The Western Rattle Snake

Rattlesnake Facts,
Rattle Snake Bite, Safety Tips

In Canada, the Western Rattle Snake, is found in southern interior BC Okanagan, southeastern Alberta, and southwestern Saskatchewan.

western diamond back rattle snake photo

In British Columbia, the Western Rattlesnake is restricted to the Thompson-Okanagan dry belt in the Southern Interior of the province. You'll find them in and around some cities and towns in the Okanagan Valley BC.

They are also found throughout the western United States and into Northern Mexico.

The Western Rattle snake is a large, stout snake with a triangular head, narrow neck, and tail that ends with a rattle.

The body is brown, olive, or grey with a series of large dark-brown blotches surrounded by light-coloured borders, or "halos" running down the middle of the back, with smaller, similar blotches along the side.

In older animals, the blotches may be surrounded by a white or cream coloured ring. It can be visually confused with the non-venomous Gopher Snake, also common in the Okanagan. Western Rattle Snake, commonly called Northern Pacific here, are the only venomous (poisonous) snakes in British Columbia that we know of ;-).

Cool Rattlesnake Facts

You may know of it by other common names including Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Diamond Back Rattle Snake, Pacific Rattlesnake, Black Rattlesnake, Western Black Rattlesnake, Western Rattler, Black Diamond Rattlesnake, Confluent Rattlesnake, Southern Rattlesnake, Great Basin Rattlesnake, Hallowell's Rattlesnake, Pacific Rattler, and Black Snake.

There are about 30 species of rattlesnakes in the world. They fall into one of two genera - Crotalus and Sistrurus. The Crotalus genus accounts for the wide majority of rattlesnake species. All rattlesnakes belong to the Viperidae family of snakes (pit vipers), a family that also includes copperheads, vipers and more, and are all venomous.

Rattlesnakes are called pit vipers because they have a heat-sensing pit on each side of their head, roughly between the nostril and the eye. These pits are used to detect warm-blooded prey. Rattlesnakes can detect differences in temperature to a fraction of a degree.

Rattlesnakes hatch from eggs! Yes they do! Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous. The unborn babies are nourished by egg yolk inside the mother. They hatch as they are laid or soon afterwards, and are live and ready to go! There is little to no parental care of the newborn rattlesnakes.

In the Okanagan the Western rattle snake mates in August or early September, usually near a den. Mated females enter their winter dens soon after, but ovulation and fertilization don't occur until after they emerge the next spring. An average of five baby rattlesnakes then develop over the next summer and are born live in September or October.

Rattlesnakes are carnivores - they eat mammals (especially rodents) and reptiles, which they catch alive and swallow whole, usually head-first. Their venom breaks down blood and/or paralyzes nerves, which is handy for subduing prey and beginning the digestive process. They are most active as dawn and dusk.

Rattlesnake fangs are retractable! And they also can break, but no fear, they grow replacement fangs! Most times there are a pair of fangs behind the existing set. A rattlesnake's rattle is made of keratin. That is the same stuff as your fingernails!

rattle snake picture

Rattlesnakes can only sense vibrations; they can't even hear another rattle snake's rattle! Baby rattlesnakes have no rattle. They only have a scale at the end of their body. Their rattles begin to develop after the first time they shed their skin! Newborn rattlesnakes are fully venomous!

You cannot tell a rattle snakes age by the number of segments on it's tail. A new segment is added to the rattle after each shedding of the skin, and rattlesnakes shed their skin more or less often depending on many factors like temperature and food intake. Segments also break off. Rattlesnakes grow throughout their life and the largest ones are usually the oldest. Adults commonly grow to 120 cm (3.9 ft) in length.

Rattlesnakes hibernate in traditional underground dens called 'hibernacula' that they share with other snakes (both the Western Rattle Snake and snakes of other species).

Where You May Encounter A Western Rattle Snake In The Okanagan

The Northern Pacific Rattle Snake is found in the Okanagan, in areas between Osoyoos and Vernon; and Similkameen Valley, Keremeos and Princeton areas.

osoyoos desert

Their habitat lies in the Bunchgrass, Ponderosa Pine, and lower fringes of the Interior Douglas-fir zones, and they prefer dry, usually rocky and rugged landscapes with sparse or scattered tree cover like rocky ridges with crevices or deep hillside slopes. You may find these creatures anywhere in and out of Okanagan cities and towns, including any residential areas, hiking and biking trails, golf courses, fields, and any rocky regions.

You are unlikely to meet a rattlesnake face to face, especially on established hiking trails. When you're out hiking and exploring, take the proper outdoor safety precautions, and wear proper hiking boots to protect your feet and ankles should you accidentally step on one. Always be aware of where you put your feet and hands. Don't reach into piles of rocks or under logs or shrubs where snakes may be resting. If you're exploring with pets, keep them leashed. If you do come across any snake, simply stop and allow it to move away, or move away from it. It prefers to be left alone.

The last thing a rattlesnake wants to do is bite an animal that is too big for it to swallow! They are really rather shy, and when they hear or see people, they tend to hide or camouflage themselves. And if they can't do that, they'll sound their warning rattle! They will not chase after people and cannot strike beyond the length of their body.

RattleSnake Bite

rattle snake bite medical

Most rattlesnake bites are the result of human interference such as attempting to get too close, or accidentally stepping on one.

The Western Rattle Snake venom is a powerful hemotoxin that attacks the blood and tissue of its prey. If left untreated, a bite from this species of rattlesnake can cause tissue damage, hemorrhaging, blood clotting or a significant drop in blood pressure. These symptoms can be severe and could even result in death, and you should seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten.

The biting reflex remains intact even after death. If you encounter a dead rattlesnake, don't touch it!

Wildlife conservation in the Okanagan is important Rattlesnakes are valuable predators, and play an important role in natures ecosystem by helping control some species of small mammals. The Western Rattle Snake has suffered decline of it's natural habitat in British Columbia due to land, urban and agricultural development, and other natural factors, and is now protected under the British Columbia Wildlife Act - Blue List. Blue-listed species are considered to be vulnerable or sensitive, and the Act prohibits the capture or killing of wildlife, except for the protection of life or property. Killing or capturing any snakes is illegal in BC.

If you are interested in learning more about the Western Rattle Snake, take a trip to the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre Rattlesnake Research Program in Osoyoos BC. You can learn about the rattlesnake biology and the threats to their survival. You can also visit the Osoyoos Desert Centre and take a walking tour around the 1.5 km elevated wooden boardwalk, and learn about desert ecology, habitat restoration and conservation of endangered ecosystems in the South Okanagan.

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