Tips on how to stay safe and avoid conflict with rattlesnakes in Utah
UTAH —Warmer weather and the disappearing snow creates a hiking paradise across Utah. While not to discourage adventure, there are parts of Utah that have some of the highest densities of rattlesnakes in the country. This doesn’t mean that they are out to get you, but it does mean that taking a few precautions can keep any interaction as one of admiring a cool snake rather than taking a negative turn.
Utah has five species of rattlesnake, the Great Basin rattlesnake being the most common. Their ecological importance is vital to reducing diseases spread by rodents and keeping rodent populations in check. Rattlesnake dens can sometimes provide shelter for other snakes as they have a wide home range and only stay in a particular location for a short period of time.
Late spring and early summer months at dawn and dusk are the most active times for rattlesnakes as they are on the move looking for food, water, and mates. While rocky benches, high-elevation slopes, and dry canyons are the most likely places to run into a rattlesnake, they can be found at lower elevations and in open areas. Hikers, rock climbers, and bikers should pay particular attention to their surroundings, and rattlesnakes’ effective camouflage can make them hard to spot even when right next to one.
Rattlesnakes are protected under Utah Law. Harassing or killing one is illegal. Simply giving a snake its space is the best choice in an encounter. Should a rattlesnake frequent a location such as a public park, yard, or play area, a report can be made to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
“Like most wild animals, rattlesnakes fear humans and will do anything they can to avoid us. If a snake is feeling threatened, it may act in defense. The best course of action is to maintain a safe distance,” said Megen Kepas, DWR Native Herpetology Species Coordinator.
Should a rattlesnake bite occur, the situation is serious and requires immediate medical attention at a hospital. Deaths from rattlesnake bites in the U.S. are seldom deadly and even less likely when appropriate medical care is received. It is advised not to try and suck out the venom as other bacteria can be introduced to the wound. Applying heat, cold, or a tourniquet is also not advised, as there may be an increased risk of tissue damage. The best course of action is to quickly get to a hospital while remaining calm.
Not all emergency vet hospitals carry antivenom, making the importance of added research necessary should a dog or other pet be bitten. There is also rattlesnake aversion training for dogs that can help them learn to avoid rattlesnakes.
Gopher snakes are commonly mistaken for rattlesnakes due to their similarities in appearance and behavior. If a gopher snake feels threatened, a typical response is to hiss loudly and vibrate its tails. Gopher snakes do not have rattles making identification easy when looking at the tail as they are very different. Rattlesnakes do not always rattle, making the easiest forms of identification the tail and the shape of the head, as rattlesnakes have triangular-shaped heads.
More information on rattlesnake safety can be found on the Wild Aware Utah website and the DWR Wild podcast.
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