Commonly known as the Mohave Green Rattlesnake, Mohave Diamond Rattlesnake, and the Desert Diamondback, the Mohave Rattlesnake is a venomous pit viper, best known for its especially potent venom. It is the subject of many unfounded myths, including that it is some sort of unusual hybrid, has no rattles, etc. It is, in fact, one of California’s six native rattlesnake species. It has a reputation for being particularly aggressive and deadly to humans; however, the scientific and medical literatures do not support these common beliefs. Nonetheless, it is a dangerous snake worthy of respect and caution.
Mohave Rattlesnakes are desert animals. In California, they are found in the desert areas of San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and Kern Counties, as well as the southern edge of Inyo County. Wild rattlesnakes encountered in northern California or in the mountains and coastal areas of southern California are other species. Their habitat is primarily open desert areas among scrub brush such as mesquite and creosote, but they may also reside among cacti, Joshua tree forests, or grassy plains. They often shelter in rodent burrows. Construction in areas that were previously wilderness can create snake “hot spots.”
This snake grows to a length of two to four feet. The color varies from shades of brown to pale green depending on the surroundings. It closely resembles the Western Diamondback rattlesnake; both have a dark diamond pattern down their backs and tails ringed with black and white bands. However, on the Mohave Rattlesnake, the white bands tend to be wider than the black and the diamonds fade toward the tail, whereas in the Diamondback, the band width is usually more equal and the diamonds do not fade so noticeably.
The venom of the Mohave Rattlesnake contains a potent neurotoxin that has proven to be one of the most lethal to mice in laboratory tests. As with all snakebites, the amount of venom injected is highly variable and not immediately obvious. In the case of the Mohave Rattlesnake, the severity of the bite is sometimes initially underestimated because the onset of signs and symptoms can be delayed and because severe envenomation may occur with little or no bruising or swelling at the bite location (which is typical of most other rattlesnake species).
Although there may be few local effects, there may be significant neurologic poisoning, eventually producing a variety of effects including vision abnormalities and difficulty swallowing and speaking. In severe cases, skeletal muscle weakness can lead to difficulty in breathing and even respiratory failure. Fatalities, however, are uncommon. Note: contrary to popular myth, pencil-sized newborn rattlesnakes are not more dangerous than adults. Regardless of how much of their venom they inject or any difference in potency, they have far less venom available than larger snakes. Research shows that severe bites are usually caused by large rattlesnakes; they simply have much more venom to inject.
Stay calm and call 911. It is important to get to a hospital as soon as possible while minimizing physical exertion. It may be useful in southern California (where there are several kinds of rattlesnakes) to get a good description of the snake (color, dorsal pattern, tail rings, etc.) but do not get close to the snake. Do not try to catch or kill it, and do not delay getting help for the victim. A digital photo (camera or cell phone) works well, if it can be done safely and without delay. While enroute or waiting for help, remove jewelry, tight clothing, and shoes from the bitten limb in anticipation of swelling. If possible, immobilize the affected limb with a splint. Other first aid measures waste time and may cause additional injury. Do not apply ice, use a tourniquet, or “cut and suck.” The only definitive treatment for rattlesnake bite, including Mohave Rattlesnakes, is antivenom administered in a hospital setting.
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