WARM WEATHER WAKES SNAKES EXPERTS WARN RATTLERS ARE OUT EARLY THIS YEAR.
SANTA CLARITA -- Spring promises warmer days and budding blooms, but beware: Unseasonable weather has awakened rattlesnakes early from their winter snooze.
The local nature center has documented several sightings.
"When you have strange, erratic weather patterns, you have strange, erratic emergence of animals," said Ian Swift, director of the Placerita Canyon Nature Center and supervisor of the 350-acre park. "Things like temperature, rainfall, humidity are all these cues they respond to when it's time to emerge."
Gauges at the nature center measured just 2 inches of rainfall since July, one-tenth of the norm.
During winter, rattlers become inactive, imbedding themselves deep underground in abandoned animal burrows where the thermostat is pretty constant. Snakes are cold-blooded and unable to control their inner warmth.
"Warm temperatures and extended daylight causes reptiles to become active," said Russ Smith, general curator of reptiles at the Los Angeles Zoo. "They start crawling around looking for food, and in early spring they start looking for a mate. This month, we've already had 90-degree weather, and that's gotten the little guys active."
If snakes had hands to set their ideal thermostat, they would fix it between 75 and 85 degrees.
Frank Hoffman, education director at the nature center, attributes the flurry of sightings before the first day of spring to warm weather and lack of rain.
According to the National Weather Service, southwestern California has experienced a very warm year, in part because of strong northeast winds blowing lots of warm, dry air.
Winter days when temperatures rise above the low 70s are considered warm. November tallied 10 such days; December had eight; January had five; and February had eight, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service.
Southern Pacific rattlesnakes are the species indigenous to Southern California. About 200 snakebites are reported each year statewide.
This month, a sixth-grader at Leona H. Cox Elementary School in Canyon Country was bitten by a juvenile rattlesnake that found its way into a classroom. The school backs up to a rugged hillside, and staff members are reviewing animal-safety precautions with students, Principal Laura Banda said.
Swift said the recent cold snap, where temperatures dipped lower than in decades, probably killed many snakes, especially babies. Snake season typically ranges from mid-March to late October.
"Snakes are a natural rodent control," Hoffman said. "They're part of nature's checks and balances."
Experts caution against handling rattlesnakes and urge people to call the department of animal control for removal. If you are bitten, call 911, immediately lower the area of the bite below your heart and remove any jewelry or clothing that might constrict blood flow.
David Stives, animal keeper at the Placerita Nature Center, holds a rattlesnake that was found recently on the trails at the park. Rattlers are coming out earlier this year, and Santa Clarita residents are warned to leave the snakes alone and call animal control.
David Crane/Staff Photographer