Written by Alexa Martinez/Photos by Janelle Wicks
Being located in the Great Basin, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has a variety of scaly reptiles that call the Refuge home; such as, lizards and snakes. Snakes are definitely one of those species that tend to rub people the wrong way. But, they are a big part of every ecosystem. In the state of Oregon, there are fifteen species of snakes, but out of all the native snakes, the Western rattlesnake has poisonous venom that is dangerous to humans. (ODFW)
Western rattlesnakes can be found near rocks, cliffs or downed logs. But can also occur in wide variety of habitat types, from deserts and chaparral to open forests across Oregon. They overwinter in dens typically located on south-facing rocky hillsides exposed to sunshine. Their geographic region extends from Mexico to Canada and west of the Continental Divide and are mostly active from about April to November over most of their range.
Western rattlesnakes diet consist of small mammals, including mice, gophers, squirrels and rabbits, but will also take birds lizards, and amphibians. They use the pin in the face to detect infrared (heat) signals from potential prey and gives this group of snakes the common name “pit vipers”.
These snakes can be easily confused with gopher snakes and vice versa. A couple distinct ways to distinguish the difference is the distinct rattle and its large triangular head. Western rattlesnakes will also have vertical pupils while gopher snakes will have round pupils.
Unfortunately, because of the bad reputation snakes have, especially rattlesnakes are perceived, majority of persons’ instincts is to get rid of this creature. When you see a rattlesnake, just pause and slowly walk away in the direction, you came in. Most adult rattlesnakes have the knowledge of when it is worth to strike or not. This may result into dry bites (bites without any venom). Juveniles are more prone to strike with venom majority of the time.