Discover the Largest Southern California Rattlesnake Ever Recorded

Written by Gail Baker Nelson
Updated: June 15, 2023
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Some snakes get really big, while others stay small and cute. Who doesn’t love a San Francisco garter snake? Its beautiful red and blue coloration makes it distinctive.

But we’re not talking about a garter snake today, are we? The biggest rattlesnake in the world is the eastern diamondback, but there are a couple of other big rattlers out there — including the red diamond and the western diamondback rattlesnakes. Both snakes occur in southern California.

Most of us will never find a rattler in our yards, never mind a huge one. You would never forget an encounter like that!

Largest Rattlesnake Found in Southern California

Can you imagine a six-foot-long rattlesnake in your yard, ready to attack your dog? That’s exactly what happened to Willow Godshalk-Gross on a hot summer afternoon.

According to the news report, on July 27, 2018, Godshalk-Gross heard her dog barking at something in the backyard. When she went to check on the pooch, she discovered it was barking at a rattlesnake that nearly attacked her dog.

At the time, she believed it was a small rattlesnake. After calling her father, she called 911 and the fire department responded.

When they arrived, the fire fighters went to work locating the troublesome serpent and discovered that it wasn’t such a small rattlesnake after all. Instead, it was an approximately six-foot-long red diamond rattlesnake — the largest species in San Diego county.

Firefighters respond to most rattlesnake calls in southern California and they said it was the biggest on they had seen. While we couldn’t find any sources to verify that it’s a record size, a six-foot red diamond rattler is huge.

California’s Rattlesnakes

The Golden State boasts an impressive number of snake species — over 50, plus several subspecies. Most of them are harmless colubrids like kingsnakes and gopher snakes, but a few are venomous. 

California’s venomous snakes are all rattlesnakes, which come with a built-in early warning system — when they use it! Part of the larger Crotalinae subfamily, rattlesnakes are unique to the New World. No other snake in the world has a rattle at the end of their tail. 

The species vary in size from one and a half feet long to over seven feet, but most are between two and four. Southern California has a couple of larger species including the western diamondback and red diamond rattlesnakes.

About the Region

The California Department of Wildlife responded to over 30,000 reports of wildlife encounters between 2015 and 2017. Although the state is huge, that’s an astounding number of reports. Of course, they aren’t all snake-related, but you get the picture. 

Santee is a city located about 20 minutes east of San Diego, California. New housing and commercial developments encroach on what was once open areas dotted by scrub brush and rocky outcrops inhabited by wildlife. As a growing city, conflicts between wildlife and residents or their pets are inevitable.

Red Diamond Rattlesnakes

red diamond rattlesnake

Red Diamond Rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber) is a venomous North American Pit Viper you might discover in rocky areas of southern California.

©Creeping Things/

This species is native to southern California from the southern edge of San Bernardino County south to Baja California in Mexico. Red diamond rattlesnakes are a “Species of Special Concern” in California because of a declining population.

Although they’re not as nervous as western diamondback rattlesnakes, red diamond rattlesnakes are similar in size and venom amount. Juveniles have a tan to pinkish tan base color and reddish diamond-shaped blotches down their backs that fade and become black and white bands toward the tail. They darken to a brick red overall hue as they mature. 

Like all rattlesnakes, red diamond rattlers have vertical pupils and a big spade-shaped head. Their fangs are hinged and tuck into the roof of their mouth. Huge venom glands located behind their eyes make their cheeks much bigger than they would be otherwise, giving their neck a really thin appearance. 

Red diamond rattlers are highly venomous, but not aggressive and generally choose flight over fight. Almost all bites happen on the hands and feet after someone either stepped on or tried to grab the snake.

Other Snakes in Southern California

Aside from red diamond rattlesnakes, you’ll find many other species in southern California. One of the most common is the California kingsnake, known for eating other snakes, including venomous snakes like the red diamond rattlesnake.

Here are a few others you may encounter:

Keeping Snakes Out of Your Yard

The woman in the story had installed snake fencing around the lower edges of the fence to prevent snakes from entering. Snake fencing is terrific and minimizes the opportunities for them to get into yards. However, the snake managed to get in either by climbing over or found a gap at the bottom. 

Other options include clearing debris, not using large rocks as landscaping items, and removing any hiding places available to either the snakes or their prey. Some people believe that snake repellents and particular plants can help repel snakes, but none of these items have ever proven effective.

What Happened to the Rattlesnake?

Happily, everyone walked (or slithered) away unharmed. Godshalk-Gross’ dog wasn’t bitten, she was safe, and the snake has a new home. The fire department turned it over to a wildlife rescue group that fed and released the extremely large snake to a new and hopefully more remote location.

Where is Southern California Located on a Map?

Southern California is renowned for its abundant sunshine and breathtaking Pacific shoreline. Located just north of the Mexican border, San Diego is celebrated for its iconic surf spots and expansive Balboa Park, which houses a world-renowned zoo and museums.

Across the bay, you’ll find the charming resort city of Coronado. Continuing up the coastline, Los Angeles boasts Hollywood studios, the esteemed Getty Center showcasing fine art, Griffith Park, and the upscale boutiques of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Here is Southern California on a map:

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Creeping Things/

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About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

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