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Snakes on a Lawn



A Message from Nature of Wildworks

As we approach the summer months and temperatures start to rise, our local native snakes and other reptiles will begin emerging from hibernation to spend their summer out and about. One of their primary activities is feeding on rodents such as rats, mice, squirrels and gophers so it's nice to know they are out there keeping down those populations for us.

Left alone, constrictor snakes in the Santa Monica Mountains are harmless to people and pets. One of the most common snakes you may encounter is the gopher snake.



1165Our ambassador, Jake (the snake), is pictured here and as you may notice his appearance is similar to that of the southern Pacific rattlesnake, our local shy but venomous friend. The two snakes have a similar skin pattern but the rattlesnake has a flat diamond-shaped head and a rattle on the end of its tail. Rattlesnakes also have slit pupils but I don't recommend getting close enough to confirm! A rattlesnake will use venom to take down its prey while a constrictor like Jake will wrap around prey and squeeze. Both are equally as good at the task simply using different tactics to achieve the same goal.

Many people suffer from Ophidiophobia or "fear of snakes". In fact about one-third of adults are afraid of snakes making it the most common reported phobia. A phobia is defined as an "irrational fear" which is certainly true in this case.  But it's all very real to the people who feel it as in the case of one volunteer at Wildworks who, after ten years of watching and participating in our wildlife programs, still has to leave the room when the snake is removed from its container and handled by an educator. She has recently graduated to carrying the container that the snake is in as long as she can't see what's inside! Historically, snakes have gotten a bad rap and recently a movie called Snakes on a Plane shared a whole two hours of some terrifying yet virtually non-existent snake behavior.

If you see a snake in this area the best thing to do is to first appreciate it for the beautiful animal that it is and then simply stay out of its way. Being ectothermic, or cold-blooded, reptiles will often come out of the brush to warm themselves in the middle of a hiking trail. In this case you would reroute yourself instead of attempting to move the reptile. Sometimes they will lie flat in the middle of the highway for the very same reason so "I brake for snakes" is a good motto to go by. Snakes don't hear in the same way we do but they will respond to vibrations so it's good to step loudly as you walk along the trail.

Unless you step on it, pick it up, or threaten it accidentally (or on purpose), a wild native snake in this area will not bite you. Of the 14 species of snake in the Santa Monica Mountains only the southern Pacific rattlesnake is venomous. Although humans here are rarely the victims of snake bites, dogs are often curious and unaware of the danger and will succumb to rattlesnake bites. Even though sometimes snakes will bite but not inject venom there is no way to confirm this one way or the other. Any pet that is bitten should immediately be seen by a veterinarian. Statistically, the people who get bitten most often by rattlesnakes are inebriated men in their 20's!


 It can be fun to learn about and to identify all the species of snakes in your neighborhoods and surrounding natural areas. Knowledge can often help to dispel fears and encourage an understanding of our reptile neighbors that are so often treated inhumanely or killed unnecessarily. Keep in mind that if you are traveling there are 2500 to 3000 species of snakes throughout the world and where the banded king snake in the west is non-venomous the eastern coral snake sports a similar appearance and is a venomous species.




1164We currently house three non-venomous snakes at Wildworks, our gopher name Jake, Elvis the California king snake and Serena the coastal rosy boa. Each is housed in a large aquarium but even snakes need what we call "behavioral enrichment" so on warm, sunny days we take them to the lawn, for supervised slithering and sunbathing.


What to do if you find a snake in your yard?
The best thing to do if you find a rattlesnake in your yard is to leave it alone while keeping dogs and family members away. If the snake doesn't leave after a few hours or is in a dangerous place then call a local animal removal group. Be sure to double check when you call that they do not kill the animal, only relocate. Calling the fire department or police often means the animal will be killed on the spot, and often animal control doesn't have the means to relocate all the snakes that are found.




To contact The Nature of Wildworks
Call: 310-455-0550
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Post: PO Box 109, Topanga, CA. 90290

To learn more about our resident snakes and all the Wildworks critters please visit the Animals section of our newly designed website natureofwildworks.org

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