People in shorts and flip-flops aren’t the only creatures coming out to bask in the summer sunshine.
Warm weather means cold-blooded animals are becoming more active, and that includes Utah’s only venomous snake — the rattlesnake.
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,” said Krissy Wilson, native aquatic species coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. “They control pests, and they’re fun to watch.”
Wilson said summer is the time of year when you’ll most likely encounter rattlesnakes in Utah. Eight rattlesnake subspecies can be found in the state. The most common is the Great Basin rattlesnake, which is found statewide.
Rocky, talus slopes are the places in Utah where you’ll most likely encounter rattlesnakes. In fact, Wilson said 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 said. “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, and “will do everything they can to avoid us,” Wilson said.
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.
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 remain calm and give it plenty of space. Do not try to kill the snake. Not only is it illegal, it greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you.
Wilson said 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 said. “If you leave the snake alone, it will leave you alone.”
If you do come across a rattler, alert people to the snake’s location, advise them to use caution and to respect the snake, and keep children and pets away.
Rocky slopes aren’t the only place 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 said there are several 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.