Seeing a rattlesnake in your yard or in the wild can be a frightening experience.
But it doesn't have to be. If you respect the snake and give it some space, there's almost no chance you'll have a negative encounter with it. And, if you can find a safe place to observe the snake, you'll have a chance to watch one of the most unique critters in the world.
"Rattlesnakes are a very important part of Utah's ecosystems," says Krissy Wilson, native aquatic species coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
"They control pests," she says. "And they're fascinating to watch."
Tips to keep you safe in rattlesnake country are available in a free brochure titled "Living with Venomous Reptiles" from www.swparc.org.
Wild Aware Utah also provides free rattlesnake safety information. WAU's information is available online.
Wilson says summer is the time of year when you'll most likely encounter rattlesnakes in Utah.
Eight rattlesnake subspecies live in Utah. The most common is the Great Basin rattlesnake, which is found across the state.
Rocky, talus slopes are the places in Utah where you'll most likely encounter rattlesnakes. In fact, Wilson says there's a good chance you've been close to a snake while hiking and never knew it. "A snake's camouflage allows it to blend into its surroundings," she says. "They're tough to see."
If you encounter a rattlesnake, the way you act will likely determine the experience you have. Like most animals, rattlesnakes fear humans. "They'll usually do everything they can to avoid us," Wilson says.
Respecting the snake, and giving it plenty of space, are the keys to avoiding problems. One thing you don't want to do is approach the snake.
"I can't overemphasize how important it is to give snakes space, to watch where you step, to watch where you place your hands when you sit down, and above all, to resist the urge to harass or kill a snake," she says.
Wilson also reminds you that rattlesnakes are fully protected by Utah law; it's illegal to harass or kill one.
If you encounter a rattlesnake while hiking, Wilson says you should do the following:
- Remain calm. Do not panic.
- Stay at least five feet from the snake. Give the rattlesnake plenty of space.
- Do not try to kill the snake. Doing so is illegal and greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you. Wilson says most venomous bites happen when untrained people try to kill or harass a snake. "Usually, the snake is simply moving through the area, sunning itself or looking for a place to hide," she says. "If you leave the snake alone, it will leave you alone."
- Alert people to the snake's location. Advise them to use caution and to respect the snake. Keep children and pets away.
Keeping snakes out of your yard
Rocky, talus slopes aren't the only place in Utah where you might encounter a rattlesnake. Depending on where you live, you could find a snake in your yard.
Aside from building a fence that rattlesnakes can't penetrate, Wilson says the following are the best ways to keep rattlesnakes out of your yard:
- Reduce the number of places where snakes can find shelter. Brush, wood, rock and junk piles are all items you should get rid of.
- Control rodent populations. Bird feeders and water are two of the main items that attract rodents to yards.
- Avoid scaring away harmless snake species, such as gopher snakes. Having other snake species on or near your yard may deter rattlesnakes from wandering through it.
Wilson says she's heard of people using "snake repellents." But she isn't aware of any scientific testing that shows these products are effective.
For more information, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.