El Niño storms are not only good for California’s drought – they may also be the reason for fewer brushes with rattlesnakes across San Diego County.
According to Daniel E. DeSousa, deputy director for the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services, the rainy season has led to a decrease in local rattlesnake sightings reported to Animal Services – even in rattlesnake hotspots like Tierrasanta.
DeSousa said rattlesnake calls are down this season: 162 calls compared to 219 at this same time in 2015.
Last year, DeSousa said Animal Services received nine rattlesnake calls in January, 36 in February and 174 in March. This year, Animal Services received eight rattlesnake calls in January, 53 in February and 101 in March.
With San Diego’s climate, DeSousa said there isn’t necessarily a defined “rattlesnake season.” They do tend to hibernate in the fall and winter and awaken in the spring months of March and April.
“Rattlesnakes can actually be found in San Diego County year-round,” DeSousa explained. “We have this wonderful, mild climate, but springtime – ‘tis the season.”
The critters tend to come out when it’s very warm, so DeSousa said San Diego’s recent milder weather is likely linked to the decrease in sightings.
“Most like it’s because of the weather we’ve had,” he said. “February of this year we saw more rattlesnake calls than last year. February of this year was really warm. March has been kind of a cooler month – little bit wetter [of a] month – so maybe they’re not coming out as much.
But just because the rattlesnake calls are down now, doesn’t mean the critters aren’t a threat.
“They’re very much related to the weather and their food source,” DeSousa said.
Southern California is home to several species of rattlesnakes, including the Western Diamondback, Red Diamond, Southern Pacific, Speckled and Sidewinder. Rattlesnakes can be found in every habitat in San Diego County, from coastal communities to inland and desert regions.
“I would still expect, unfortunately, a bumper crop of rattlesnakes to be coming out and springtime is the season when we’ll start seeing the babies out and when we’ll start seeing more and more rattlesnakes just throughout the county,” DeSousa said. “They’re just hunkered underground at this point in time. When it gets warm and starts drying out we will see them.”
When that happens, DeSousa said residents should call Animal Services to report sightings.
According to Animal Services, the simplest way to identify a rattlesnake is by seeing or hearing the critter’s traditional rattle hiss or buzz.
Rattlesnakes can lose their rattles, however, so some identifying marks are also important, including a wide, rectangular head, a distinctly thin neck regions and long, pointed tails. Rattlesnakes can be a variety of colors, including brown, tan, yellow, green, gray, black, chalky white and dull red. Many could have diamond, chevron or blotched markings on their backs or sides.
DeSousa said San Diegans can take several precautions to keep rattlesnakes away from their homes, including trimming overgrown plants and clearing brush.
“[A rattlesnake] is there for a reason. It’s there because there’s a good food source – namely mice or rats. Or it’s there because it’s a really good hiding spot under the bushes or in a debris pile in your yard,” he said.
For more tips on what to do if you encounter a rattlesnake, read this brochure from Animal Services.