Monday, May 11, 2009

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

I have seen four southwestern speckled rattlesnakes. I have not seen them in the inland valleys of Southern California, such as the San Bernardino Valley or foothills (where red diamond and southern pacific rattlesnakes are found), rather they seem to be at higher elevations, above 3,000 feet. They are distinctive because of their salt and pepper speckling. The markings on their body are usually bands, but they may also have hexagonal, diamond or hourglass shaped markings.

I saw one speckled rattlesnake in Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park, above 4,000 feet in elevation. It was morning and the snake was stretched out trying to catch some warmth from the sun. Note the salt and pepper markings around the bands and the irregular markings on a portion of the snake. Sam originally spotted this snake when we were on an outing with Mom Kenison and her boyfriend, Ebbie. Ebbie was quite fascinated with it.

After we gave it more attention than it desired, the snake slithered into some rocks and coiled to let us know it was not happy with us.

I have seen one other speckled rattlesnake in Joshua Tree National Park, this one in the Indian Cove section during a stake rock climbing outing. It was hidden beneath some brush in a desert tortoise hole and was quite well camouflaged.

But the most fun experience I've ever had with rattlesnakes came during a backpacking trip from the Heart Bar area of the San Bernardino Mountains to Whitewater Canyon. While in the vicinity of Mission Creek, a little above 3,000 feet in elevation, we saw two large speckled rattlesnakes together on the trail, rhythmically winding their necks around each other. I originally thought they were mating, but I now believe it was two males in combat. I was not able to get my camera out fast enough to catch them both together, as they quickly slithered off in two different directions as they became aware of us.

It is hard for me to recall relative size, but I think they must have been 3 1/2 to 4 feet long. The one below coiled up when I got close for a picture,

then slithered off into the grass.

This one went a different direction, up hill.

Although I am partial to the red diamond rattlesnake, because of their beautiful red color and mild dispositions, these speckled rattlesnakes were the neatest rattlesnakes I've ever seen. The rhythmic combat was fascinating, the only time I have ever seen it; in fact, the only time I have ever seen two rattlesnakes together. They seemed pretty mild, only coiling and rattling when we got too close, and they had beautiful tan scales and distinctive markings.

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