I’ve written about the Mojave green rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) before. Since arriving in Cochise County in early 2009 and taking up homesteading a mile north of the Mexican border, my wife and I’ve encountered several of this species every year.
Point of order: The Mojave green is the world’s deadliest rattlesnake, packing a neurotoxic venom not unlike that of a cobra. In some hybrids, crosses that include western diamondback genetics, a Mojave can carry both types of venom, the flesh-destroying diamondback type and the neurotoxic cobra type. This snake is, in two words, extremely dangerous.
Correction: NOT the world’s deadliest, it turns out. Here is a quote from Greg Lombardo’s highly informative comment on February 7, 2017. (But the Mojave is still plenty deadly.)
Is the Mojave Green the most dangerous rattlesnake in the world? No, that credit goes to the Mexican calibre de cascabel and even worse is the south American Neotropical rattlesnake. They are large, numerous, incredibly dangerous and aggressive snakes.
The occasional reader gets extremely upset at discovering I terminate those we find in close proximity to our dwelling. Sorry about that. I do understand. Really. In fact, I don’t like having to kill them. We do make sure the kills are quick and clean, using birdshot that removes the head entirely in most cases. They literally never know what hit them. Nor do we let the carcasses go to waste. There’s a spot a hundred yards or so from the house where our local Mearns coyote pack patrols nightly. We leave the meat there, and by morning it’s gone.
But leaving the snakes to go their various ways where we might accidentally step on one…that’s not an option for us. Neither is pulling up stakes and going to live somewhere else.
Therefore, just FYI, if you leave a comment attempting to take me to task for killing a rattler, said comment will simply be deleted. Without comment.
Also, for those concerned as conservationists, please note that Crotalus scutulatus is officially considered to be a species of “least concern”, meaning that there are a lot of them out there. Which there are. My wife and I also suspect they win out over time, expanding and becoming the dominant species, taking over what had formerly been western diamondback territory.
One reason we know better than to attempt (for example) the “capture and relocate” technique is that it simply doesn’t work. Not all the time. Sometimes, they come back. If they’ve discovered a territory to their liking and that territory includes your house, they’re going to hang around nearby.
As this one did.
Several months ago, Pam spotted a Mojave green crawling along toward the dirt pile positioned a few yards outside my office window. That one, at that time, I missed entirely. Wanted some pictures. It was in super-slow-crawl hunt mode. Figured I’d have time to click the shutter a couple of times and then blow its head off with my Dad’s old single shot .410 shotgun.
By the time I’d gathered up the weapon, camera, my bathrobe, earmuffs, and a pair of flip-flops (I’d been in bed when Pam notified me of the snake’s presence)…I was too late. It only took a matter of seconds, but a few too many seconds.
I rounded the corner of the house just in time to watch the last few inches of the critter’s tail disappear down a hole in the dirt.
Gone to eat our little buddies.
See, that dirt pile houses a six-inch PVC pipe that serves as a rabbit hide…and countless small mammal holes that serve as homes for kangaroo rats, spotted ground squirrels, and other little people of that sort. It had been a sanctuary we’d created for them, and now it had become a Free Buffet for Jake the snake.
Fast forward to tonight, September 20, 2012. At around 9:00 p.m., on a flashlight inspection tour of our home’s perimeter to check for possible water leakage after just today pressurizing the water line for the first time…I came within a single stride of stepping on ol’ Jake himself.
The rattler–and yes, I recognized it instantly as a Mojave green–was in a resting coil. My little Eveready rechargeable flashlight had given me warning enough, though barely.
I halted. The pit viper pulled its head back just that little bit more, cautious but not really alarmed.
The Mojave greens are supposed to be wildly vicious and aggressive. At least, umpteen online discussions of them will tell you that. And most likely they are…in anything they consider ugly circumstances.
But the Mojaves we’ve seen in this area have been altogether calm. Which could be simply because we’re calm, too. Yes, I eliminate them. However, I neither hate them nor fear them; there’s simply no negative emotion for their psychic awareness to use as a trigger.
From the moment of sighting, I strongly suspected this was the same snake that had been hanging out in our dirt pile. It looked well fed–on our friends, no doubt–and was a moderately small specimen, as had been the dirt pile dude (or dudette). In fact, it was simply chilling on the south side of the house instead of traveling the burrows on the north side of the house.
Well, first things first. I backed up a couple more steps and got the Canon PowerShot out of my hip pocket. Took a couple of pictures by flashlight (without the photo flash), then headed back around the other way and into the house. Notified my deep-sleeping wife not to be alarmed when she heard me shoot; I had a Mojave green to terminate.
Back out again, using the big Maglite to light up the grounds a bit better–wouldn’t want to step on Jake’s brother, mother, sister, or other while heading back his way, obviously.
Took a few more pics, then did what I had to do.
Allowing for an inch of missing head, this particular Mojave green measured roughly 28 inches in length with 8 rattles and a button. So far, we’ve seen them as small as 7 inches (yet that tiny baby rattler had swallowed an entire mouse) and as big as 4 feet or maybe a bit more. Didn’t get to measure the big one; it got away.
The Mojave rattlesnake is not always necessarily green–individuals come in a variety of shades. Interestingly enough, the same snake looks like several when photographed under different lights.
Well, I guess we all do, come to think of it.
In this snake’s case, pictures taken by Eveready rechargeable flashlight, Maglite, and photo flash were remarkably variable (color wise).
Also, it seems the snake thought it was safely under cover. It had curled up beneath the overhang of a fallen weed with a few hanging leaves. It’s unusual for a rattler to feel that safe while still being in reality so exposed. We did have one go into a resting coil where we could still see it clearly in broad daylight a couple of years ago, but even that was completely beneath our camp trailer.
A diamondback under a fallen fence post with just a tip of tail-rattle still hanging out–yeah, seen that (when I was 15, and jumped about that many feet in the air, too). Or, in the case of the 7-inch baby, beneath an overturned oil drain pan…yet again, it was completely covered from the air.
This one? Guess it’s simply a case of all of us making mistakes, some of them more fatal than others.
Unless you run across a Mojave green that’s noticeably green (as this one is only in Maglite light), it’s almost impossible to tell it from a western diamondback rattlesnake.
Except for one thing.
Both species carry the “coontail” of alternating light and dark bands just ahead of the rattles. Most writers refer to these as “white and black” (or “black and white”) bands…but they’re not always that black and white, especially in the Mojave green.
However, whether they’re in stark black and white or in more muted shades, one rule is both simple and ironclad:
+++If the bands are more or less equal in width, it’s a western diamondback.
+++If the white (or light) bands are much wider than the black (or dark) bands, it’s a Mojave green.
We showed you that once (above), but let’s do it again. Knowing this could save your life if you ever get hauled into the ER for snakebite and don’t happen to have the snake with you for identification.
Any more, I hardly need to check: When I see a Mojave green rattler, my identification of the species takes maybe half a millisecond. Divided by ten. Instantly, I just know.
But not everybody out there has a state of consciousness as snake-i-fied as mine. With that in mind, let’s close out this page with a couple of looks at the primary pattern on the main body of the critter.
Update: September 2, 2013.
Late this afternoon, my stepson and I were headed around the pickup truck, intending to let him take a look at our newest oversized portable generator. I was in the lead.
“There’s a rattlesnake,” he called out.
By the time I turned and found where he was pointing, the rattler had crawled in under our portable solar generator frame. Only its black and white coontail was visible, clearly either a western diamondback or a Mojave green diamondback.
The white bands I could see were wider than the black bands.
“Mojave green,” I said to Zach. “Keep an eye on him while I get the shotgun and my earphones.”
When I took the snake’s head off with the .410 blast, Zach was impressed. “Wow! What a shot! I know what I need for a snake gun now!”
I smiled. “That’s the advantage of a shotgun, for sure.”
This critter turned out to be about the size of the one featured earlier in this post. A bit larger, but not by much, roughly a two-and-a-half footer. The coyotes will eat well tonight.
However, the coontail was…slightly weird. There were standard Mojave stripes (wider white than black) around part of the tail, but on one side, there were a couple of extra black stripes that made the banding look even in places.
Conclusion? Tentative, but we’re guessing this one was a definite crossbred, part western diamondback and part Mojave green.
If we’re right, that could well mean it was packing both types of venom, as some of the Mojaves are known to do.
Update: September 4, 2013.
Until two days ago, we’d not seen a rattler all year long–and now, two in three days, both Mojave greens (which is pretty much the only rattler species we’ve observed in the area since encountering one western diamondback in 2010).
It was again late in the afternoon. I was pushing our empty handcart ahead of me, aiming to set it back in its usual spot between one of the propane enclosures and the Border Fort’s north wall, when the rumbly wheels of the thing scared the dickens out of the rattlesnake. Just ahead of the cart by a few feet, the reptile scooted on over into the weeds bordering the propane shed. When it reached that spot, the body closed up in a tight series of squiggly S-curves for just a second as it tried to decide what to do.
Then, seeing a way between a standing propane tank and the shed, it scooted on out of sight.
Almost, that is. It paused, thinking itself safely under cover, but part of the tail was still sticking out, allowing the Canon PowerShot time to snap the following picture before I headed back around the house to get my earphones and shotgun.
I had one hope and three possible concerns.
The hope: That the rattler would hang around long enough for me to get some more photos of a live snake before sending it to Coyote Food Heaven.
The possible concerns:
1. We had a four foot gopher snake scoot into that same propane shed earlier in the year, before the monsoon rains produced all the overgrown vegetation. It stayed there for some time, curled up behind a tank in one corner, completely out of sight and laying low. If the pit viper did that, it would have to be persuaded to move politely so I could kill it. I wasn’t looking forward to that possibility.
2. On the other hand, the rattler could decide to move on around the house too quickly for me to find it when I came back out. That would not be good at all. Knowing a Mojave is somewhere really, really close by and yet invisible…that’s not a good feeling, especially for my disabled wife, whose balance is not always the best. She could have a seizure, pass out, and fall on one in the weeds without knowing it until it was too late.
3. There was no time to notify Pam that I was going to be shooting. At the moment, she was over in the laundry shed, a good 100 feet away, on the other side of a very loud generator. Yelling would accomplish nothing.
I made one mistake. Took my glasses off and left them in the house when I got the earphones and shotgun. That’s fine for shooting, as I only need them for close work. The brass bead on the front of the barrel shows up just fine.
But I hadn’t taken the camera into consideration. The snake was crawling slowly along the house wall when I got back into position, far enough from deep cover that I could risk taking the time to get a few pictures…yet I couldn’t really see the camera view screen very well. In fact, the photography situation was so “iffy” that in one case I took a picture that was all weeds and wall and no snake at all!
However, for the most part, the snake did show up in the photos. I watched it move cautiously along the wall until it found a super-humongous weed that seemed (in its logical mind) to give it good cover. Thinking things over, it decided to use that, curling up into a comfy resting coil, settling in to take it easy for a while.
At this point, it seemed pretty clear there was no point in waiting any longer to terminate the snake. At least, going this way, it might well end up on the astral plane going, “WTF! How did I get here? The last thing I remember was being at peace with the world….” But it won’t go the hard way, like all of its own meals went, being stab-poisoned and then swallowed whole. Or like quite a few of its relatives have gone, crushed by a rattler-eating kingsnake and also swallowed whole, headfirst down the tubes. Or any of a hundred other ugly ways to go.
That’s all the rationalization I had to offer.
So I took one step to the right, exposing the Mojave’s head more completely. After the Canon PowerShot snapped one more picture, it went back in its case. The front sight’s brass gleamed brightly in the rays of the setting sun, and I sent one more peaceful Mojave green rattlesnake off to the happy hunting grounds.
Ah, but there’s more. Remember when I said I didn’t have time to notify Pam that I’d be shooting? When the shotgun went off, she was–as it turned out–no longer over in the laundry shed. She’d come back to the house while I was taking snake pictures. When the weapon fired, she was at that moment placing my glasses (which I’d left on the kitchen table) on my office desk.
She was exactly on the other side of the wall I’d just shot.
That is, the birdshot hit about two feet from the wall, where the snake was, but some pellets undoubtedly bounced off the concrete stucco before they quit moving–and all of the sound came that way. It’s a good thing I built this fort with walls some 17 inches thick…and it’s a good thing I’m married to a country redhead who knows how to take things like that in stride.
Even so, though, two Mojaves close to the house in three days is enough to make her nervous about going outside after dark for a while, even with a powerful Maglite flashlight in hand.