Great Basin Rattlesnake

Crotalus oreganus lutosus
Great Basin Rattlesnake 2

During the summer, numerous snakes may be seen crossing or warming themselves on the road.  Rattlesnakes, in particular, descend from their hibernation sites in the rocky slopes of the Ruby Mountains and the Maverick range to forage at lower elevations (including the refuge and surrounding valley).  After feeding, shedding, and perhaps mating during the course of the summer, the rattlesnakes will return to their hibernation sites in the fall.  Drive slowly on Ruby Valley Road to avoid hitting them.

Great Basin Rattlesnake - male 

Many people fear rattlesnakes, but they are not naturally aggressive.  Their rattle is, in fact, an acoustic warning device that allows them to say "Here I am.  Don't step on me."  Biting is a last resort, as rattlesnakes typically strike when retreat is not an option.  An injured or frightened rattlesnake will bite to defend itself.  The most common rattlesnake bites are on the hands and forearms, especially of teenage boys and men in their early twenties that just can't leave them alone!  Additionally, care should be taken when walking in brush not to step on one and dogs should be kept on a leash and under control in rattlesnake territory. Still, it is important to note that more people are killed in the Unites States each year by livestock and domestic dogs, even lightning strikes, than by rattlesnakes.

*Handling rattlesnakes requires knowledge and use of safety precautions as well as some specialized tools.  Even then sometimes the most experienced of herpetologists can occasionally be bitten.  Collecting of snakes for study also requires a permit from the state.  On the refuge, all reptiles and amphibians are protected.*



Turn to the next page to learn about a study of Great Basin Rattlesnakes that was conducted on and around Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge from 2010 to 2013.

So what do folks do for fun in their spare time while living on the refuge?  One local biologist spent his summer evenings looking for snakes along Ruby Valley Road.  Over the period of 4 summers (2010 to 2013) he collected and preserved dozens of dead rattlesnakes on the road while also capturing, measuring, and releasing 187 live rattlesnakes (including 23 recaptured snakes).  

Click to view a full sized image of the chart 



Live snakes were carefully measured and weighed before being released at the location where they were captured.  Dead snakes were preserved, but will eventually be dissected in order to learn about their diet. 

 Click to view a full sized image of the graph  

During this study, the great individual variety in both color and pattern of the Great Basin Rattlesnake was noted as demonstrated in the photos to the right.  For a better view of these photos visit our Reptile and Amphibian Gallery.  



Facts About Great Basin Rattlesnake

Birth size: Under 30 cm in total length 

Maximum adult size: Adult males may exceed 1.0 meter in total length

Diet: Small mammals, although other vertebrates such as lizards and birds may be taken

Mating season: Most mating takes place during mid or late summer

 Great Basin Rattlesnake by Rod Wittenberg  Great Basin Rattlesnake by Rod Wittenberg  Great Basin Rattlesnake by Rod Wittenberg  Great Basin Rattlesnake by Rod Wittenberg