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California

We asked, you answered: Californians’ best snake stories

Snake stories
We asked readers for their snake stories. We heard from dozens of people who have seen the reptiles under sinks, in bedrooms and on patios.
(San Diego County Department of Animal Services)

This summer, we asked our readers for their stories of snake encounters while living in California. Dozens responded, sharing tales of snakes under the kitchen sink or slithering out from behind their dressers.

The following have been lightly edited for clarity.

In the house

Lysa Gresalfi, Temecula
In 2014, I had moved from Northern California. I was renting a home on a ranch in Temecula wine country. It was a very hot evening and I was in my bedroom. My dog Lola started barking at the dresser and wouldn’t stop. I kept telling her to cut it out and then a 4-foot white snake slithered from behind the dresser. I grabbed both my dogs and ran out to a neighbor’s. He came over with a hook and captured it. Thankfully it wasn’t a rattlesnake.

Jeff Aubuchon, Joshua Tree
My friend and I bought an old house in Joshua Tree last summer. I smelled something funny, which I traced to the kitchen sink. I ferreted around down there but found nothing. Two weeks later we hired a contractor to replace the sink. He found a decaying rattlesnake. His comment: “At least you don’t have mice — it starved to death.” Best housewarming present I ever found.

Lexy Pappas, Santa Rosa
On an evening in 2009, I had taken my dog out to play after I came home from ballet, still wearing tights and a leotard. She walked up to the side of our deck and sniffed at a roughly five-foot-long rattlesnake that was sitting on tiles to cool down. It didn’t move even after I ran up and pulled my dog away. My mom then had our neighbor come over and chop up the snake with a shovel.

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Ali Kermani, Monrovia
Soon after moving into our new house in 2017, I went to take out the trash one night. Once I got outside I saw that my trash bag was torn and leaking fluid. A few minutes later my wife walked outside and suddenly the loudest rattling sound filled the air! We turned on the lights and were shocked to find a large rattlesnake coiled up on the third stair from our door, right next to the beginning of the line of fluid that was leaking out of the trash bag. Sure enough, you could see where the snake had struck the bag and torn it.

Snake-removal services sprang up because of a desire to tame nature, but the rattlers thrive just the same. Says one wrangler: “We build our homes on their homes, we just build nicer ones.”

In nature

Michael Pope, Sierra foothills
On a solo backpack trip in spring 1998, I was stuck in my tent for three days and nights because of heavy, nonstop rain. When it finally stopped raining, I gathered my wet belongings and traveled nearby to a river with a beautiful waterfall. There were many small and large boulders next to the river. I quickly took my clothes off and stretched on a large boulder and basked in the early morning sun. After a while I was awakened by an unusual sound. I opened my eyes to see a very large rattler in a raised striking position very close to me.

Luckily there was a small tree branch close by. I grabbed it and swished him off me as I made a fast retreat. I got back to my tent, gathered my things and continued my trip. The next day, I stopped in the area where the snake was and sure enough he was there coiled up. That was his sunbathing spot and I gladly let him have it.

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Jese Zankich, Los Feliz
When I worked at Griffith Observatory in spring 2017, a gopher snake tried to enter the front doors of the building. It decided to climb the stairs all the way to the roof of the building! I had to accompany it the whole way up until the park rangers arrived to safely escort it somewhere else. Patrons were in disbelief when I told them the stairs were closed — until they caught a glimpse of the snake inching its way up.

Ben Wolfe III, Death Valley
While cooking abalone for dinner my son spotted a snake. It was a baby sidewinder. So I pinned it with the kitchen tongs I was holding and picked it up. While showing it to the kids the snake twisted and sank a fang into my finger. Ten minutes later, my finger had swollen and changed color. At Ridgecrest Hospital an hour later, my throbbing hand and arm had swollen to the elbow. The E.R. doctor asked how I knew it was a rattlesnake. I sheepishly replied, “I was holding it” and never felt so foolish. Then he said, “You are an atypical snake bite victim.” I asked why and he replied, “Well, you seem like a nice guy, you’re not drunk, you don’t have any tattoos, and you’ve got health insurance.” The nurse couldn’t stop laughing. I received eight vials of anti-venom and was released the next day. My insurance paid 100% because it was deemed “accidental” even though I’d purposely picked the snake up.

Rattlesnakes are part of life in Southern California, but there are plenty of misconceptions about them.

Jim LaVally, Palos Verdes Peninsula
After a mild heart attack and the insertion of a couple of stents in an artery in spring 2017, I had been told to take it easy for a few days. I went for a hike instead, only to find my usual hiking area enveloped in towering mustard. I lost the main trail, wandering widely. A high pulse rate wasn’t what the doctor ordered. I shot downhill to reach a road, scanning the sky for orientation. Then, whoa. The Rain-Bird-sprinkler spffftttt of a rattler. Three feet apart, we had frightened each other. The snake flew to the trailside but couldn’t penetrate the brush. Stalemate. I mulled the effects of mixing blood thinners and venom. Retreat meant a hot, uphill hike. I leaned ahead. A flick of the rattle. I moved tectonically. The snake held me in a calm stare, inches from my boots. Then, phew, I glided down the trail with a dropping pulse rate; grateful for the snake’s timely rattle and courteous manner.

Janet Brown, Anaheim
I was leading a troop of Girl Scouts on a ecological service project in the Coal Canyon Ecological Reserve about 10 years ago. We had heard about the need to remove non-indigenous plants from the reserve. The Scouts were excited but concerned about seeing snakes. As soon as we hooked up with the ranger, I asked him about the likelihood of seeing a rattlesnake. He said it was so rare it would be akin to winning the lottery. I should have bought a ticket, because we crossed paths with a red diamondback. I was in the middle of the pack of girls and instructed the Scouts in front to slowly back up. The ranger was as excited as a kid at Christmas. There happened to be potential donors who were working on creating the preserve and this was a fine example of the rare wildlife inhabiting the area. That day we saw the rare Tecate cypress tree that grows in the preserve, along with this beautiful snake, which slowly slithered away as we stood trembling. It’s an experience I’m sure the Scouts will never forget.

Aryan Sarbaz, Los Angeles
In 2016, I was hiking with a friend early in the morning on a summer day. We were on the trail at a point where it was narrow and next to the mountainside. I suddenly stopped and froze when I heard a rattle. I looked to my right, and no more than a few feet away from my face did I see what looked like a baby rattlesnake wound up in strike position looking directly at me. I calmly told my friend, “Don’t panic. Back up slowly and be quiet, there’s a rattlesnake next to us.” Unfortunately, he didn’t receive the message. He began screaming and running the other direction. I took off as well. We didn’t stick around to find out what happened to the snake.

Niels Hansen, Joshua Tree
While hiking, I put my boot down less than a foot in front of a juvenile rattlesnake — three to four feet long. It was just cruising along the desert floor, minding its own business. It went around my booted foot, and continued on its way through the underbrush ... leaving me to ponder how much worse it could have been.


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