The summer season is when most of the wildlife comes out and there is still a lot of it in the Sacramento area, especially in the outskirt and along the river since we saved a pretty large natural area around the river exactly for that purpose (and also to provide space in case of large water flow in an attempt to avoid or at least reduce river floods which would happen every few years before we had the Folsom Dam and the Natoma Lake Dam.)
Some of the Wildlife around here can be dangerous for your children, yourself and your pets and yet it is great to have it. This page includes a few tips, things to know about the wildlife and how to avoid or at least minimize various problems with wildlife animals. Especially, you don’t want to leave food out if you leave close to the river.
Four Dangerous Animals
There are two main animals that we, once in a while, meet face to face in the Sacramento and that can be dangerous: Black Widows and Rattlesnakes. There are two others that at times can show up, Mountain Lions and Bears, but those are much rarer.
Black Widows Spider (Latrodectus)
The region includes one dangerous spider species called the Black Widow.
These spiders are found all around California, although they are not likely to be found at high altitude. There are actually three species living in Northern California:
- Latrodectus Hesperus
- Latrodectus Mactans
- Latrodectus Variolus
All three species are closely related and you probably won’t be able to tell the difference. All species are poisonous, though.
A general description is a small (half an inch) spider which is all black save for a red spot on the spider’s belly. The red spot has the shape of an X with the top and bottom filled in red.
Although these spiders are the most poisonous, they most often do not kill adults. However, their poison can easily kill a child or a pet with a single bite. If you suspect a spider bite on someone and are not sure of the species, it’s a good idea to quickly go to an emergency room, although you need to choose a hospital with the necessary serum. Also, if none of the toxin effects are present, then you’re probably good.
The toxin that the spider releases is called latrodoxin. It can result in systemic effects:
- Severe muscle pain
- Cramps around the stomach
- Abnormally increased sweating (Hyperhidrosis)
- Accelerated Heart Rate (Tachycardia)
- Muscle Spasm
If you are in another state, there are a few other spiders that can be dangerous.
Note that Black Widows are very small. Not much bigger than my thumb with their legs spread. The large spiders that you find further South, Tarantulas, in comparison, are not dangerous to most people. Their bites look large but are similar to a bee bite. Unless you are allergic, chances are you may not even really notice a Tarantula bite (I was bitten once and only noticed the next day when the bite area got harder!)
Rattlesnakes (Crotalus and Sistrurus)
Rattlers are Northern America snakes. These are a sub-species of vipers. Their bites are quite venomous to humans. Just like Black Widows, it is a good idea to just not get bitten by one of these snakes.
There are quite easy to recognize. Rattlesnakes have a head which is a triangle shape wider than the body of the snake. On the other hand, non-rattlers have a head which is a continuation of their body. Also, rattlers have a tail that looks dry. Actually, it is dry keratin (same material you have in your hair and your nails) and they vibrate it and that’s where the rattling noise comes from. This noise is created by the vibration between the rattler segments. This is very much the same way crickets do their noise.
Note that rattlesnakes are more likely to be seen in spring all along the river. There is a bike lane and they often cross it at sunset. The rattlers mate around that time and they are particularly tense during that period. If you have a house that’s close to the river, expect and be prepared to see one once in a while.
Also, I walked up along the stream by the Twin Bridges all the way to the Horsetail Falls. Very nice walk, although the last part may sound a bit dangerous as it is part of the Wilderness (although it’s always full of people from what I’ve seen!) Along the trip, I saw a rattlesnake crossing the stream at the time we were walking in the water. It didn’t rattle so it was still peaceful and just crossed the stream and left on the other side. This rattler was green, opposed to those we find down by the American River which are beige or yellow like sand. So, if you go to the Nevada Mountain, you can still expect to see rattlers.
Who is Immune to Rattlesnake Bites?
Have you noticed all those ground dogs around the Sacramento region? These little rodents live underground. They dig holes and build nests that are cool during the hot summer days.
One type of animal that can definitely go visit those holes are rattlesnakes. However, these animals are actually immune to the snake toxins. They will put up a fight, instead, until the snake leaves. Unless the parent left too far away to fetch some food and the snake had a chance to eat a baby, it will otherwise end up empty handed with those.
Note that a doctor who has been working on various poisonous snakes and spiders had a theory that animals that are immune to a poison or another are immune because their bodies got used to the toxin and stopped reacting. He put his theory to the test on himself with the most venomous snakes in Texas (which are one way worse than what we have in California.) At first, he injected himself with small doses at a time. He then increased the dosage little by little. At some point, the dosage was equivalent to the largest injection one of those snakes could inflict to a human in one bite. This is when this doctor tried being bitten by actual snakes and felt a bit hot but did not otherwise have any of the usual reaction humans have when bitten by such snakes. Now, the doctor does not recommend anyone to do that, but it is a very interesting finding! It is very similar to what we do by inoculating children with all sorts of diseases (i.e. vaccination) as discovered by Louis Pasteur in 1878 with his first vaccine against Cholera in chickens.
Although pretty rare, some Mountain Lions do come down the river. The further down a sighting happened in the 21st century is the Power Inn area.
In most cases, Mountain Lions are interested in eating small preys such as rabbits, chickens, and domestic cats. Adult humans are large and they prefer to avoid them. That being said, they at times attack humans from behind when bending down (since they don’t look as large that way). Also, they will attack children. So if you heard of a recent sighting, don’t let your children play in a park close the river on their own. Be there on the lookout and if necessary grab your kids and have them yell with you while they wave their hands. Look as large as possible and as noisy as possible. The Mountain Lion won’t attack such a giant. Way too scary. Wait until the lion left and then leave the premises.
Note that I’ve experienced that type of a chase with my own kids. The Mountain Lions at the Folsom Zoo would see small kids and run behind them, ready to jump on them as soon as they would get an opportunity to do so!
If you go higher up that Auburn, El Dorado Hills, then expect more sighting and no official reports of such sightings as we get them further down.
Bear sightings within Sacramento are really rare but they do happen on occasion. These animals do not generally attack humans unless they are hungry and can’t hunt for any other food or they are losing it (as in they are getting old.)
A male bear will feel threatened if you are sending up. This is how they fight each other for females and that why contrary to Mountain Lions, you want to come down and be all crouched and talk to the animal in a light soft voice if you are ever in a noise to noise situation with a bear. Hopefully, though, this won’t happen because you never really know how the bear will really react. As I mentioned, hungry bears eat whatever they can kill and bears that come as far down as Sacramento are likely to have a disease too which means they won’t react as expected.
One part of a threat that a bear sees with humans is being cut off. If they don’t see a way out from where they are, they will attack to escape. If they can help it, bears will avoid you on their own and you will probably not even see them.
A way to make friend with a bear and thus have them leave you alone is to give them one cracker if you have such. They’ll eat it and be happy and leave you alone. (Note that most rangers will tell you to never feed wildlife animals. This is best if you can help it. Making friend with a bear, on the other hand, could save your life.)
Remember, you are not likely to win a fight with a bear. Their claws may not look sharp, but your skin is no match. Also, males can easily be 500 pounds and they’ve got fighting skills that you don’t have.
Respecting the Wildlife around the City
You should do your own research to know what Wildlife you have around your home. Chances are many animals roam around your home if you live close to a large farm or the American River.
The animals that are easy to sight are:
- Frogs (not easy to see, but you can definitely hear them!)
- Black Widows
Some are found closer to the river or streams such as Badgers and Rattlesnakes.
Some are found nearly everywhere, like Black Widows and many birds.
Others are nearly only limited to the river banks within the Sacramento area, such as the Deer and Coyotes.
There are simple steps one can take to protect those wild animals and your pets. In spring, it is not a bad idea to keep your pets inside. More wildlife is going to appear from all around, especially if you are close to a natural park around the river or a stream (i.e. an area where the animals can easily roam without having to cross streets and train tracks.)
- When you put garbage out, make sure it is in closed containers, if possibly tightly closed and that can’t easily be tipped over.
- Remove unnatural sources of water, especially in the dry season. Animals tend to gather around water (especially frogs, have you heard them sing at night?)
- Keep your pets inside when you go to bed.
- Do not leave pet food outside. This makes it too easy for wild animals to find and eat. Free meals are the best! But not a good idea.
- Bird feeders tend to attract rodents (squirrels, mice, rats) and rodents are coyote preys…
- Make sure animals such as rabbits, poultry, and other smaller livestock is in a secure enclosure each night.
- If you have fruit trees, pick up fallen fruits and discard them, either in your green trashcan or in your compost pile.
- If you have a compost pile, it would be great to have it covered to avoid wild animals direct access to your waste (again, this is free food for Wildlife animals.)
If you see that your neighbors do not follow these few tips, remind them why it’s a good idea to follow them. Feel free to email them a link to this page too.