There are dozens of species of snakes in Northern California, some of them venomous and some of them not. If you plan on going hiking or backpacking in the backcountry of Northern California it is important to be able to recognize common snakes and make yourself aware of which are poisonous or deadly if they strike. Familiarizing yourself with the harmful ones and carrying a guidebook can help. Do not ever attempt to handle a snake unless you are 100 percent positive that it is not venomous. Even if you are sure that it will not cause harm, try your best not to disturb it unless you are a professional handler conducting research.
The Northern Rubber Boa, Western Yellow-bellied Racer, Sharp-Tailed Snake, California King Snake, Striped Whipsnake, California Striped Racer and Pacific Gopher Snake do not carry venom and are considered harmless to humans. Garter snakes such as the Oregon Garter Snake, Sierra Garter Snake, Terrestrial Garter Snakes including the Mountain and Coast Garter Snakes, Northwestern Garter Snake, Valley and California Red-sided Garter snakes all have venom in their saliva. Though this is not dangerous to humans, it does not usher a pleasant reaction. Many of these snakes may look scary though, and some of them are often confusing to identify. Gopher snakes can often be mistaken for venomous rattlesnakes for example.
The Northwestern Ring-necked, Coral-bellied ring-necked and pacific ring-necked snakes are all harmless to humans but have mild venom which helps to debilitate small prey. The Desert Night Snake and California Night Snake are also mildly venomous but not harmful to humans.
Western Rattlesnakes such as the Great Basin Rattle snake and the Northern Pacific Rattle snake are venomous and can be dangerous to humans. Many people are scared of snakes because of scenes in movies where snakes attack, but snakes will only strike at a human in defense if they are startled or feel threatened in some way. The best thing you can do is be observant and keep an eye out for snakes so that you can give them their space and avoid them. Sometimes this means being extra aware, as snakes naturally blend in quite well to their environment.
Article Written By Naomi Judd
Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.