Sometimes, but it’s not an absolute, and should not be used as a single method for identification of either species.
The general rule is that Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes have a banding on the tail in a roughly 1:1 ratio of white to black, while Mojave Rattlesnakes tend to have tail banding at 2:1 white to black. However, it can be much more complex than that.
While it is generally true that Mojave Rattlesnakes tend to have wider white bands compared to Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, this can be problematic. Both Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes and Mojave Rattlesnakes have banded tails with a high degree of variability in color, pattern, and complexity.
Here is a video that explains all of this:
In general, when identifying a rattlesnake, it is not advised to focus on any single feature. Instead, more accurate identifications can be made by looking at the gestalt, or overall appearance and culmination of attributes of the animal. The tail banding is one feature that can be a clue to help someone unfamiliar with both species differentiate between them, but is not enough to make an absolute identification.
The same can be said for almost any feature, including the 2-scales between the eyes method. As an example, this Mojave Rattlesnake has 3 of these scales. In a quick post to our snake identification page on Facebook, this lead many people to incorrectly identify this snake as a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, when the overall appearance is clearly that of a Mojave Rattlesnake.
Over the past decade and many thousands of rattlesnakes captured in the backyards of Arizona homes, a few trends have emerged. Most notable: there are certain areas of all yards that seem to attract rattlesnakes more often than others.
Perhaps the biggest offender on this list of rattlesnake-attracting features are pool filter systems. Throughout the year, especially during the spring and late fall when rattlesnake behavior is driven by access to their dens, pool equipment areas seem to house rattlesnakes more than any other yard feature.
Why does pool equipment seem to attract rattlesnakes?
Every home with a pool has a corner of the property where the filter, pump, heater, and other pool mechanisms are hidden away. These items themselves aren’t useful to rattlesnakes – in fact, I would suspect that the constant vibration and smells could be disliked by them. However, there are some pretty great things here if you happen to be a rattlesnake:
Privacy – They are often tucked away, obscured by a wall, and seldom visited compared to other areas of the yard.
Comfortable – They often become the default storage area for materials for unused roof tiles, pavers, and deflated pool toys.
Opportunity – The vibration and moisture from the equipment can help turn any rodent burrow into a deep cave system.
Fast food – rodents easily make homes in the soft dirt and create burrows under concrete base slabs.
More or less, these issues stem from the fact that most designers make an effort to hide the mess of pipes and noisy equipment away from the rest of the yard. As a result, common problems that would otherwise be addressed immediately. Rodent activity, discarded pool toys, materials waiting for bulk-pickup day, and others are often put here and forgotten, inadvertently creating the perfect situation for rattlesnakes to find a home.
How do I keep rattlesnakes out of my pool equipment?
Fortunately, this is relatively simple. All you need to do is treat this part of your property the same as you do the rest of it.
If you are diligent about addressing rodent issues that appear in the visible parts of your property, extend that effort to the hidden pool pump stuff as well. If that inflatable shark you haven’t floated on since the first 5 minutes it came out of the box is just deteriorating behind the filter, throw it away. Likewise, find a new home for the old roofing tiles, the broken pool net, etc. Keep this area as clean and well-maintained as you would any other part of the property.
Above all, make sure that the concrete (or other material) base slabs have no tunnels or erosion under them. These tunnels seem to be exceptional homes for several behavioral phases of rattlesnakes throughout the year, and one of the top situations we remove snakes from each year.
So, the next time you’re in the backyard doing your normal maintenance, give the pool guy a break from a possible rattlesnake encounter and take care of those hidden-away areas, too.
A bit of seasonal misinformation has been floating around, as it does each Spring – that rattlesnakes are more aggressive as they emerge from winter dens. Thankfully, this is not true. Rattlesnakes are not more aggressive after hibernation.
As the myth goes, rattlesnakes are hungry and grumpy, so will act more aggressively towards anyone that gets too close. What really happens is more complicated.
When conditions are right for rattlesnakes to start to emerge, usually in mid-February, they stay very close to the den for quite awhile. During this period, called egress, they may be hungry, but their activity is focused elsewhere. This is time for social activity – the complicated process of territory dominance, courtship, mating, and other inter-community interactions take place. They may eat during this time, but prime hunting season may not begin until weeks later, after they’ve left the den entirely to move to spring hunting grounds.
That means that between February and throughout March, rattlesnakes are more or less just hanging out near the entrance to their den. While they’re doing this, they are hiding under partial cover, and the males often go on scouting patrols to find females and defend against rivals. This means that encounters can still happen, and when they do, you may see more than one snake at a time. However, these situations are usually well off-trail and hidden, and the snakes will continue to do all they can to avoid confrontation with predators. Perhaps more than ever, they are easy to walk right by without ever knowing they are there.
I have no doubt at all that many people are surprised by rattlesnakes who reciprocate by enthusiastically rattling, even striking, but this is normal and would not indicate that rattlesnakes are more or less defensive during the springtime.
If this is true, why do people say that rattlesnakes are more aggressive after hibernation?
You can attribute this one to our old friend confirmation bias. If a person believes that rattlesnakes are more aggressive in the springtime, and then has an encounter where one rattles and becomes defensive, the take-away can easily be confirmation of the preconceived idea. What these people don’t see are the other rattlesnakes quietly hiding as they typically do. The experience a person can have may that all rattlesnakes rattle all the time, when this isn’t the case – they see 100% of the rattlesnakes they see.
This myth is most commonly passed around in April, which is generally after egress has ended in the low-desert, and many snakes have already eaten. That means that most people who claim to have first-hand experiences with these hyper-aggressive snakes may not have ever actually experienced a rattlesnake in a true denning situation.
How do you know this?
First, there’s no evidence to suggest that rattlesnakes are more aggressive at any particular time of year. There are stories and anecdotes from hikers and ranchers who encounter rattlesnakes from time to time (see the explanation above), but without further study and comparison, these stories are hardly evidence.
To the contrary, rattlesnake denning behavior is one of the most well-studied subjects of all reptiles. In our own team and experience, many of us spend a large amount of time each year at dens watching and observing what the snakes do. It is quite easy to move through these areas without disturbing the snakes at all. If a snake is disturbed, it may just give a few quick clicks of the rattle before going on its way – busy with its primary task of finding other snakes, or traveling a short distance to the bush it likes to sit under.
So ignore stories from social media and local news outlets that claim this is the case. In fact, throw the entire idea that rattlesnakes are aggressive at all out the window. They are incredibly complex animals with highly-detailed social lives, and busting out of a den to chase after people just isn’t reality.