A rattlesnake in the backyard is one thing … but how about in the house, in the bedroom, and even under the bed? It happens, though, thankfully very rarely.
The thing is: rattlesnakes don’t want to be in your home. There are species of snakes that get in often, daily even, like Nightsakes and baby Longnosed snakes. Rattlesnakes, on the otherhand, for one reason or another just don’t make an effort to come inside. If I were to assume, based on how rattlesnakes handle stress and modify their behavior accordingly, the activity inside a home makes them less than ideal hiding spots.
How often does a rattlesnake get inside?
Fortunately, Rattlesnake Solutions has a very large collection of human-conflict data of this sort from over ten thousand individual encounters. It happens, but not very often.
Of all encounters we’ve documented, fewer than 100 were rattlesnakes inside the home. If you remove homes that were previously abandoned, missing entire walls, or in a condition where they should be condemned … you end up with fewer than 40. That puts the chances of a rattlesnake encounter in your home, based on snake removal records, at 0.4%. That puts it into a solid “don’t worry about it and go on with your day” category.
Most of the time, a call to catch a rattlesnake inside a home ends up with a Desert Nightsnake in our bucket. These little guys look quite a bit like a rattlesnake and are often mistaken for them.
How does a rattlesnake get into the house?
Fortunately, rattlesnakes are easy to keep out of the house. They come in the same way we do – right through the front door. Most of the time, a rattlesnake inside a house, and in fact a good portion of the other types of snakes as well, come in through a door left open.
Who leaves the door open in Arizona? Everyone, it seems, on the right cool day. Especially our midwestern friends, where it seems an open backdoor on a breezy spring day is a normal thing, tend to leave that sliding door open a bit during prime rattlesnake activity time.
On other relocation calls where we’ve captured rattlesnakes inside the home, the situation is often similar. A home with a wall partially removed during construction, a partially-completed vent removal allowing access, large gaps under garage doors or patio doors, etc. Simply, if there is access to inside the home, animals may find their way in.
What’s going on with this photo of the rattlesnake under a bed?
This photo was from an apartment complex in the North Phoenix, Cave Creek area. Mitch ran out to capture it. Upon arriving, he assumed it would be another nightsnake (which it often is) and had to run back out to the car to get his tongs and bucket after seeing this.
He was able to quickly and safely capture it. But how and why was it in there? And does the resident need to worry about more of them?
As we described earlier, it turns out that the resident left the home for less than 5 minutes, leaving the door slightly ajar. That’s all the time it takes for a wandering rattlesnake to find the cool, air conditioned “cave”, and slip inside.
This also does not mean there are others. Rattlesnakes, while being quite social in a variety of situations, are most often found at homes alone. They do not, as a popular myth goes, travel in pairs.
This also does not indicate that there are more rattlesnake encounters in the Cave Creek area … that is just true, regardless of this particular encounter.
How to keep rattlesnakes out of the house?
The best way to keep rattlesnakes out of your home is to keep doors closed and eliminate access, down to a 1/4″ space.
Sometimes that can be tricky, however. Something we have seen with homes in the valley is an issue with how cabinets are put together. This seems to be the reason behind a majority of nightsnake visits, and at least a few rattlesnakes.
If you look under the sink in your kitchen or bathroom, you’ll most likely see the pipes disappearing into the wall in an orderly, well-sealed way. Behind the cabinets, though, is a different story. The pipes coming into the home may be unsealed. That means if there are any gaps under the cabinet overhang (there most often are), there’s a direct highway from under the home to your bedroom bathroom. This may also be the cause for your scorpion and rodent issues.
The easy fix? Seal the gaps under the cabinet overhang. You could go through the trouble to pull out the whole cabinet, but without knowing for sure there’s a problem to begin with, that’s probably overkill. A Saturday afternoon with some expanding foam is all you likely need.
The other thing you should do is to take steps to reduce the overall number of rattlesnakes visiting your property. That is best done by a combination of property modification (landscaping, etc., here’s our step-by-step guide) and physical barriers, like properly sealed garage doors and rattlesnake fence installation.
So rest easy. While a rattlesnake inside the home is something that does happen from time to time, it’s nothing to be overly concerned with. No need to call the realtor or burn the house down; just keep the door closed and you’ll be just fine.
Throughout most of the desert areas of Arizona, rattlesnakes are quite busy in late October. They’re finishing up activity for the year–getting a last meal, some are mating, and all of them are on the move to wherever it is they are looking to spend the winter. They tend to move right at dark and just after, and are “camping” in spots that aren’t necessarily long-term or ideal for rattlesnakes. Contrary to popular belief, in Arizona, rattlesnakes are still quite active well into November. Halloween is no exception.
Here’s a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake found hiding in decorations.
This just happens to coincide with an evening when every child in the country is also walking around in the dark, often without full visibility. That means that there is some potential for encounters with rattlesnakes. That doesn’t mean trick-or-treaters should stay home or be overly concerned, of course, just take some precautions and stay aware, just like anything else you do in our urban rattlesnake habitat. That goes not only for the kids, but homeowners who have decorations set up.
Trick-or-treater rattlesnake safety tips:
Everyone have a flashlight! Rattlesnakes are not aggressive, but may defend themselves if stepped on.
Don’t cut through yards, use the path to the front door.
Make sure you can see the ground clearly through any mask that may be worn.
Don’t pick up or play with toys or Halloween decorations that resemble snakes!
Stay on sidewalks and avoid brushy or debris-filled areas.
Be especially cautious in areas within 1/4 mile of new development.
Halloween rattlesnake safety tips for home-owners:
When cleaning up decorations, be aware that rattlesnakes could be using them for cover. Look before you reach.
If you have pumpkins out, place them outside of the entryway overhang, and avoid creating a protected space in corners.
Clean up pumpkin remnants immediately, the next morning, to avoid attracting rodents.
Make sure any debris is cleaned up and landscaping is taken care of several days before Halloween.
Store Halloween decorations in a plastic box or other container, rather than cardboard or in the garage corner.
Rattlesnake Solutions is offering FREE rattlesnake removal in the Phoenix-Metro area on Halloween night for any snake in a public area.
If you see a rattlesnake on Halloween night:
Keep an eye on the snake from a safe distance.
Prevent anyone from going near it, attempting to capture, or kill it.
We’re happy to announce that Rattlesnake Solutions has expanded service to Yavapai county, and can handle any rattlesnake relocation that may be needed in Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Cottonwood, and Sedona (and surrounding areas).
The species found in that area add to the list of possible rattlesnake species we’ve been able to relocate in our existing service area. Soon, we’ll have some photos of Arizona Black Rattlesnakes and many more Blacktailed Rattlesnakes to add to the feed!
If you know anyone in the area that could use some help with rattlesnake prevention and snake relocation, please send them our contact information.
Rattlesnake Removal, Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Hills, and surrounding areas
Rattlesnake solutions offers completely safe, humane, all-hours to removal of unwanted reptiles from your home or business in the quad-city area. Rattlesnakes are the most common where homes meet desert habitat, and snake sightings are common almost year-round, but in the Prescott area, they’re most likely to occur from late Spring (April) through the monsoon season (September) when rattlesnakes travel to Winter dens. Pest control companies can’t help and really, most wildlife services companies may offer some snake services but don’t have the knowledge to truly do it correctly. More details about our snake removal services in the Prescott area.
Property Inspections for homes in the Prescott area
We’re not just rattlesnake removal specialists; the Rattlesnake Solutions field team is made of field herpetologists, biologists, snake researchers, and reptile lovers with thousands of hours experience tracking and capturing rattlesnakes in wild situations. Rattlesnake Solutions field team agents bring this experience to your property. You’ll learn what could be possibly attracting snakes, and how to make minor changes to reduce your chances for unwanted rattlesnake encounters.
Many people move to Arizona for our near-constant sunshine, and mild winters. These also make for perfect conditions for reptiles, which to the dismay of many homeowners, live in great numbers throughout the state. Where our neighborhoods meet the desert, an encounter with a snake every so often is just part of life.
The valley is home to 6 unique species of rattlesnake, all of which pack a harmful, venomous bite. A bite, which if logic prevails, is almost always optional. Rattlesnakes are on the menu for many desert predators. They’re nervous, shy, and like most animals, will try to prevent their own death when it is threatened. Rattlesnakes do not chase, jump at, or come after perceived predators, regardless of the numerous, fictional tales we as Arizonans are sure to hear. The fact is; rattlesnakes encounters are almost always harmless if in nature, and optional in our yards.
So what is the home owner to do, when a venomous visitor suddenly drops by one morning, coiled on the porch and going nowhere? The first thing to consider: nobody is in danger. The snake has been seen, and the only way anyone will be within range of a bite is if they put themselves there. Statistically, this is what many shovel-wielding husbands will do, becoming the single largest bite statistic, by far. A bite to the hand of a home hero can cost well over $100,000, cause incredible pain, and result in disfigurement and occasional death. Contacting a professional to remove the animal costs around $100, and is absolutely safe and humane.
Taking one step back – why is the snake there? Isn’t there some way to keep them from being there in the first place? Fortunately there is. Here are a few tips to keep your yard as rattlesnake-free as possible:
The desert is a hard place to live; make sure your yard isn’t an oasis. Rattlesnakes want food, water, and shelter. Deny those, and the yard is nothing interesting. Fix leaky hoses, keep the yard clean, and make sure all of the bushes are trimmed and free of dead plant material underneath.
If you have a view fence or wall surrounding the property, complete the barricade. Door sweeps and wire fencing can be installed to keep animals out. It’s a relatively inexpensive Saturday project for the handy, or contact a snake removal company to install it for you.
Forget the store-bought snake repellents and mothballs; they simply do not work. Many pest control companies will swear they do, but all research points to repellants being a smelly waste-of-money.
Dogs can be trained to avoid rattlesnakes by a number of businesses around the valley, and an inexpensive vaccine can be requested by most veterinarians. Keep dogs on a leash in desert areas, and have emergency information on-hand if you live near open, native desert.
Despite the very high number of snakes that are found here, bites still make the front page when they occur. It is a relatively rare event with an extremely low fatality rate, which somehow still occupies a place in our culture as a major threat to be feared by every desert home owner. As citizens in this amazing Sonoran habitat, it is the responsibility of all of us to be peaceful, well-informed co-inhabitants with the desert wildlife. Rattlesnakes may be the thing of nightmares to many, but that is an optional fear that, like most fears, fades to nothing with a willingness to learn and a touch of understanding.
In the valley, the most common places to run into a rattlesnake in your own yard are Cave Cree, Scottsdale, and other areas where there is a lot of development and contact with native areas.
Most Commonly Encountered Snakes in the Phoenix Area
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
VENOMOUS – Grey to tan in color, between 1’ and 4’ long. Easily identified by the distinct white and black banded tail, and rattle. Defensive in nature but easily avoided if encountered. Do not attempt to capture, kill, or otherwise interact with this snake.
BENEFICIAL – Also commonly misidentified as a “bullsnake”. Tan, yellow, or orange in color, with dark brown blotches, between 1.5’ and 5’in length. Defensive if attacked, but non-venomous and will not bite unless attacked. A gophersnake is great free pest control.
BENEFICIAL – Grey or dark brown with double rows of spots on the back, between 8” and 14” in length. Often confused with a baby rattlesnake due to elliptical eyes and triangular head. Absolutely harmless, this snake feeds on spiders and scorpions in the yard.
VENOMOUS – Highly variable, this snake takes the coloration of rock where it is found; orange, brown, white, or light grey. It is small, between 1’ and 3’ in length. If seen, do not approach this snake for any reason.
BENEFICIAL – Often confused with the kingsnake, this snake is between 8” and 3’ long. It eats lizards and their eggs. They are absolutely harmless, and can reduce rattlesnake-attracting prey in a yard.
BENEFICIAL – Black and white banding from head to tail, and between 1’ and 4’ in length. Kingsnakes consider rattlesnakes a primary food source, and are great to have on a property. They may bite if picked up, but are otherwise completely harmless.
BENEFICIAL – Fast, slender, and between 1’ and 5’ in length. May be black, olive, or red in color. This snake eats rattlesnakes and other prey items and should be kept as-is if seen. They will bite if picked up, but move away quickly if seen and are difficult to capture.
Immediately after a heavy rain, like the one that swept through the valley last night, we often receive an increased number of snake removal calls.
Rattlesnakes often use holes in dry washes and drainage systems to hide from the intense, dry heat of the early Summer. When the rain suddenly appears, those that have not yet left their hiding spots are sometimes caught in the rising waters and end up in odd places. Sometimes, the rain is just enough to make their chosen hiding spot undesirable, and they’re forced to move on. That means they sometimes head for the nearest available cover as the day heats up: alongside homes and buildings with suitable overhangs to protect from the sun.
Be extra aware if you live next to a wash, drainage area, or other places that are dramatically affected by the rain. If you live on the edge of the desert and have sections of your property that have flooded, especially areas with full cover like sheds and decorative rock features, you should also be cautious.
This is all normal, and temporary, and just one more thing to keep in mind as we all go out to pick up fallen palm fronds and survey any damage to our homes from the storm.
Does the rain mean that there are more rattlesnakes than normal?
Nope. Rattlesnakes don’t spontaneously appear from the dirt when touched by rain. While higher average rainfall can, over a period of years, lead to a higher survival rate of young rattlesnakes, and help keep the adults already here well-fed and alive, more rain doesn’t mean more snakes. It may bring cooler temperatures and more suitable conditions for snake activity … and human activity, so there may be an increase of encounters. The idea that a season of heavy rain means more large rattlesnakes will be out there is false.
This is something we have to do many times each year, and it’s never fun for anyone. This Western Diamondback Rattlesnake was found by a home owner in the East Valley sitting in one spot, and reportedly not moving for a few days. Brandon went out to check it out, and here’s what he found: a snake tangled in bird netting, still alive, but doomed without intervention.
Brandon brought it to our facility in North Phoenix, net and all, for the careful and dangerous work of getting it cut out of the net. While being cut out of the rest of the fence, the snake got further tangled. The nylon netting was cutting into the body skin, and all around the head, mouth, and neck.
The snake was obviously stressed, striking at any opportunity, which is more than understandable. Normally, these jobs are difficult, but are a standard process: remove the netting in layers while controlling the head by either pinning it down, or even better, using a tube. The tube is the clear plastic device seen below, which can be used to safely manipulate rattlesnakes without needing to actually touch the pointy end.
This one, however, was not so easy. The netting was all around the head, even in its mouth at this point, to the tube was not much more than a shield. Lot’s of careful scissor snips and position changes later, most of the body was free. Removing the final strands from the mouth itself, however is the most difficult and dangerous part. Using the tube, hook, and another long tool not pictured here, the final strands were cut away until the snake was able to free itself.
Free! The snake has no outward damage and is not bleeding, so left with Brandon to go back and be released to another part of it’s probable home range in the East Valley. Hopefully this is the last bird netting this little guy will ever see. I can’t imagine that will be the same for us this season.
It’s not just snakes and us that hate this stuff, too. Over the years we have seen many dead animals tangled in them, each slowly starving or dying of exposure in the desert sun. Birds, big and small, rabbits, and more lizards than I can count. The dead animals caught in the nets may also attract other animals that are looking for an easy meal, who are then also caught in the net and die an agonizing death. If you use bird netting or know someone who does, please be aware of the often unseen danger that these pose to the wildlife, and evaluate if this is the best and ethical way to keep birds out of the garden.
Once the weather warms up a bit more, rattlesnakes will begin to come out of their Winter hiding spots and our rattlesnake removal season will begin again. Time for a refresher on what to do if you see a rattlesnake, how they are removed and relocated, and how to keep snakes away.
For immediate rattlesnake removal and snake rescue:
Watch the snake from a safe distance until help arrives
Don’t approach or try and catch or kill the snake yourself.
We are available all hours of the day to catch and remove snakes from your property anywhere in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas. When you call, you’ll be asked some basic information, like your zip code and what the snake looks like, and someone will be on their way immediately.
It may be scary for you, but the snake is also scared and will try to get away if it thinks that it’s been discovered. That’s why it’s important to find a safe place to hang out and watch the snake directly until someone arrives to remove it. Often, the snake is scared to move because it may feel that its camouflage is doing the job, and to move would give it away to the “predator” (in this case, you). The moment the threat is gone, the snake will often quickly slip away to a nearby hiding area, or just leave the property entirely. I can’t stress enough how important and helpful it is to watch the snake until we get there … many snakes have escaped when the home owner figures the snake is asleep and leaves it alone.
Once help is on the way, everything else will be taken care of by us. There is no reason to approach the snake to capture or kill it. Sometimes neighbors want to help and come over after we’ve already been dispatched. Though they may think this is just the neighborly thing to do, they are just putting themselves in danger needlessly, when the situation has already been responsibly handled by you, having called a professional to safely and humanely relocate the snake.
Rattlesnake removal calls need to be answered and serviced quickly. While snakes may hang around an area for days, the most effective situation is to have the snake removed and relocated by a professional snake rescue organization immediately. We are used to being called late at night and early in the morning, so if you need to have a snake removed, don’t hesitate.
Some snakes that are removed aren’t rattlesnakes at all, or even native to Arizona or the United States. Occasionally, we will get a call for a Burmese Python or Boa Constrictor that has either escaped or been released by irresponsible owners. In these situations, we capture the snake as usual, and find homes with an experienced keeper or snake rescue organization. These snakes are never relocated to the wild after being captured – this is both for the safety of the snake and the native snakes that could possibly be infected by disease or parasites carried by the animal, among other reasons.
Sometimes there are multiple snakes to be removed …
As you watch the snake and wait for a removal expert to arrive, be aware that in some circumstances, there may be more than one snake present. During the Spring, especially, rattlesnakes are coming out of Winter den situations, and are looking to court and mate. During this time, it is much more likely to run into multiple rattlesnakes together, and to find a female of breeding age is also to find males nearby looking to mate.
During the late Summer and Fall, rattlesnakes give birth to live young. We remove all snakes together and hold them until the first shed, usually just a few days away, then release them all together to proper habitat. If you do see a rattlesnake with babies, be especially careful as the little ones move around and may not all be in the main group.
What happens to them after a snake removal?
They are released, sometimes after getting a drink of water. This is not only our preference as Arizona citizens who appreciate wildlife and want it to survive, but the rule of law according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Rattlesnakes rescues are not to be released more than 1 mile from the capture site, and it is recommended that they are released only 1/3 of a mile away. Some low cost options just move them to the edge of the property and dump them over the fence.
This means that the process of removing a rattlesnake and relocating it to a place where it will both survive and not return to the yard can be complicated. While it’s easy to just dump the snake out on the ground and be done with it, this isn’t good for the snake or the home owner.
Rattlesnakes are actually very fragile animals, and will die if their body temperature gets above about 105F-110F. Anyone that’s run out to get the mail on a Saturday in Phoenix knows the ground gets much hotter than that very quickly. Rattlesnakes need to have deep, cool cover available to them in order to survive, so snakes just moved out and left to crawl off on hot days will almost certainly not survive. Then, too, those that do could just crawl into the neighbors yard, or try and return to the area where they were before.
Rattlesnakes have a home range, and we try to relocate them to suitable habitat on the far side of that range. While it’s mostly just a guess where “home” is for a snake, we can make some pretty good assumptions based on our field research and knowing where and how to find rattlesnakes in the wild. This involves finding the nearest natural drainage or wash, and assuming the snake’s activity is in some way associated with it. In the wild, drainages can be a hub of wildlife activity, providing shelter opportunities, moisture, and generally cooler temperatures than the open desert. Using Google Earth, we estimate an appropriate area where the snake has the best chance to survive, and hike it to this spot to release it. The snake is released right into the cover area, and we never leave until we are sure the snake has crawled fully out of the sun or the reach of predators.
Here is a video of a rattlesnake release after a removal in the Phoenix area, with many more details about this process and the careful detail required to keep snakes safe and away from people.
So won’t they just come right back to the house?
It’s certainly possible, but it can be prevented. First, we try and find a location that offers everything the snake needs to survive after the ordeal of relocation. Deep caves, areas near water and hunting opportunities, and places where snakes have actually been found during scouting trips or signs of snakes are there let us know that the release point is good for rattlesnakes to live. Research on translocation of some species of rattlesnakes show that new areas can be incorporated into the home range, and the snakes don’t lose weight or die if done correctly.
The next step is to try and figure out why the snake showed up in the yard in the first place, and what can be done to correct it. Sometimes, it is very obvious … snakes need what all animals need; food, water, and shelter. Provide any of these items, and wildlife will show up to take advantage of it. We work with home owners to keep snakes out of the yard for good by identifying things that brought the snake that was removed to the home to begin with. Finally, rattlesnake fencing can be installed to create a physical barrier to remove all doubt.
What kinds of things could be attracting snakes to the yard?
That means that anything that attracts rodents will also attract snakes. Even well off-property, scent trails left by rodents can be tracked by rattlesnakes that want to eat them and end up in the yard. Many things attract rodents, too. Common situations that we have removed rattlesnakes in ambush near include outdoor dogfood storage, bird feeders, compost bins, messy garbage areas, and BBQ islands. If rodents are present, rattlesnakes have good reason to show up, too. Rattlesnake removal is always an option, but just keeping them away is best.
Finding a place to hide is an important part of a rattlesnake’s survival in the Arizona desert. Rattlesnakes removed from homes are often just using the structure for shade. Landscaping features can also play a part. A common area we are called to remove rattlesnakes from are decorative rock piles with poorly sealed concrete, near pool areas and the edges of property. Any sort of debris, too, should be cleaned up so that there are no opportunities for snakes and other wildlife to live there. Remember, even if an area isn’t good for a snake to hide in, if rodents can use it, then it is useful to a snake. Keeping your property as clean and orderly as possible will help keep it from being used by snakes. This can be difficult to control in a neighborhood, however, since not all properties are properly maintained, and just one extra-messy yard can bring rodents and snakes into all of the surrounding homes.
Water is also essential, and snakes often come into yards to have a drink when it’s freely offered to them. Swimming pools are an obvious source, but there are a lot of other common water sources. A leaky hose, bird bath, or decorative pond are all likely attractants for snakes. We’ve done hundreds of rattlesnake removals to homes with a dripping spigot. If you have any issues with the landscaping plumbing, they can attract snakes.
Rattlesnake removal is not a Do-It-Yourself activity
Even if you’ve seen someone do it or watched some YouTube videos, there is quite a bit going on during a rattlesnake removal that isn’t always obvious. There is a right way, and a dangerous way. There is no learning curve, and a mistake can land you in the hospital or worse. Of course, the snake often suffers from mishandling as well. It is simply not worth the risk to attempt rattlesnake removal without proper training.
A common thing we see are snakes that are improperly picked up with snake tongs (one tool we use to capture snakes). These tools are meant to gently grasp a snake so it can be captured and relocated. Too often, snakes are picked up in a death-grip by the tongs, in fear that that the snake could escape them. This causes the snake to thrash around in pain, causing the grip to become even tighter. They are also often picked up just behind the head and gripped as tightly as possible, again causing the snake to thrash around and injure itself. If a snake starts thrashing around with it’s mouth open when being picked up by tongs, they are being used improperly. This is of course deadly for the snake, and makes a much more dangerous situation for the person using the tools.
While some people certainly do learn to capture and remove snakes by themselves, it’s something best left to those with the experience to do it safely and ensure that the snake will survive the encounter.
Why do we charge for rattlesnake removal services?
This comes up quite often, actually. We do charge a modest fee for our snake removal services. This is, after all, the capture, handling and transport, and release of a potentially deadly pit viper. We also bring many years of experience and expertise tracking and finding rattlesnakes in the wild, and can translate this activity into your yard to see things that other snake removal services can’t. We also give back to the community by offering dozens of free educational presentations to communities and groups around the state. We feel that this is a professional service to the public that is worthy of compensation. Some day, we hope to work with cities to provide our rattlesnake removal service to the community as a public service, but in the meantime, we are a small, family-owned business.
There’s no better first post topic for our new blog, perhaps, than one highlighting the most commonly removed snake species in the city. They’re also one of the most iconic animals in the American West: The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is, as far as rattlesnakes go, a generalist. It can live in a wide variety of habitat and climates. In Arizona, this means any area where the city borders native Sonoran Desert habitat is also likely a resource for the Western Diamondback. Especially in areas North of the 101 in Scottsdale and Phoenix, where landscaping is a mix of native desert features and plants, rattlesnakes make their home.
We’ve relocated Western Diamondbacks from almost everywhere in the city at one time or another. Some of them, like those that show up in the center of the city, get there by hitchhiking in vehicles or landscaping materials. Some are intentionally captured and brought there by people that think that a rattlesnake would be a great pet, and released once they realize how wrong they were! For the most part, Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are limited to areas that come into direct contact with native desert.
How big does the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake get?
In the Phoenix area, a very large Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is about 4 feet long, with most reaching a slightly smaller adult size in the 3.5′ range. While some individuals may get into the 5′ range, it is very rare. In fact, in over a thousand rattlesnakes captured and relocated by Rattlesnake Solutions over the years, only one even got close, at an estimated 4’10”. It does happen, but to say “diamondbacks get 5′ long” is a lot like saying “an adult human is 7′ tall. It happens, but it’s not common, and generally not useful when discussing size. Things especially fall apart when a person claiming to see a 6′ diamondback also claims to see them often.
What is most likely, is that people just aren’t as great at estimating size of objects as we like to believe we are, combined with just how bad our memories actually are with remembering the details. If you want to do a simple experiment, get a 4′ (or so) stretch of rope or hose, and coil it in the bushes in the backyard. Ask someone to come out, without telling them why, and tell them to give you the size from 10′ away. If you get any answer that isn’t “how am I supposed to know, I’m not a tape measure!”, it likely won’t be anywhere near the actual size.
While there are some reports of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes getting very large (over 7′ long), this is very rare, and even more rare here in Arizona. Diamondbacks found in the Eastern part of their range in Texas tend to get larger, in-part due to having larger prey to eat, and more of it. There are also genetic differences between these populations, with Diamondbacks East of the continental divide area (about the Arizona/New Mexico border) that may make our Western, Western Diamondbacks end up on the small end. Even more confusingly, there is a completely different species, called an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, that does not live in Arizona at all, and gets larger than any other species of rattlesnake. All of this can cause some confusion when someone says, “hey, I saw a 6 foot diamondback!”, and tries to do some fact-checking on Google.
What part of the City has the most Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes?
Scottsdale 🙂 That’s an easy one. By looking at our relocation data over the years, the corridor above the 101, West to about the 51, has the highest rate of rattlesnake encounters. This isn’t just because of location – it’s more about what is there. Mostly new-ish developments, continued development, and natural landscaping contribute to wildlife encounters here. This doesn’t mean that if you live in North Scottsdale, you’re destined to meet a rattlesnake. … If your yard is within about a block of native desert habitat, however, it’s likely.
Further into the city, your odds of running into a diamondback are much lower. Even on mountains where other species of rattlesnake are fairly common, like Camelback Mountain or Mummy Mountain, diamondbacks have more or less been killed off by surrounding traffic and development.
“I’ve seen Western Diamondbacks … are those different than coontail rattlesnakes?”
This is a question we get from time to time, and no, they are the same species. Western Diamondbacks have a characteristic black and white banded tail just before the rattle. This can be used to identify them, and tell the difference between them and other species of rattlesnake.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are also a great example of some of the confusion that comes from common names given to animals. It seems that almost every place in the Western United States has something that the locals will call a “diamondback”, though in reality there is only one Western Diamondback, Crotalus atrox, which lives in the Southern half of Arizona, Southeastern California, and East into Oklahoma and Arkansas. In much of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, locals may refer to the local “diamondbacks”, but the rattlesnakes that live there are actually Prairie Rattlesnakes or Great Basin Rattlesnakes.
They are also often mistaken for Mojave Rattlesnakes. Usually the mistaken identity is given to the diamondback, due to the Mojave’s more famous reputation for being overly ‘aggressive’.
Here are more photos of wild diamondbacks! For as common as they are, I never tire of seeing them. If you’ve seen any, tell us about it in the comments.