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Species Spotlight: Shy, But Dangerous: The Northern Red-Diamond Rattlesnake

Oct 30, 2023 | MSHCP, Species

Contrary to popular belief, rattlesnakes are not typically an aggressive species – striking only when they feel provoked or threatened. The northern red-diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber ruber) is no different, and like many others of its kind, tends to avoid humans and will retreat given the opportunity. But make no mistake, this rusty red rattlesnake carries with it a formidable venom that is harmful to its prey and humans alike.

The northern red-diamond rattlesnake commonly hunts prey by scent and heat receptors but allow their venom to do the heavy lifting. The venom eliminates the need to restrain struggling creatures, which may otherwise result in injury to the snake. Once the animal succumbs to the venom, the rattlesnake devours the creature whole.

The snake’s tail has a distinctive rattle – using it to send warning signals. Made up of keratin-protein segments, the rattle adds new segments each time the snake sheds its skin. They typically sound off their rattle when threatened to warn creatures that might cause harm, but although uncommon, they are capable of biting without sounding the rattle at all.

Northern red-diamond rattlesnakes are known to be primarily nocturnal and active during cooler, evening hours. They have a wide tolerance for varying environments and have been seen crossing lakes or streams. They enjoy the delicacy of rodents, such as mice and ground squirrels, making them vital contributors in the maintenance of a balanced ecosystem.

Their young incubate within thin-walled, ready-to-hatch eggs inside their mothers, where they break out almost immediately when fully developed. Once born, the young tend to fend for themselves with no protection from their mother.

The species has been observed throughout western Riverside County, including elevations below 5,000 feet in the San Jacinto Mountains and other sage scrub and chaparral habitats. Up to 20 percent of habitat loss in the region may have resulted from the increase of urban development and agriculture on steeper rock slopes, which has significantly intruded into their habitats. Although this species may fall prey to wild and domestic animals, urban and agricultural development, automobiles, and human interactions have proven to be the most destructive factors for this species. Thanks to the MSHCP, approximately 338,672 acres of potential habitat are targeted for conservation for the northern red-diamond rattlesnake.