin said...

You can't convince me that a western rattlesnake is the only one you will find in Washington state. I found a green Mojave rattlesnake in Winthrop blocking my car. I know that I am not the only person who has come across this animal in eastern Washington.

Anonymous said...

What would western washington be like without western rattlesnakes

Anonymous said...

I live in the Odessa area, sort of between Wilbur and Odessa, and near Coffeepot Lake. There are tons of snakes each year, all rattlers. We do also have Bull snakes and racers, but those don't bother us. The ones that bother us are the rattlers, and most of them are between 8 inches and 24 inches, often even the small 8" ones will have multiple buttons (between 3 and 12). I have been told they are pygmy rattlers, but all the research says they are not. That they only live in the south east portion of the states. I have seen the larger varieties, as I lived in Colville, near a mountain coined "Rattle snake mountain" because they would hibernate there. Those were much much larger, 3 to 5 feet. The largest one I have seen in this Lincoln county area was 3 and a half feet (and had 7 buttons). I guess my question would be, Are these smaller rattlers truely pygmies, or are they the pacific kinds and the people here just thinking they are pygmies because they are so small? They also are hard to see and hear, but have taken down horses with one small bite.

Burke Museum said...

Hi Anonymous - From our herpetology collections manager Peter Miller:

The only rattlesnake officially recognized as native to Washington state is the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake: Crotalus oreganus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crotalus_oreganus). There is always a chance that someone has introduced something, but we’d need a clear photo ID to tell. The pygmy rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliariaus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistrurus_miliarius) is native to the southeastern United States.

Venomous snakes—even newborn juveniles—can deliver a full dose of deadly toxin. As juveniles they strike at pretty much everything, both as a hunger and defense mechanism. When they get older, they learn when to strike to maximize their chances and whether to deliver venom (a wet bite) or not (a dry bite).

When they are first year juveniles, their tail tip is yellow and they use it as a lure to get prey to come to them. Because they are so small and have not gone through many shed cycles yet, they don't have robust rattles like an adult would, thus they are more quiet. Adults are purely ambush predators and no longer need the yellow color for a lure. The rattle is strictly for warning. The number of buttons on a rattle corresponds to successive shed cycles and is independent of age.

Steven said...

What is the reason that our friends in the northern periphery of Spokane County have these but Pend Oreille County doesn't seem to have any.

Anonymous said...

My parents and I live up in Nine mile falls, WA.
We had to kill a large rattlesnake that was in our front yard and probably about 4 feet long a couple months ago, and then just yesterday I killed a smaller one that was in our backyard and about 18 inches long. I'm afraid that the earlier one may have been a parent of several offspring.
We have three dogs and it would be a huge problem if they were to hang around the house. What should we do about this problem?

Burke Museum said...

From Charles in our Herpetology Collection: "Rattlesnakes living in and around urban environments can be common and often frustrating. Rattlesnakes move from place to place from spring to fall and it is most likely that those encountered in your yard are moving through and have not set up residence. If you have land that is not maintained, with longer grass, bushes, and large rocks, then snakes may hang around longer as these are good habitats for them. Snakes will also spend more time around objects in a yard that would provide cover such as boards, furniture, structures etc. Reducing these areas near your home can reduce encounters. Living in areas where rattlesnakes are common, encounters will happen. The best thing to do when you see a rattlesnake is to back away from the area where the snake is. If this is in your yard, make note of where the snake is and avoid the area for a few days. You are at a much greater risk of being bitten when you kill a rattlesnake due to moving, agitating, and getting close to the animal. The snakes are most likely to move along to some other location if left alone."

Post a Comment

AddThis