Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association Providing interpretive programs for the public

Reptiles

SOUTHERN PACIFIC RATTLESNAKE (Crotalus oreganus helleri) & (Crotalus ruber)
Rattlesnakes are native to the Americas and live in an wide array of habitats.  They mainly hunt small birds and rodents and kill through a venomous bite.  Their venom is injected through a set of fangs in the snake’s jaw.  The venom travels through the blood stream and destroys tissue through swelling, bleeding, and is intensely painful.

Hawks and kingsnakes tend to be the main predators to the rattlesnake.  Its defense mechanism is well known – rattling its tail.

The leading cause of snakebite injuries are from rattlesnake bites and causes 82% of snake bite fatalities.  Know that rattlesnakes rarely bite unless provoked or threatened.  Baby rattlesnakes are much more venomous than their adult counterparts because they lack the ability to control the amount of venom they release.

Rattlensnakes are often killed by residents surrounding the Park.  This is unnecessary and causes more disruption in the ecosystem.  Since rattlesnakes eat mice and other rodents, by killing the snakes — those rodents over populate and can spread into more urban areas, including your home.  The best way to remove a snake from your property is to spray it with cold hose water.  Since the snake is likely trying to sun itself, warm itself up, this one simple step can discourage the snake from thinking your place is a good place to get warm/stay warm.


GOPHER SNAKE (Pituophis catenifer)
The gopher snake also has a wide range of habitats that it is found in. These habitats include: desert flats, coastal dunes, and coniferous forests, but the preferred habitats of this snake are grasslands and open brush areas. Therefore the State Park is perfectly suited for this reptile and unfortunately since most of the Park is grasslands these snakes fall prey to birds, like the red tailed hawk, and even coyotes.

Ranging between 36 and 96 inches long, the gopher snake has some special defense mechanisms to ward off predators. It tries to intimidate predators by hissing and vibrating its tail. This sounds an awful lot like a rattlesnake and when the gopher snake flattens its head, it even appears more like the rattler. Reptiles are cold blooded and are often times seen on the Park trails and roads trying to warm their body temperatures. Do not approach them and give them a wide berth when passing them.

Gopher snakes are slow moving reptiles that will investigate a burrow, wind its way through rocky slopes, and even climb a tree to find a meal. They kill their prey by constriction and suffocation. These snakes eat other snakes, lizards, small rodents, and baby rabbits. Their sense of smell is one of their best hunting tools.Though a lot of people think snakes are bad and should be killed, we disagree. All snakes have a special role in the environment and if there were no snakes in the Park, we would have an abundance of small rodents like rats and mice. Snakes keep the rodent population in check.


KING SNAKE (Lampropeltis getula californiae)
This non-venomous snake is found in the Western United States and Northern Mexico. This is a subspecies of the common king snake and is found in a host of habitats. Though generally considered a diurnal creature, California King snakes are also known to be nocturnal in places where the weather is extremely hot. These snakes feed on almost any vertebrate and use their exceptionally powerful constricting abilities. Most prey die through suffocation.

Interestingly, the King snake are generally unaffected by the venom of rattlesnakes, but they don’t seek out rattlesnakes as a meal–normally it is a meal of convenience. One defense mechanism is simulating the sound of a rattlesnake by coiling up, hiding their head and rattling their tail against dry vegetation. This coupled with a hissing noise can sometimes confuse potential predators into thinking they are a rattlesnake.

King snakes often shed four-six times a year and when this occurs their skin becomes dull and milky in color. When shedding, this is the most dangerous time for snakes and they are often sensitive to potential dangers because the shedding process covers their eyes. Like all reptiles, king snakes warm themselves up by sunning themselves–open areas are the most common areas to get uninterrupted sun. If you see a snake on the trail, do your best to provide a wide swath to walk around it.


WESTERN FENCE LIZARD (Sceloporus occidentalis)
One of the most common lizards you will find in the State Park is the western fence lizard. Its neutral tones help camouflage it in the brush. It is also known as a blue belly… when you view the underside of this lizard its belly is literally blue! This lizard is found throughout most of the western United States, but interestingly it is not found in the deserts. Instead, it prefers coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats.

Western fence lizards average about three and half inches in length, but grow to about 6 inches when you include the tail in that measurement. The male version of this lizard has an iridescent blue patch on its flank and scattered throughout its body. Females have blue patches also, but they are much less noticeable. These lizards eat insects and spiders. A common site is to see this lizard on a fence, rock pile or path sunning themselves. Out in the open like this, they fall prey to a hungry bird or snake. You may even catch a glimpse of the lizard doing push ups — this is a way to cool the lizard off so that they have air flow between them and the hot ground.

Interestingly, the presence of the western fence lizard in an ecosystem means the transmission of Lyme disease is greatly diminished. Ticks feed on the blood of their victim and in this case, the lizard ear is the best location for a bite. The lizard’s blood contains an antidote that kills the bacteria that causes the disease. So again, even the smallest creature in the Park has a role in our ecosystem.

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