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Research is now underway to determine if Catalina’s rattlesnakes are a subspecies new to science. Rattlesnakes have been on Catalina long enough that they could have evolved by now. The question is, have they? Naturalists have long suspected that the Island's rattlesnakes seem a little different from other members of the rattlesnake group.

For example, they appear stouter and sometimes seem to require more provocation to coil up and strike than their mainland counterparts. And the scale patterns on their heads appear to be unique, among other things.

Of course all of the observations that seem true may not actually be true. And even if some of them are true, it doesn’t automatically mean we have a new subspecies. DNA analysis is the most conclusive scientific measure, and samples are currently being analyzed at Loma Linda University's Department of Earth and Biological Sciences in San Bernardino County, California. We should know a lot more in the none-to-distant future.

Meanwhile, we’ve heard a number of people claiming our rattlers are a new species, but at this point in time, we just don’t know. For now it’s best to explain that while there’s reason to believe our rattlers might be a new subspecies, we won’t know for sure until the results are in. Science is like that – it sometimes takes a long period of time to come to a conclusion.
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Bonus Reminder: Catalina’s rattlesnakes do have rattles. There is a Santa Catalina Island in the Gulf of California that has rattle-less rattlesnakes. That place is Isla Santa Catalina off the eastern shore of Baja California – not our Catalina Island. Many articles on the subject fail to emphasize that the rattle-less snakes are associated with the Mexican island in the Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California.  When visitors hit the web to do a little research before their trip, they frequently run into the “fact” and are eager to repeat it here on California’s Catalina Island. As a result, we can expect to keep correcting the understandable mistake for years to come. Rather than simply telling your guests they’re mistaken, a better interpretive approach might be to say: “Ah, I think I know where you read that, but I bet what they didn’t tell you is … “

Fact or Fiction? Snakes don’t have eyelids.


Issue #12 / All About Snakes


A Guide’s Guide to Catalina’s Snakes
More Catalina Snake Facts
Fact or Fiction: Rattlers Don’t Have Eyelids
Did You Know … Rattlers’ System Thermal

Photo by Julie KIng

Whether science determines this Catalina resident is a regular Southern Pacific rattlesnake or a distinct subspoecies unto its own, it is still a dangerous serpent to encounter in the wild -- a viper with toxic venom.

Missed recent issues?
Issue #1 / All About Bison

Issue #2 / All About Birds

Issue #3 / All About Plants
Issue #4 / All About Eagles
Issue #5 / All About Ravens & Crows
Issue #6 / All About Natives & Invasives  
Issue #7 / All About Rain
Issue #8 / All About Bison Roundup
Issue #9 / All About Foxes
Issue #10 / All About Weeds
Issue #11 / All About Eagle Hatchlings



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