San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

Snake Habits: Tips for Finding Snakes

Non-poisonous Snakes
in our Region

Rosy Boa
California Mountain Kingsnake
Two-striped Gartersnake

Poisonous Snakes
in our Region

Speckled Rattlesnake
Red Diamond Rattlesnake
Western Rattlesnake
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Angel Island Speckled Rattlesnake
Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake
Baja California Rattlesnake
San Esteban Island Rattlesnake
San Lorenzo Island Rattlesnake
Black-tailed Rattlesnake
El Muerto Island Speckled Rattlesnake
Tiger Rattlesnake
Tortuga Island Rattlesnake

Searching for snakes may not be for everyone. Most snakes are secretive and finding them is a difficult task. Here are some tips about snake habits, so your next encounter will be more than just a chance meeting.

Laurence M. Klauber, the Museum's first herpetologist, was the first to report on the successes of road driving for snakes. Now referred to as "night-driving" or "road-cruising," snake enthusiasts will spend hours driving up and down paved roads at night in search of snakes

Snakes are most active in warm weather (75-90°F) and tend to avoid both cold and extremely hot temperatures. Search for snakes when the temperature is right. In the spring, snakes will be more active in the daytime. In the summer, when days are sweltering, snakes will be active at night.

Snakes on the move often stop and pause on surfaces that are warm in order to thermoregulate. Warm surfaces include paved streets, dirt roads, and hiking trails. Keep an eye out for snakes stretched perpendicular to the direction of travel. While good sources of heat, roads and trails are dangerous places with lots of predators. Exposed snakes often take the shortest path to get to cover on the other side.

They will bask on rocks or sun themselves before dark. When hiking in wilderness areas, southwestern facing slopes have a greater abundance of snakes. These slopes receive the last rays of the day. Rock climbers on southwestern facing slopes beware!

Snakes will wait for their prey. Look for snakes in areas with rodent activity. These include woodpiles and rocky terrain. Rodents like to run along the margins of barriers such as large boulders. Snakes will coil and wait along rodent trails.

They are secretive, so look under logs and rocks. Make sure you return the log or rock to its original position.

The most abundant snake species are Gartersnakes. Many Gartersnakes can be found in a single outing. Look in streams, ponds, and lakes. Gartersnakes may be seen along the margins, swimming underwater, or basking on rocks and floating vegetation.

Text by Bradford Hollingsworth, Curator of Herpetology

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