Rattlesnakes like warm temperatures. It might be a bit early in the spring to see them in the high country - typically the snakes like temperatures in the 80’s. Folks living in the lower desert areas such as Maricopa County shouldn’t be surprised if snakes cross paths even as soon as this week.
There are 13 species of rattlesnakes in Arizona, more than any other state. Did you know that their rattle is made of keratin, which is the same material that makes up our hair and fingernails? The Diamondback rattlesnake can grow to be up to 66” long and is the largest rattlesnake in the West. It is also responsible for more bites and human deaths than any other rattlesnake species in the country.
Males aged 18-35 are the most likely to be snake-bitten, typically on the hand or forearm. Usually alcohol is involved. Arizona Game and Fish reports that according to the Arizona Poison Centers, less than 1% of rattlesnake bites end in human death. However, there’s no need to test that statistic - here are tips for avoiding unfortunate encounters with snakes.
How to Be as Snake-Free as Possible and Avoid Being Bitten
- If you have a lawn, keep it trimmed.
- Make sure your yard is debris-free. That includes wood piles, trash, etc.
- Wear heavy work gloves if working outside. Do not reach in to dark places without looking first.
- Make sure openings around your home are sealed and closed.
- Wear shoes when outside, especially at night when it is cooler. Snakes like to find warmth, such as a location under a just-driven vehicle.
- Use a rake before beginning garden projects to make sure that a snake isn’t concealed in the vegetation.
- Try to eliminate rodents from around your home. Cats can help, or you can encourage birds such as owls and kestrels to nest in your yard. (Don’t try to mix the cats and birds, though! See Watters: Up Close with Birds of Prey for more information about nesting boxes.)
- Erecting solid walls and installing gates snug to the ground can also help.
- Light pathways around your home.
- When hiking, stay on paths and be alert.
The photo of this baby rattlesnake is courtesy of Dean Simmons
What to Do If You See a Snake
The Phoenix Herpetological Society offers tips for those who encounter snakes unexpectedly.
- Don’t run. Take a couple of steps away from the snake if possible. Snakes can only strike at a distance of about 1/3 their body length. So, for example, a snake that is 3 feet long, only has a striking range of about 12 inches.
- Do not approach the snake for any reason. Do not try to hurt, kill, move or photograph the snake up close. Give it plenty of space.
- Call a professional to remove the snake and relocate it to a safe habitat.
- Remember, even non-venomous snakes can bite. The Herpetological Society states, "We always say anything with a mouth can bite. Treat all snakes (and all animals for that matter) with respect and distance and you are going to be okay.”
- Restrain pets if you see snakes. Do not let them get near, even if the snake appears to be non-venomous.
What to Do When Bitten by a Snake
- Call 911 immediately and seek medical assistance. Do not waste any time.
- Stay calm. Make your movements slowly and carefully.
- Observe the snake at a distance. Try to identify it, if possible, or look for identifying characteristics. Stay at least several feet away. Do NOT attempt to catch or kill the snake to bring it to the hospital for identification.
- Do not allow the bitten person to drive.
- Do not make or apply a tourniquet.
- Do not attempt to “suck the venom out.”
- If bitten on the hand, remove all jewelry before swelling begins.
- Try to keep the bitten area below heart level if possible.
Snake Removal Resources
If you have a snake in your yard or around your home, you may want it to be removed and relocated. Snakes do perform an important role in the ecosystem, but you might prefer they perform their role somewhere else!
In the Prescott area, Dean Simmons offers snake identification and relocation services. He can be reached at 928.308.0340. Additionally, in a couple of months, he will offer rattlesnake avoidance training for dogs and horses. Contact him for more information.
(By the way, Simmons also relocates other wildlife - keep that number handy! You never know when you might need it.)
In the Phoenix area, the Phoenix Herpetological Society will remove snakes. Their hotline number is 602.550.1090.
In Scottsdale, if the snake is determined to be poisonous and it is located inside a home or garage, you can call the Scottsdale Fire Department’s non-emergency number at 480.312.8911. They ask that you watch the snake’s movement, “…as it cannot be relocated if it cannot be found.”
There is also an Arizona Herpetological Association, and they offer an Encounter Hotline number: 480.894.1625