I had just refilled the humingbird feeder and was sitting down on my garden bench for a visit with my friends, the Anna’s Hummingbirds, when the outdoor washing machine finished. I got up and went to the clothesline to remove the already dry laundry before hanging the wet things. What a wonderful breeze today, I reflected as I folded clothes and brought them inside the mud room. I glanced in there as I piled clothes on the table.. but what was on the floor? I looked again. And there he was: Mr. Rattler, stretched out full length (8ft) on my cool Mexican pavers! Yikes! What to do? How did he get in there? Anna, you could have told me! Rattler’s face was looking right at me. His head elevated slightly off the floor. It was as if he was headed back out the door, the way he had come in when I noticed him and he noticed me. My Old Dog was just outside on the door mat. Knowing how slow Old Dog moves and that Rattler can do 40 mph, I did what came to mind: I shut the door. Then I proceeded to put Old Dog safely in the house via another entrance.
My honey was called to action. He opened the interior door, broom in hand, to shoo Rattler away, only to result in Rattler coiling up and rattling furiously! Rattlesnake Sounds via fws.gov Okay, not a good result. So I suggested we leave him alone so he could go outside when he was ready, back to his Condo in the Living Stone Wall!
Now, about the Stone Wall Condos, in this particular old wall I have witnessed the comings and goings of various tenants: from Squirrels to Mice to Rattlesnakes, and of course the Lizards. Each seems to go about his own life, with his own objectives, not bothering the other. Clearly, they have something worked out for the months when it is too chilly or wet to be quite comfortable out of doors. I have seen Squirrel busy preparing his nest with bits of cloth from laundry or newspaper he could find, while Rattler lies curled up outside his/her Condo entrance drinking in the sun.
Rattlers use stone outcroppings like the old Condo wall as Rattlesnake Dens, which they return to each year. They come out of hibernation in April, shed a layer of skin and warm themselves up in the sun. Mother Rattlers usually have a litter of 9-10 snakes at a time. (Rattlers are born by live birth, not hatching eggs.) I wondered if all the Rattlers would be sharing the Condo. Then I learned that baby Rattlers are very independent. They only stay with their mom for 7-10 days, then shrug off their baby skin and move off in search of their own territory! Mom gets to keep the Condo! The babies have no rattles yet, but are born with highly poisonous venom. They can’t warn you that they are about to attack, so they are definitely something to watch out for. Gardeners Note: Young Rattlers are curious and will come out to see what you are doing if you are watering.
In So Cal, Rattlers are native members of the Chaparral community. There are some areas of State Park that are Rattlesnake protected zones and are so marked. There are 7 different species of Rattlesnake in Southern California alone incl: Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled rattlesnake, Red Diamond rattlesnake, Southern Pacific, Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake. Their main role in the ecosystem seems to be keeping the rodent population down. (They in turn are food for other predators such as the King Snake and the Hawk.) Rattlers will eat mice, small birds & eggs, gophers and lizards. They cannot eat animals any larger than their bodies are wide. (Perhaps that is why Squirrel can live in the Condo next door.) After a big meal, Rattler will go off to a shady place to digest.
Here’s a bit of what to know about Rattlers: Rattlers leave you alone unless provoked. They prefer to avoid YOU. Be sure they know YOU are there, by walking with a heavy gait or with a walking stick. When walking in the tall grass, wear boots that cover your ankles.
Gardeners note: Rattlers like to travel between the thick strands of iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) which are not native despite the fact they are everywhere. So it is important to watch the groundcover in months like May, when Rattlers begin to emerge and gather warmth.
Next, if you hear a sound like water running, when there is no water, look for a snake.
Where is your dog? More dogs get taken to the vet for snake bites than people and the rattlesnake anti-venom “ain’t cheap”. In So Cal we have “Rattlesnake Avoidance Schools“to help train your pup how to react to a rattlesnake presence.
And finally, the best way to keep Rattler out of your mud room is to close the screen door! I knew this, but my door was out being rescreened, and I’d carelessly left the inner door open.
Anna, oh Anna, I feed you so well, couldn’t you at least have warned me about Rattler? “Click, click, whir.. we were busy”.. is the response I get from my fine hummingbird friends. Figures.
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