As the weather gets warmer, Orange County locals and visitors begin to hit the trails on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks to enjoy a variety of activities that are free with registration. Nature lovers aren’t the only ones enjoying the sun’s rays, snakes are also starting to come out on the Landmarks! The open spaces are home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, and snakes are important part of the natural ecosystem. Despite their infamous reputation, snakes are generally evasive and want to avoid human contact whenever possible. Below you can learn more about snakes in Orange County, why their numbers are expected to increase over summer, and how visitors to the Landmarks can happily coexist with the land and wildlife around them.
Snakes become less active in the winter months to conserve energy, entering into “brumation.” Like hibernation, brumation is the extreme slowing down of metabolism. During brumation snakes are awake, but very lethargic and inactive as they rely on the sun’s warm rays to keep warm. During the cooler seasons, snakes will dwell in areas like caves, hollow logs, under wood piles, and in the sides of creek beds and rivers. With spring in full swing and summer drawing near, temperatures are rising which causes snakes to emerge from their dwellings and underground burrows to once again feed and breed out on the land.
Snakes in Summer of 2017
Over the past five years, drought ruled Southern California which meant less vegetation, less birth of rodents and other small animals, and therefore less food for snakes. This past winter’s unusually wet months diminished the drought in California, and booted snakes from their dwellings near creek and river beds due to flooding. The high amounts of rain in January and February of this year also ushered in more abundant vegetation and a rise in the births of small animals. As spring emerges and the heat returns to the Landmarks, snakes are looking for new homes that provide shade and water and are thriving off increased numbers of prey.
Snakes Found in SoCal
One of the most common snakes found in Orange County is the California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula califoriae), a non-venomous breed that ranges in color. The Pacific gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer) is also common and one of the most widespread snakes in North America. The gopher snake is commonly misidentified as a rattlesnake because of its markings and defensive behavior. If a gopher snake feels threatened it will flatten its head, hiss loudly, and shake its tail rapidly, doing a very convincing rattlesnake imitation! Additional commonly found rattlesnakes in Orange County are the red diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) and the Southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri).
If you greet a snake on the trails do your best to remain calm and walk away, and remember snakes would rather not encounter humans. The snakes are likely more afraid of you than you are of them!
The vast majority of encounters between people and snakes both on and off the Landmarks are with non-venomous, harmless snakes. All snakes have an important role in the ecosystem, and it’s important to understand that snakes are not inherently aggressive nor looking to hunt or chase humans. By understanding this, people can behave in a calm and rational manner, instead of behaving rashly and creating an unsafe situation for themselves and the snake. Snakes tend to inhabit areas with brush, rocks, and a high amount of vegetation. By staying on a designated and open path, your chances of encountering a snake decreases.
A few tips to keep in mind when on the trails:
- Scan the trail in front of you to spot snakes resting on or crossing the trail.
- Don’t back snakes into an enclosed space, they feel threatened in tight conditions. Give them plenty of open space!
- Never step or reach into a hole, brush, or rock pile on the lands as they may have snakes (or other animals) inside.
- If you do see snake on the trails or open spaces, don’t panic – they belong there! Calmly walk away.
- If you see a snake in an urban area like a parking lot or picnic area, feel free to reach out to a ranger to report the sighting.
If you do happen to encounter a snake on or near a trail or open space, do not try to physically remove the snake or try to move it. Simply give the snake space to move freely on its own and enjoy your time on the Landmarks!
All activities on the Landmarks including equestrian, hiking, biking, and interpretive activities are free with required pre-registration, which closes at 4 p.m. the day prior to each event. For more details on stewardship programs on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks visit LetsGoOutside.org/activities.