By Trent Robertson
Clairemont’s many canyons are home to a variety of snake species, including two that are venomous. Snakes don’t have to present a threat as long as hikers and others utilizing the canyons pay attention and exercise a reasonable amount of caution. The rattlesnakes that inhabit our canyons play an important role in controlling rodent populations and deserve our respect and consideration.
The most common rattlesnake, in our area, is the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, which exhibits a pattern of dark brown blotches against a lighter background. This particular snake can be found in a number of different habitat types. We also have the Red Diamond Rattlesnake, which has the typical diamond pattern and can be seen in a number of color variations. Both snakes have a triangular-shaped head which distinguishes them from our non-venomous species. Unlike the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, the Red Diamond Rattlesnake has a distinct preference for coastal sage scrub vegetation and is considered a sensitive species.
We have two species of medium sized snakes that display stripped or banded color patterns. The Chaparral Whipsnake is black with two pale yellow stripes running the length of its body. As the name implies, this snake is seldom seen because it moves very quickly. The California Kingsnake can be dark brown or black with either white or yellow stripes, or bands. King Snakes are so called because they occasionally kill rattlesnakes.
One of the most common snakes in our canyons is the Gopher Snake. It is the largest snake in the area and is extremely beneficial in controlling gopher and ground squirrel populations. Unfortunately, because of its large size and mottled coloration it is mistakenly identified as a rattlesnake and killed. No snakes in our open space canyons should be killed. They are protected wildlife and the benefits they provide far outweigh any danger they may pose.