The Bay Area is home to arguably the most gorgeous reptile in all of North America: the San Francisco garter snake. But the region's also populated by venomous rattlesnakes that demand people look where they’re walking, as one couple recently learned while out at Paso Nogal Park in Pleasant Hill.
As is much the case with all wildlife, snakes are far more afraid of us than we are of them. (Oklahoma’s infamous rattlesnake roundups — popular events that see upwards of 250,000 rattlesnakes caught and slaughtered annually, like at Sweetwater's Rattlesnake Roundup — are reason enough we need to better our relationship with them.) However, that's not to say they won't defend themselves if provoked or, as with nearly all venomous snakebites, accidentally stepped on. Given that snakes are most active in the spring and summer months in North America, it's a good idea to really heed local rattlesnake signs that caution hikers to look out for them while walking.
This is such an incredible observation. Snakes are amazing! https://t.co/YdL9tnZA23— Michael G. Starkey (@mgstarkey) August 1, 2021
One local couple found this out recently at Paso Nogal Park in Pleasant Hill.
“We know [the rattlesnakes] are here," said Cheryl Gherlone, who was walking with her husband and two dogs last week at the aforementioned green space when they heard an unmistakable sound: the rattle of an upset pitviper. "We absolutely know they’re here, but we’ve never seen one."
According to KRON4, the couple and their dogs were stopped in their tracks after hearing the snake warn them of its presence. Shortly after the deafening rattle, a three-foot-long Northern Pacific rattlesnake appeared through the grass — hissing, rattling, and trying to flee the humans and canines.
“My husband called out ‘it’s a rattlesnake,’ so I took my little dog and went down there to get away because I was a little bit afraid," Gherlone continued. "And, then the rattlesnake continued across. It went over behind [a tree to hide]."
Wildlife experts are quick to note that snakes rarely attack unless they feel threatened. This is why "dry bites" — incidences when a venomous snake will bite, but not inject any venom — are common, especially amongst rattlesnakes; these limbless reptiles often give dry bites around 25% of the time.
Per the news outlet, Gherlone says she feels fortunate the snake warned them and that her dogs were leashed and unaware of the snake, but she thought it was odd to see it out in the heat. (Snakes are ectotherms, meaning they don't have the metabolic ability to self-regulate their body temperature; all reptiles go back and forth between "basking" and "resting" states to achieve a level of homeostasis.)
Given that summer temps are on the rise in much of the Bay Area, Gherlone's advice still stands: "Just stay alert."
Should you come across a snake, regardless of whether or not it's venomous, leave it alone. Create enough space between you and it so that you can pass by safely. You’re statistically far more likely to get mauled by an off-leash dog than bitten by the frightened reptile you just encountered.
Photo: Getty Images/Mirko_Rosenau