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Photo, left: rattlesnake in Ramona, by Elena Pena

By Miriam Raftery

September 3, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – Neurotoxic snake bites, known as “super bites”, were formerly  rare in our region, found mainly in the Mojave Desert. But 10 News reports these serious bites are occurring now in suburban areas of San Diego and East County.

A dog with a neurotoxin bite in Del Cerro, for example, went into shock and had difficulty walking. The dog was treated at Pet Emergency and Specialty Center in La Mesa, where vets told 10 news that three of the ten snakebites treated in the past week have been neurotoxic bites.

Some doctors have theorized that Mojave green rattlesnakes, the most potent species of rattlesnake,  may have made their way into our region or cross bred with other rattlers to produce more toxic venom.  A fisherman bitten along Boulder Creek near Julian in 2010 lost conscienciousness and died within minutes, as ECM reported, one of several severe reactions seen recently in humans as well as pets.

If your or your pet is bitten by a rattlesnake, it’s important to seek out medical treatment immediately, since anti-venom injections can save lives.

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Expert opinion?

I wish this story had followed the usual ECM guidelines of getting a second opinion. Snake experts are all too familiar with the mythology of the Mojave Green (a real snake--and one that actually exhibits two different venom varieties: one neurotoxic, the other not). The Mojave Green does NOT inhabit this area, though I've heard folks from Fish and Wildlife, etc. claim otherwise. This snake is the backcountry boogie-man, and small animal vets are not experts on reptiles. ECM readers deserve more accurate reporting. . . .

Past stories on Mojave Greens found here

LK -- Our story was actually based also on earlier reports in recent years indicating Mojave Greens are being found here. Here are a few of the stories:

Mission Valley News reported a sighting of a Mojave Green rattlesnake in Mission Trails Regional Park recently, and ran a photo:

Animal Urgent Care's site lists Mojave Greens as among the species now found across the county: A little boy was reportedly bitten by a Mojave Green near Camp Pendleton, the

NY Daily News and others reported:

Anecdotes vs science - let's not start killing more snakes

For those who hear these stories and want to kill more snakes than ever based on the notion that our local snakes are supposedly hybridizing with Mojaves - which do not occur here - or have suddenly evolved more dangerous venom, and thus now more dangerous than ever, they should know the science and evolution of venom is very complicated, and a few anecdotal stories about people and pets having bad experiences with snake bites do not paint an informed picture of what may or may not have changed in our local snakes. For the record most vipers have some degree of both hemotoxin and neurotoxin, and thus any adaptive or other changes in the venom, for whatever reasons that may have nothing to do directly with humans, is not that unusual - or new. The first documented case of more neurotoxic venom in our local southern pacific rattlesnakes was back in 1999. And, these stories above are not from clinical assessments of venom, or DNA analysis, so they really don't tell anything conclusive we didn't know already: be careful with yourself and your pets around rattlesnakes. As Dr. Bill Hayes (local LLU expert on venom) says, "the idea that rattlesnake venoms are rapidly evolving to become more dangerous, aided by rampant hybridization, finds little support from what we know about the distribution of Mojave-like toxins. The adaptive value of having a highly toxic venom seems questionable, as most individual snakes actually produce less toxic venom as they grow." - Renee Owens


Me and my sons were camping at Burnt Ranch and the CDF had a fire truck on display for forest visitors. We were walking back to our camp site and I nearly stepped on a small rattlesnake. Four inches from my foot. I stopped in my tracks and spread my arms out so Brian and Casey would stop and they bumped into my back. I've seen other snakes in the desert and one near Ocotillo must have been four or more feet long.

The Best Care Anywhere

Doctor Jenkins doesn't treat dogs or cats but provides the best care anywhere for birds, reptiles and other "exotic" pets. The Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital is a short drive from the east county on Interstate 8 to Morena Boulevard.