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History of El Dorado County

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Rattlesnake Bite

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Other Creatures of Concern

California Department of Fish & Game "Biodiversity Atlas"
Close Encounters

One day I was walking past our pond on my way to the mail box. I heard wings flapping from what was obviously a large bird. Since a Great Blue Heron like to spend time there, I assumed it was him and started looking through tree branches to locate him. Before I got a peek at him I heard what sounded like a branch crashing through the trees. My initial thought was that the heron  knocked it loose as he took off. 

I was watching intently so I could dodge the falling branch when I saw the most amazing site... a 3 foot rattlesnake falling first over one branch and then another. Standing there with my mouth open, I finally saw the Red Tail Hawk that had apparently just picked the snake up for lunch. Well, it was the snakes lucky day. I made enough noise I scared the hawk into letting him go... before the hawk killed him. 

The snake tumbled to the ground about 3 feet from me, tumbled down the embankment into the pond and swam away. Incredible!!!! Every day is National Geographic Day out here!

As I was relating this story in a group a few days later, one woman was aghast. "How," she said, "could you live around rattlesnakes?" "Well," I asked, where do you live? She named a snake free suburb.  "Oh really," I responded... do you realize you are in far more danger from your neighbors than I ever am from a rattlesnake?"

That stopped the conversation immediately because it's absolutely true... especially if you take the time to learn about the snakes behavior and when you are or aren't in danger.

There are hundreds of species of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles all around. Most are just fun to watch, but there are a few that you must watch out for...

Everyone knows what these pretty creatures look like. They're extremely beautiful... that's why so many are kept as pets (bred and raised for that purpose, not brought in from the wild). The one thing to remember about skunks in our area, is that they almost always carry rabies. 

The rule of thumb is, if you see the skunk during the day, it's probably rabid. If you're so inclined, shoot it and call animal control to dispose of it. You're actually doing a kindness to the animal by putting it down since as the disease spreads it can cause blindness, confusion, and sever illness before they die naturally. 

But, if you're uncomfortable with shooting it and just call animal control, the skunk will be long gone before they arrive. 

Just be sure you, your family and your pets stay away. And always be sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies.

Rattlesnakes - Non-venomous snakes
First Aid - Rattlesnake Bite

Be on the lookout for snakes on your outings during the spring and summer. The warm temperatures and longer daylight hours that stimulate people to get out and enjoy nature also trigger the same response in snakes. Also, be more watchful for rattlesnakes when there's development going on around you. This year two 10 acre parcels about 1/4 mile from us were cleared for new homes. We've had MANY more rattlesnakes this year as a result. We notice a higher population every time their habitat is being disturbed within about 1/2 mile.

Snakes lead the list of most misunderstood and feared of all animals. The rattlesnake is the only type of snake in California that is dangerous to humans, but unfortunately, many harmless snakes have met untimely deaths at the hands of shovel-wielding humans. Gopher snakes are often misidentified as rattle snakes because their coloring and markings look similar, below are the things to look for to tell the difference.

Details from Jeff Corwin / Animal Planet

Snakes are an important part of the natural food chain, eating a great variety of prey, from rats and birds to frogs and other reptiles. Besides their ecological value, snakes offer the careful wildlife viewer a chance to watch one of nature's most efficient predators. 

If you encounter a rattlesnake, move away and watch for these tell-tale signs that you are too close. First, a rattlesnake, in fact most snakes, will coil into a defensive posture if they cannot escape by crawling away. 

If you continue to get closer, the rattlesnake will warn you with its distinctive rattle. According to experts, a rattlesnake is born with it's first button, then within 7 - 10 days it sheds and gains another button, with these two buttons it is able to rattle and you will be able to hear it. With each subsequent shed, up to once per month if they are getting a lot of food, they gain a new button on their rattle, then as the top rattles become fractured and worn, they break off. After their first year or two, they will have more than a few buttons to their rattle.

The last defensive move of any snake is to strike. Unless you completely surprise a snake by accidentally stepping on it, reaching into a potted plant or under a bush where one is sleeping (wear elbow-high leather gloves while gardening), or reaching up onto a ledge, you will receive fair warning. Remember, all of these warnings are meant to help avoid conflict. If you use good wildlife viewing skills, you will be able to spot these behaviors early so you can step back and enjoy these creatures with little risk. 

California Department of Fish & Game
Western Diamondback Info. Dept of Fish & Game

Young rattlesnakes are NOT likely to inject more venom than mature snakes as the old wives tales would have you believe.  These little guys are found in some rather unlikely places like out on your lawn. Consequently they're easy to step on if you're not watching where you're going. Also, they're cold blooded creatures so they're pretty still in the cool mornings and evenings and will become more active as the day warms up.

Rattlesnake fangs are quite fragile and generally cannot penetrate canvas or leather sneakers, boots, long pants or gardening gloves (I wear leather "rose" handler gloves that come midway up my forearm for extra protection). 

Thank you to Jerry Feldner and Katherine Parks for correcting some errors on this page. 

Gopher Snake

As you can see, the coloring and markings of these snakes are similar. But the heads and tails are not. 

A rattlesnake (above) has a much more triangular head than does the gopher snake (right). That means the area that meets the body is much wider when looking at the two side by side.

A rattlesnake's body in generally fatter in the middle than a gopher snake of the same length. This gopher snake was easily three times longer than the rattlesnake, but the center girth was close to the same.

And the tails are distinctly different as well. The rattlesnake (above) has "buttons", or rattles. The gopher snake's tail (right) simple tapers off.

My own observations concluded that the other differentiating factor is that gopher snake skins are shiny while rattle snakes are dull, but I've learned this has to do with shedding of the skin, not the difference in the type of snake.

If you are bitten, the University of California, Santa Barbara indicates that the following are the possible CLINICAL EFFECTS - Snake venoms are highly complex mixtures of many proteins and peptides, including some enzymes; these may cause local effects such as inflammation, damage to vascular epithelium, and tissue necrosis. Some venoms can also cause neurotoxicity and interfere with blood clotting.

The effects of rattlesnake bites are extremely variable and depend on the following factors: 1) the age, size vigor, and health of the victim; 2) the susceptibility of the victim to protein poisoning; 3) the emotional condition of the victim -- extreme fear will affect heart action and therefore the rate of venom absorption; 4) the site of the bite; 5) the nature of the bite -- whether a direct strike with both fangs, or a glancing blow or scratch; 6) the number of bites; 7) the length of time the snake holds on, because it may withdraw or be torn loose before injection; 8) the extent of the snake's fear or anger -- the snake's natural tendency is to withhold venom for its next prey, but if hurt or violently excited, it will probably inject most of its venom; 9) the species, size and age of the snake, the venom quality, and depth of envenomation; 10) the condition of the venom glands -- whether full or partially depleted because of recent feeding, defense, or ill health; 11) the condition of the fangs, whether broken, lately renewed, or ready for shedding; 12) the presence of toxic microorganisms in the snake's mouth -- this is the main source of poison in the gila monster, the only worrisome lizard in the USA.

Pit viper envenomation may cause severe pain, usually occurring almost immediately after the bite, but it may also be painless. Swelling, erythema, and ecchymosis may occur locally, and later, blebs may form near the puncture site and spread along the swollen limb. Regional effects, as with a bite on a hand or foot (the most common locations), often include edema of the arm or leg (which may be massive), ecchymosis, and lymphadenopathy. Systemic signs and symptoms can include weakness, sweating, chills, numbness, and paresthesias of the tongue and perioral region, nausea and vomiting (which can be so severe that the esophagus ruptures), muscle fasciculations, bleeding hypotension, convulsions, respiratory depression, and renal failure.

Rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal. Victims will usually complain of pain at the bite site and swelling may be evident. Tremendous local tissue destruction can ensue. Prompt medical therapy avoids this problem.  
End UCSB Information

Additional information on snakes and snake bite

Pioneers used to treat snake bites by cutting between the fang marks and sucking (by mouth) out the venom then spitting it out. This treatment, or some form close to it, was the accepted first aid method for years. It is not particularly effective and has several potential negative effects such as infection of the wound area and / or poisoning the person doing the sucking. This is NOT the current recommended treatment. Click here for information on handling a rattlesnake bite emergency.

Rattlesnake pictures and details

Keep me wild!


More Close Encounters

One neighbor recently moved in from the Bay Area (California) and had several dogs. She allowed her dogs to get on her bed... even under the sheets. That might seem cute, but when the ticks come out in the spring, I can guarantee that ticks will leave her dogs and come seeking other warm blooded hosts -- their owners! Needless to say, this isn't a good practice in tick territory.


One evening my husband and I walked over to our pond. It was dusk and we were watching the sunset from the dock and marveling at the bats out feeding. Before I knew it, a bat landed on my hand. We had a fast look at each other. Personally I found him fascinating, but I guess the sentiment wasn't shared by my little visitor since he didn't stay long.


(Ric's Close Encounter...)
When we first moved into our house, both Jody & I were exhausted most of the time from the remodel we were doing. 

Jody went to bed early so I went outdoors for what I thought was a little walk. As I opened the door a bat came in the house. As she slept I was running around the house, opening all the windows and doors, removing the screens and trying to head him back outdoors. I could just picture him landing on her forehead or something. I was finally successful, but too tired to take my walk. 

Unbelievably, Jody slept through the whole thing!


The scorpions in this area only get to be about 1.5 inches long. They're dark brown and if you're going to see one it'll usually be in a wood pile or under a rock, although the only ones (3) I've personally seen were all in our house (don't panic... if you missed the other note about this, our house sat vacant for some time before we moved in. The critters had plenty of time to invade). I'm still checking on the virility of their sting, but from personal reports, it was about like a bee sting.

Killer Bees (Africanized Bees)

According to entomologists, Africanized bees look like regular honey bees. Africanized bees sting only once, but, the problem lies in the swarms. They are like standard honey bees in every respect except their dedication to defending their hive. Their sting venom is the same potency as regular bees and their stinger pulls out when they do sting, allowing for one sting each. Instead of the 10 - 40 that come out of a normal honey bee's hive for defense, they send 100 - 400+, and have a dogged determination to attack everything that is moving in the area. A recent study proves that the Africanized bees will chase someone up to 100 yards instead of 10-15 yards with regular bees.

They are not currently found in Northern California, but are working their way up the state a little each year. The map indicates the territory they can now be found in. Please visit the universities listed below for details. 

A recent special on "The Animal Planet" concludes the best thing to do if being attacked, is to run as far away from the hive as quickly as possible since they're very territorial. There is extensive information on Africanized Bees online at various California entomology sites:
University of California, Riverside
San Diego County

Brown Recluse Spiders

The website below presents evidence for the lack of brown recluse spiders as part of the Californian spider fauna. Unfortunately, this contradicts what most Californians believe; beliefs that are born out of media-driven hyperbole and erroneous, anxiety-filled public hearsay which is further compounded by medical misdiagnoses. Although people are free to disagree, this opinion has come about after almost a decade of constant research. In addition to personal experience, the sources for this opinion encompasses conversations with, interactions with, and the cumulative knowledge of the following, who have experience or expertise in the state of California and, in some cases, are national or international experts: Click Here for more details. 

Rick Vetter
Department of Entomology
University of California, Riverside, CA


Black Widow Spiders

Black Widow is considered the most venomous spider in North America. The venom of the black widow spider is 15 times as toxic as the venom of the prairie rattlesnake. Black Widow spiders are not usually deadly, especially to adults, because they inject only a small amount of venom. Only the female Black Widow is venomous; males and juveniles are harmless. The female Black Widow eats the male after mating. The female Black Widow hangs belly upward and rarely leaves the web. The Black Widow is also called the "hourglass" or "shoe-button" spider.
From Desert USA 



You might wonder why the discussion of ticks isn't left for the "pets" section. It is, but you'll find it here as well  because they do pose some threat to humans. 

Lyme disease is carried by ticks and as humans and nature come closer and closer together, humans are getting exposed to Lyme disease more often. The sites below will provide photos and detailed information about Lyme Disease and how to recognize the ticks that carry it and its early symptoms.
Lyme Disease Information - Pfizer Corporation
Lyme Disease in California

Another tick born disease surfaced in Northern California in 2000 and then with only one known case in Sonoma county -- until a neighbor became ill with it in January 2001. Hers is the first known case in the Gold Country of California.

It's called Ehrlichiosis.

Ehrlichiosis is caused by an extremely small type of bacterium known as Ehrlichiae. Ehrlichiae are closely related to Rickettsiae, the type of bacteria that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). Ehrlichiae invade, and live within, white blood cells (leucocytes), which are part of the immune system. The disease is transmitted by ticks.
The first known case of human ehrlichiosis was caused by an organism which was identified as Ehrlicha chaffeensis. It infects mononucular phagocytes and is now called human monocytic ehrlichiosis (HME). About 425 cases, including 1 0 deaths, have been reported from 30 states, Europe and Africa. Another recently described emerging tick-borne disease is human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE). It infects human granulocytes, another type of immune cell. Since 1990, more than 170 people, mostly from the upper Midwestern and northeastern states, and northern California, have become acutely ill and several have died from HGE infections.

Symptoms - Clinical and laboratory manifestations of infection with HME or HGE are similar. Patients usually complain of fever, headache, chills, malaise, muscle and joint pains, beginning one to 21 (average seven) days following infection. Some have nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and acute weight loss as well.  In HME, cough, sore throat, swollen glands, diarrhea, and swollen glands were noted in one quarter of patients. Low counts of white blood cells and platelets occur in over 60%, while 86% have elevated liver enzymes by the time they seek medical attention. Symptoms vary greatly in severity, ranging from a mild illness to a severe, life-threatening condition. Deaths have occurred in approximately 2% to 3% of patients, including previously healthy children.
In HGE the clinical picture is similar, although in one study abnormal blood counts and liver enzymes were not noted. Rarely, a spotted rash may appear about one week after onset of the illness, and, unlike that of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, does not usually involve the palms and soles. The severity of the illness is reflected in the rates of hospitalization (56%), admission to an intensive care unit (7%), and death (7 to 10%).

Note: The neighbor's case started with a tick that became imbedded in her hair. Once removed, the wound failed to heal for 12-14 days. The onset of symptoms started shortly after the bite, but was not diagnosed for several months. This is not a well-known disease in this area. We recommend if you get a tick bite to go to the address below and print the entire article to take to your doctor.

Resource & more info:

You can protect yourself from ticks by a couple of simple things:

Always wear long pants in high grasses, and whenever possible, wear large socks and put your socks over the leg of your pants.

Wear a hat when you're working or walking under trees. Ticks can drop down from the trees.

If you've been outdoors where you might be exposed to ticks, be sure to check yourself over the next time you shower. If you find a tick use a tweezers to remove it, and make a note of the date and type of tick in case you develop any symptoms of Lyme or Ehrlichiosis disease later on. If you have any doubts about the kind of tick, simply put it on clear scotch tape, fold a piece of tape over it and preserve it to show a doctor if necessary. 

Iowa State Entomology Image Library


Creepy Critters That Are Really OK


Bats have distinctive echolocation calls, described by scientists as high-pitched, metallic "pings." 

The bat, considered a very fast flyer, has been found in Ponderosa pine forests and rocky deserts of the West.

Bats eat lots of bugs, don't carry rabies any more than other species of animal, and are endangered in many areas of California because their habitat is being lost to humans. 
Bat Conservation Organization

Snakes (non-venomous)

There are a number of beautiful snakes in California. They serve a vital function in the balance of nature. If you kill all snakes, you'll have more rodents and bugs. Please learn about these wonderful creatures and don't just kill all snakes because you haven't taken the time to educate yourself or your family. Here are some shortcuts to lots of education about snakes.


California Fish & Game -- Specific Pages of Interest
Reptiles by Species
Mammals by Species
Birds by Species



All photos on this site are copyrighted. Many are available to purchase, however, at


2008 - Jody & Ric Hornor l contact