The First Mojave Green Rattlesnake of the Year: How To Identify

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Those who live in terrain where the Mojave green rattlesnake roams must know how to identify the species. Every member packs a cobra-type of venom that will shut down your respiratory system pretty quickly; surviving a Mojave bite is a matter of both speed and knowledge. Some of the Mojaves even carry not one but two types of venom, adding the standard flesh-damaging diamondback variety to make things just that much more horrific. It’s considered the deadliest rattlesnake in the world with good reason.

My wife and I live in southern Arizona, just a mile from the Mexican border, in a patch of Sonoran Desert heavily populated with both flora and fauna. Rabbits, coyotes, javelina, whitetail deer, kangaroo rats, field mice, wolf spiders, tarantula spiders, and yes, rattlesnakes abound. The rattlesnakes (all species) and only the rattlesnakes live under a death sentence: If either Pam or I see one, the snake has to go.

I don’t like having to do it, but I never hesitate, either. If my 100 pound, high metabolism wife were ever bitten by a Mojave, the odds against her survival would be long indeed. To those who place animal life above human life, hey, I can understand your priorities. There are some humans I don’t like as well as I do most animals, either. But still.

This afternoon, at about 4:00 p.m., I was (ahem!) on the toilet when I heard Pam making some sort of loud distress noises. My first reaction was, what is it this time?! My hearing is still a bit fuzzy from a target practice loud-noise-close-up incident that took place five months ago, I was in the back end of the house, and she was outside somewhere, hoping to be understood through our seventeen-inch-thick Border Fort walls.

This was not good.

Not until she opened the front door was I able to make out the single word “Blah-blah-blah-rattle-blah!”

“Rattler?!” I yelled back, wiping my butt semi-furiously.

“Yes!”

“Be there as soon as I can! Hang on!”

Moments later, we were circling the camp trailer cautiously, searching for the elusive critter. Pam had been heading over to the camper, just to spend a bit of time by herself, when she and the snake nearly collided. It had been traveling, and she was within something like four feet of it when the two beings became aware of each other. Each of them took evasive action: The reptile veered off, heading under the camp trailer. Pam backed up rapidly, flicking glances back behind her to make sure she wasn’t going to step on anything venomous in that dircection, yelling for me, and doing her best to keep an eye on her quarry.

“It’s a rattler for sure?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “And I’m pretty sure it’s a Mojave.” We’ve read plenty about just how aggressive toward humans the Mojave green can be. Fortunately–very fortunately–those on our acreage have not exhibited that tendency so far. A mildly alarmed Mojave heading for cover instead of coiling and attacking is not unusual in our experience.

This is our third year on this property, though, and we’ve yet to make it through the year without a close encounter or two.

It seemed possible to me that the critter might well have kept on going, in which case it had enough time to reach the heavy bunchgrass out back of our main homesite area. If it had done that, there was nothing for it; it was gone for the day. But Pam was certain that was not the case; her instinct said it had taken cover somewhere under the camper…and she was right. That camper is not skirted, so you can see pretty well under there, but–at first–we couldn’t spot the snake.

In the end, however, Pam did. There is an old dead curved stick of mesquite lying on the ground under there. We looked at that, and despite the curve, it was obviously not the snake. Then my honey peered under from a different angle, and–yep. Mr. (or Ms.) Mojave had coiled inside the curve of the stick, only its little, venom-packed pit viper head showing above the stick.

Obvious, once you knew where to look.

From the angle I had, with the rattler in a resting coil, actually looking 120 degrees away from my position, I had a clear enough shot–although it was obvious I’d have to take out a good part of the coiled body to remove the head cleanly on the first pop (which is the basic rule). I didn’t realize my apology to the beastie and my prayer to the Creator had been said aloud until later when Pam told me.

My dearly departed Dad’s old single shot .410 never misses.

The first close-to-the-house Mojave green rattlesnake of the year.

The first close-to-the-house Mojave green rattlesnake of the year.

The photo shows the snake carcass, minus its head, part of the neck, and one humongous chunk of central body. All of that damage was done with a single blast of #6 shot from a 3-inch Winchester Super-X Long Range shell.

However, the most important part of this page involves learning (if you don’t already know) how to idenfity the Mojave green.

Firstly, they don’t all have that distinctive green tinge to their upper body coloration. This one did, and most of the others we’ve encountered did, too. But some don’t, so you won’t want to try using color alone as a disqualifying factor.

Secondly, the Mojave is a fairly heavy-bodied rattler. But then again, it’s not the only such.

Thirdly, and this is the surefire way to be determine if “your” rattler is or is not a dreaded Mojave green, take a look at the tail. Just ahead of the rattles, see those stripes? Several narrow dark stripes, alternating with much wider stripes of a much lighter color?

That’s it. That’s a Mojave green.

This species is often confused with a Western diamondback, which also has those alternating “coontail” stripes, but in the diamondback, the stripes are of more or less even width.

You might want to memorize this, at least if you ever intend to be anywhere near “Mojave country”. Many a snakebite victim has chopped off the head of the snake that bit him, taking that along to the Emergency Room to assist the folks who have to try saving his life. Sometimes the severed head has even bitten an EMT along the way.

This way, however, you don’t have to play around. Just blow the head away, throw the still-writhing body into the back of your rig, and hammer down to town. The ER folks will still get the info they need; the tail will tell the tale.

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