Rattlesnakes are Taking Over CA as Desert Tortoises Near Extinction

The seven species of toxic tanglers found in California are the ”fastest-growing animal population” in the state

While poisonous rattlesnake numbers are growing at an alarming pace in California as the summer approaches, their fellow Golden State reptilians, desert tortoises, are rapidly becoming a former species.

The syringe-mouthed serpents are “thriving” and “everywhere” in the Golden State, according to a recent joint study by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and University of Michigan, SF Gate reports.

The seven species of toxic tanglers found in California are the “fastest-growing animal population” in the state, researchers say. That’s partly due to climate change, which is working out fine for the vipers. The state is already warm and getting warmer, and rattlesnakes are thermoregulators, meaning they adjust their own body temperature to match their surroundings. When it comes to rattlesnakes, most like it hot—achieving optimal comfort between 86 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit.

“A warmer climate may help these snakes heat up to temperatures that are more optimal for digestion or reproduction,” University of Michigan student-researcher and project lead Hayley Crowell said in a statement.

A massive increase in the rattlesnake community could have major, ecosystem-wide impacts. While rattlers currently keep the ground squirrel population under control in California, the snakes themselves are prey for raptors—although it’s unclear from researchers why an overabundance of squirrels and giant birds would be anything other than delightful.

And as rattlesnakes, raptors and rodents fight for dominance, the humble desert tortoises of Joshua Tree face more immediate desolation.

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday granted temporary endangered species status to the Mojave desert tortoise, and the armored charmers are under consideration for permanent listing, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The tortoises have already been on the federal endangered species list since the ’90s, reported KTLA.

The Defenders of Wildlife, the Desert Tortoise Council, and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee petitioned on behalf of the tortoise, in hopes that taking the reptile from “threatened” to “endangered” would help to “reverse the very real likelihood that the desert tortoise will become extinct in California.”

There is no special treatment or level of protection offered to animals that are “threatened” versus “endangered,” but species officially deemed endangered rank higher in priority for conservation funding for things like “habitat protection, recovery efforts and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of projects,” reports the Times.

“Anybody who has visited the Southern California desert over the past three decades knows this action is long overdue,” said Tom Egan, a biologist with Defenders of Wildlife.

The Gopherus agassizii can live between 30 to 50 years; it is a herbivore that weighs up to 15 pounds. During the winter and the extreme heat, they hibernate in burrows they dig themselves.

The tortoise population has declined by 50 percent in some recovery habitats, and by “as much as 90% in some critical habitat management units since the 1980s.” Major causes of tortoise death include drought, which has been significantly worse in California in recent years, disease, habitat loss, and being hit by cars, according to KTLA.

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