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First snake rattles into town

Recent rains could be behind early sighting on Gleneagles Place.

February 23, 2011|By Sara Cardine

La Cañada homeowner Neal Peterson is a walking library of snake-encounter stories, beginning with the one about the rattler that slithered out from the boards of his house while it was under construction in 1975.

Then there was the five-footer who lashed out at his wife from its resting spot near a storage shed, and the rattler that was found dead next to the body of a cat who used up all nine of its lives in the deadly heat of battle. Dogs gone missing, gruesome shovel beheadings and fire-department dispatches to the occasional in-home invasion are nothing new to homeowners on Gleneagles Place and Starlight Crest. It’s all a part of living near the Hahamongna Watershed Park, a territory designated as an “urban interface, ” a place where houses and wildland vegetation coincide.

Rattlesnakes, lured by their innate reptilian desire for warmth, often make appearances in local neighborhoods in late April or May and can be seen into early autumn, says Los Angeles County Fire Captain Adrian Murrieta, who’s been on countless snake-wrangling missions in his seven years with the department. “We’ve seen a couple of rattlesnakes before that were 5 feet long. Over time, you just get used to dealing with them.”

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Seeing snakes is nothing new, but this year’s rattler season seems to have gotten off to an unusually early start, said Peterson, who spied a small rattler in his yard early last week. “We’ve never missed a year of snakes, but this is the earliest we’ve ever seen them,” Peterson added.

The early sightings may be the result of rapid changes of weather patterns, including recent rains, said Tim Hovey, an associate fisheries biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game. Hovey tracks populations of native fish, amphibians and reptiles throughout Southern California. In 2005, he received rattlesnake reports around the watershed area as early as January and February. “We found a den that had been completely washed out by rain — that may be what people are seeing now.”

Older, wiser rattlers team up and hunker down in spots known to stay dry, Hovey explained, but younger rattlers often take shelter in areas at high risk of flooding. If rain is followed by warm temperatures, these juvenile snakes may come out prematurely, still in a dormant state, where they are prone to attacks from crows and other large birds.

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