Discover The 12 Types of Rattlesnakes in California

rattlesnakes in california
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Written by Kellianne Matthews

Updated: October 5, 2023

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Mojave Desert California

California’s Mojave Desert is home to many of the rattlesnakes on this list.

©iStock.com/Attila Adam

California is home to 12 different types of rattlesnakes, making it the state with the second-highest number of rattlesnake species and subspecies in the United States. Rattlesnakes in California are quite common, found anywhere from the deserts of the south to coastal beach areas. Most of these snakes are non-aggressive. You are most likely to see them during the warmer months from April through October. So, what type of rattlesnakes live in California?

1. Panamint Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

The panamint rattlesnake lives in California and Nevada.

©Marina Kehl/Shutterstock.com

Panamint Rattlesnake
RangeSoutheastern California & northern parts of the Mojave Desert
Length23-52 inches

The panamint rattlesnake lives in the southeastern regions of California and northern portions of the Mojave Desert, right along the California-Nevada border. This snake gets its name from the Panamint Mountains in Death Valley, which lie in the center of its overall range. Panamint rattlesnakes are 23-52 inches long with off-white, gray, tan, yellow, or orange-colored bodies. They have blotched patterns along their bodies that are gray, brown, or reddish-brown. There is also a dark ring or band near the rattle at the end of their tails.

2. Great Basin Rattlesnake (Western Rattlesnake)

Rattlesnakes in California

Often leading to confusion, the Great Basin rattlesnakes and the Great Basin gopher snake look similar.

©Randy Bjorklund/Shutterstock.com

Great Basin Rattlesnake
RangeNortheastern California
Length16-64 inches

The Great Basin rattlesnake is found in Northeastern California, favoring areas with agriculture, grassy plains, stony canyons, and rocky hillsides. This snake lives along much of the Great Basin area of the United States, which is where its name comes from. The Great Basin gopher snake, a non-venomous snake species, looks very similar to the Great Basin rattlesnake. Sadly, their similar appearance and mimicking behaviors result in a great deal of unnecessary violence to the harmless Great Basin gopher snake.

You can tell the two apart by several identifying characteristics. First, the Great Basin rattlesnake has a large, triangular-shaped head and a much thicker, stockier body than the gopher snake. While both snakes rattle their tails as a defense, the gopher snake does not actually have a physical rattle like the Great Basin rattlesnake.

The Great Basin rattlesnake is a subspecies of the western rattlesnake, typically measuring 3 feet in length, although they can grow anywhere between 16-64 inches long. These snakes have neutral-colored bodies that are olive brown, yellowish brown, light brown, or pale gray, with dark blotches on their backs. The blotches also have pale-colored centers.

3. Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

The western diamondback rattlesnake has very distinct black and white bands along the end of its tail.

©Alexander Wong/Shutterstock.com

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
RangeSoutheast California
Length48-72 inches

The western diamondback rattlesnake is found in the south-eastern regions of California, the southwestern U.S., and northern Mexico. These snakes are notorious due to their aggressive natures. They may, in fact, be the most aggressive species of rattlesnake. Whereas most rattlesnakes will hide, flee, or freeze, western diamondback rattlesnakes will choose to stand their ground and attack. These snakes are typically 4-6 feet long with gray bodies. As their name implies, they have diamond-shaped markings running along the middle of their backs. These “diamonds” are dark, outlined by light yellow or white. The end of their tails has distinct black and white bands or rings, like the pattern of a raccoon tail. Because of this, western diamondback rattlesnakes are also referred to as “Coon-Tail Rattlers.” 

4. Red Diamond Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

When threatened, the red diamondback rattlesnakes coil up, rattle, and may strike.

©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

Red Diamond Rattlesnake
RangeSouthwest California
Length40-55 inches

Striking in color, the red diamond rattlesnake lives in the southwest regions of California, Baja California, and some of the islands in the Gulf of California. This snake grows to be 40-55 inches long. However, the snakes living near the coast tend to grow longer than those in the deserts. The red diamond rattlesnake is a Species of Special Concern in California. Unfortunately, much of its habitat has been destroyed by urban development.

Red diamond rattlesnakes are reddish brown in color, with light-colored diagonal stripes on the face. There are lightly outlined diamond blotches running along the middle of their backs. Like the western diamond rattlesnake, the red diamond rattlesnake also has distinctive black and white rings at the end of its tail.

Of all the rattlesnakes in California, the red diamond rattlesnake’s venom is the least potent. However, without medical attention, a bite from this snake can be fatal. In fact, the red diamond rattlesnake’s venom gets more and more toxic as these snakes get older. Its venom is hemotoxic, causing pain, swelling, necrosis, and internal bleeding. The red diamond rattlesnake’s venom has helped in developing new drugs. Some scientists are even looking at it for possible anti-cancer properties.

5. Sidewinder Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

The sidewinder is also known as the horned rattlesnake.

©iStock.com/Josh Mitchell

Sidewinder Rattlesnake
RangeSoutheast California (Mojave & Sonoran Deserts)
Length17-30 inches

The sidewinder rattlesnake is found in the Mojave Desert and the Sonoran Desert in southeast California. These snakes can also be found in many desert regions of the United States and Northwest Mexico. Sidewinders move very differently from other snakes, winding their long bodies sideways across the sand. You can tell if a sidewinder has been in an area if you see their unique “J”-shaped body prints left behind in the sand.

Sidewinder rattlesnakes prefer sand or sandy soil, so their bodies are colored to match. These snakes grow to 17-30 inches in length with sandy colors like yellowish-brown, cream, pink, or tan. To further increase their camouflage, sidewinders have dark markings across their bodies like colored sand particles. Along with their unique way of moving, sidewinders can be distinguished by the “horns” just above their eyes, giving them the nickname “horned rattlesnakes.”

6. Mojave Desert Sidewinder

Rattlesnakes in California

The Mojave Desert sidewinder has a dark cheek stripe running from each eye to the mouth.

©RA fotografia/Shutterstock.com

Mojave Desert Sidewinder
RangeSoutheastern California
Length17-33 inches

The Mojave Desert sidewinder is a rattlesnake found in Southeastern California, the southwestern deserts of the United States, and Northwest Mexico. It is a subspecies of the sidewinder rattlesnake, with many similar behaviors. The Mojave Desert sidewinder uses the same unique method of locomotion to move across desert sands and up sand-covered slopes. It also buries itself in the sand to ambush prey in the same way the sidewinder rattlesnake does.

Mojave Desert sidewinders are 17-33 inches long and can be gray, brown, tan, cream, or pink. They have darker, geometric blotches running down the middle of their backs, with smaller patches scattered across their bodies that help them to blend in with the sand.  They have a dark stripe that runs from the eye down to the corner of the mouth. Mojave Desert sidewinders also have horn-like scales right above their eyes.

7. Colorado Desert Sidewinder

Rattlesnakes in California

The Colorado Desert sidewinder lives in the Colorado Desert portion of the Sonoran Desert.

©Mark_Kostich/Shutterstock.com

Colorado Desert Sidewinder
RangeFar Southeast corner of California (Sonoran Desert)
Length17-33 inches

The Colorado Desert sidewinder lives in the far southeast corner of California in the Sonoran Desert. It is also found in Arizona and Mexico. This snake is a subspecies of the sidewinder rattlesnake, with many similar behaviors, like moving in the “sidewinding” motion across desert sands and hiding in the sand to ambush its prey.

Colorado Desert sidewinders are usually gray, cream, or light tan in color, with dark grey or brown blotches along their backs. Like the Mojave Desert sidewinder, the Colorado Desert sidewinder also has a dark strip of color running from each eye to the back corner of the mouth, as well as horn-like scales above each eye. It is difficult to tell these two subspecies apart from one another, due to their similar appearance and behavior. The most obvious difference is that the Colorado Desert sidewinder is found further south in the Colorado Desert, whereas the Mojave Desert sidewinder lives just north of this range.

8. Northern Pacific Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

The longest northern pacific rattlesnake on record was 64 inches long.

©Ryan M. Bolton/Shutterstock.com

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
RangeNorth & Central California
Length39 inches

The Northern Pacific rattlesnake lives in Northern and Central California. Its range stretches from southwest Canada through many western U.S. states all the way down to northern Mexico. In general, the Northern Pacific rattlesnake is around 39 inches long, but many longer ones have been recorded. This snake is usually gray, brown, tan, or even black, with very large dark blotches running down its back. These darker blotches are outlined with a cream color, creating very small spaces between the large dark blotches. These darker blotches change into rings at the end of the snake’s tail, continually getting darker until they are nearly black. As Northern Pacific rattlesnakes get older, their colors darken, and their patterns become much less clear.

Northern Pacific rattlesnakes are not usually aggressive. However, they have potent venom with hemotoxins and neurotoxins that can cause headaches, necrosis, internal bleeding, and cardiovascular issues.

9. Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

The Southern Pacific rattlesnakes inhabit coastal areas in southwestern California.

©Audrey Snider-Bell/Shutterstock.com

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
RangeSouthern California
Length24-55 inches

The Southern Pacific rattlesnake lives mostly in the coastal regions of Southern California, Mexico, Baja California, and some of the Santa Catalina Islands. It often lives along beaches, forests, mountains, and desert brush. The venom of Southern Pacific rattlesnakes contains potent neurotoxins like the Mojave rattlesnake, attacking the nervous system and disrupting breathing and muscle control.

The Southern Pacific rattlesnake is 24-55 inches long and is usually gray, olive-brown, brown, yellowish-brown, or almost black. It has darkly outlined blotches running down the middle of its back, separated by lighter strips of color. These dark blotches are diamond-shaped, but near the end of the tail, they become stripes. Due to this diamond-shaped pattern, the Southern Pacific rattlesnake is also called the black diamond rattlesnake and the gray diamond-back mountain rattler.

10. Mojave Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

The Mojave rattlesnake, including both of its subspecies, typically grows to between 3.3 ft and 4.5 ft.

©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

Mojave Rattlesnake
RangeThe Mojave Desert in California
Length39-54 inches

The Mojave rattlesnake, also known as the Mojave green, only lives in the Mojave Desert in California. This snake is 39-54 inches long. It is usually brown, although some may have a greenish hue, which is why they are sometimes called “Mojave green” snakes. Mojave rattlesnakes have dark-colored diamond markings along their backs. They also have a white band around their tails before the rattle. Mojave rattlesnakes are some of the most dangerous snakes in North America because of how potent their toxic venom is.

11. Northern Mojave Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

The Northern Mojave rattlesnake is one of the deadliest snakes in the United States.

©Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com

Northern Mojave Rattlesnake
RangeCommon across California
Length24-51 inches

The Northern Mojave rattlesnake is common throughout California, the Southwestern United States, and Mexico. These snakes are 24-51 inches long and are a subspecies of the Mojave rattlesnake. Their appearance is much like the Mojave rattlesnake, with base colors of brown, tan, gray, olive green, and yellow, patterned with dark diamond-like shapes along the middle of their backs. Like the Mojave rattlesnake, the Northern Mojave rattlesnake is one of the most venomous rattlesnakes in the world.

12. Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes in California

The southwestern speckled rattlesnake is usually shy and blends into its surrounding environment.

©iStock.com/reptiles4all

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake
RangeSouthern California
Length39 inches or less

The southwestern speckled rattlesnake is found in most of Southern California, especially in the south-eastern desert areas of the state. These snakes generally do not grow more than 39 inches in length in the United States. They get their name from the “speckles” of color covering their tan or light brown bodies They also have small dark bands along the length of their bodies as well. Their colors and markings work as excellent camouflage, so each snake varies in appearance. Some snakes may have additional colors, like yellow, pink, orange, white, or gray, depending on where they are found. These colors and patterns help speckled rattlesnakes blend in with the sandy, rock areas where they live.

Summary Of The 12 Types of Rattlesnakes in California

Here’s a recap of the different rattlesnakes found in the state of California:

NumberSnakeLocation
1Panamint RattlesnakeSoutheastern California & northern parts of the Mojave Desert
2Great Basin Rattlesnake (Western Rattlesnake)Northeastern California
3Western Diamondback RattlesnakeSoutheast California
4Red Diamond RattlesnakeSouthwest California
5Sidewinder RattlesnakeSoutheast California (Mojave & Sonoran Deserts)
6Mojave Desert SidewinderSoutheastern California
7Colorado Desert SidewinderFar Southeast of California (Sonoran Desert)
8Northern Pacific RattlesnakeNorth & Central California
9Southern Pacific RattlesnakeSouthern California
10Mojave RattlesnakeMojave Desert
11Northern Mojave RattlesnakeCommon across California
12Southwestern Speckled RattlesnakeSouthern California

Other Dangerous Animals Found In California

Mountain lion stares into camera

Mountain lions

are obligate carnivores and must eat meat to survive.

©Kwadrat/Shutterstock.com

The mountain lion, also known as the cougar, is a large cat native to the United States and has the widest geographic range of any large, wild mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They are tan in color, mostly covered in tawny-beige fur except for a whitish-grey belly and chest. Males can weigh up to 220 pounds, while females can get up to 141 pounds.

It is generally rare to see mountain lions as they are known to be elusive, secretive and solitary animals, although fatal encounters with this large cat have increased, due to the continual encroachment of humans on their territory.

Types of Wild Dogs

Opportunistic coyotes take advantage of pet food and garbage, especially in urban environments.

©iStock.com/jamesvancouver

One of the most common species in the United States is the coyote, which can be found in mountainous, desert and urban regions, and while they rarely attack people, they can be a danger to small pets, livestock and on occasion small children. This canine, which can reach a weight of 46 pounds, is an extremely intelligent animal, with an acute sense of smell and hearing. As an opportunistic feeder, they have been able to survive in a changing environment.

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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on anthrozoology, conservation, human-animal relationships, and animal behavior. Kellianne has been writing and researching animals for over ten years and has decades of hands-on experience working with a variety of different animals. She holds a Master’s Degree from Brigham Young University, which she earned in 2017. A resident of Utah, Kellianne enjoys creating, exploring and learning new things, analyzing movies, caring for animals, and playing with her cats.

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