Living in snake country – six things to consider

Summer is here. People will be using the great outdoors more often, and that includes the many tourists who have discovered Utah’s beauty and diversity. Caution is always needed when traveling in wild country, and today I refer to an article titled “Living in Snake Country-Six Things to Consider” written by Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist.

Living in snake country – six things to consider: Western rattlesnake strike ready Courtesy 123RF.com Stephen Mcsweeny, Photographer <a href="https://www.123rf.com/license_summary.php" target="newWindow">Licensed, Royalty-free image</a>
Western rattlesnake strike ready
Courtesy 123RF.com
Stephen Mcsweeny, Photographer
Licensed, Royalty-free image
Ask an Expert: Living in snake country – six things to consider
Written by Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist
June 14, 2019

For many, the sight of a snake is what nightmares are made of. Unfortunately, all too often Hollywood has taken advantage of people’s fear of snakes for profit. Some companies may also market products or services that are ineffective at repelling snakes, and in some cases, these products may actually increase the risk to people and pets.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 6,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snake annually and that up to six snake bite victims may die. Annually, an estimated 90 human deaths occur from various venomous animal encounters. The stings and subsequent anaphylaxis from bees, wasps and hornets are responsible for over 90% of the reported human deaths.

Of the 31 species of snakes found in Utah, seven are venomous. These are commonly called pit vipers because of the pit located between their nostrils and eyes. Most pit vipers found in Utah also have tails with a series of rattles, hence the name rattlesnake.

All snakes are classified as non-game animals and are protected by Utah state law. A person cannot lawfully collect or possess a live wild snake without receiving a Certificate of Registration from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. When there are human, domestic pet and livestock safety concerns, a venomous snake may be killed without a certificate.

Because most snakes in Utah are non-venomous, most human-snake encounters are generally not dangerous. However, if you encounter a venomous snake and are bitten, the consequences could be serious. Consider these tips.

  • If you encounter a snake, your best strategy is to leave it alone. Every year, hundreds of want-to-be herpetologists and snake charmers are bitten when they try to capture or kill a snake. Even dead snakes have been known to bite by reflex action. More than half of the reported snake bites were a result of someone trying to handle or kill the snake. It is always best to leave the area if you encounter one.
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  • When rattlesnakes are encountered or disturbed, the rapid vibration of their tails will make a characteristic rattling sound to warn the intruder of their presence. However, not all rattlesnakes will “rattle” when disturbed. For this reason, when you are in rattlesnake country, you must pay close attention to where you walk, sit and place your hands. Rattlesnakes can be found throughout Utah in sagebrush, pinon-juniper woodlands, sand dunes, rocky hillsides, grasslands and mountain forests.
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  • If you hear a rattlesnake “rattle,” stand still until you can locate where the sound is coming from. Do not try to jump or run. If you do, you may end up within the snake’s striking range.
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  • If bitten by a venomous snake, do not engage in physical activity such as walking or running. Do not apply a tourniquet to the area above the wound and do not apply a cold compress to the bite area. Do not cut into the bite. Do not take anything by mouth, including stimulants or pain medications, unless instructed by a physician. Do not raise the bite area above the level of the heart, and do not try to suction the venom, as doing so may cause more harm than good.
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  • All venomous snakebites should be considered life threatening. When someone has been bitten by a venomous snake, time is of the essence. If possible, call ahead to the emergency room so anti-venom can be ready when the victim arrives. Until then, keep the victim calm, restrict movement and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom. Wash the bite area with soap and water. Remove any rings or constricting items, as the affected area will swell. Cover the bite with clean, moist dressing to reduce swelling and discomfort. Monitor the victim’s vital signs (pulse, temperature, breathing, blood pressure). If there are signs of shock, lay the victim flat and cover with a warm blanket. Get medical help immediately. If possible, bring in the dead snake for identification if this can be done without risk of injury.
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  • Bites from venomous snakes will almost instantly show signs of swelling and discoloration of the surrounding tissue. Other symptoms include a tingling sensation, nausea, rapid pulse, loss of muscle coordination and weakness. Also, bites from rattlesnakes will show two characteristic fang marks (punctures) as well as other teeth marks. Non-venomous snakebites are harmless, but there is still a risk of infection. If bitten, clean and sterilize the wound much like you would a cut or abrasion.
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    This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
     
    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright 123RF.com, Stephen Mcsweeny, Photographer
    Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
    Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Durso, Andrew, Life is Short, but Snakes are Long: http://snakesarelong.blogspot.com/2012/04/utahs-boa.html

    Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: Search for Species… https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/

    Cox DT & WW Tanner (1995) Snakes of Utah. Bean Life Science Museum, Provo, UT http://www.amazon.com/Snakes-Utah-Douglas-C-Cox/dp/0842523316

    Ernst CH & EM Ernst (2003) Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. http://www.amazon.com/Snakes-United-States-Canada-Ernst/dp/1588340198

    Hungry Hummingbirds

    Hungry Hummingbirds: Hummingbird at Feeder Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Hummingbird at Feeder
    Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Having witnessed people in poverty, as well as starving animals, I can never condone the fascination some Americans have with Hot Dog Eating Contests. Yet humans are poor competitors when compared to some members of the animal kingdom.

    Hungry Hummingbirds: Hummingbirds at Feeder Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Hummingbirds at Feeder
    Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    To simplify the math, let’s say you weigh 100 pounds. Imagine eating 150 pounds of food every day just to maintain your energy level! I have about twenty guests at my home near Logan right now that eat one and one-half times their body weight every day, and they’ve been doing it for months. Hummingbirds!

    Hungry Hummingbirds: With a length of 9.5 cm, the rufous hummingbird has the longest migration in the world in relation to its size. Photo courtesy and Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish
    With a length of 9.5 cm,
    the rufous hummingbird
    has the longest migration
    in the world in relation to its size.
    Photo courtesy and
    Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish
    We have a good mix of Broad-Tailed, Black-Chinned, and Rufous Hummingbirds that are busy at our feeders from early morning until 9:00pm. Those three are the most common species in Utah although others, like the Anna’s, Costa’s and Calliopes are seen in our Southern regions. And even though we have plenty of feeding stations at our home, it’s interesting how they will usually try to scare each other off each time they approach a feeder. I keep telling them to share, but they won’t listen to me.

    Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird Selasphorus platycercus Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish
    Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird
    Selasphorus platycercus
    Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish
    Their need for food makes sense due to their tremendous expenditure of energy. Their heart rates are the fastest of any bird species at about 500 beats per minute…when resting, and 1,200 beats when flying. And their wings beat up to 90 times…per second. Even their breathing is race-paced at 250 breaths per minute. They basically need to refuel constantly.

    Adult Black-chinned Hummingbird incubating eggs in nest Archilochus alexandri Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham (cell phone through spotting scope)
    Adult Black-chinned Hummingbird
    incubating eggs in nest
    Archilochus alexandri
    Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham
    (cell phone through spotting scope)
    Speaking about flying, they can go forward, backward, and even upside down. And while their speed can approach nearly 50 miles per hour, they don’t shirk at long distances. They winter in the tropics, but some will travel up to 2,500 miles one way to breed in Canada and Alaska.

    Some scientists are concerned about rising temperatures because flowers are blooming earlier in northern areas, which means that food source may be gone when the hummingbirds arrive.
    While they also eat insects, you can attract hummingbirds to your yards with the right plants. They like nectar plants like Columbines, Honeysuckle, Penstemon, Paintbrush, Bleeding Hearts and Trumpet Vines. You can also supplement those nectar sources with feeders.

    Young Black-chinned Hummingbird with beak hanging out of nest Archilochus alexandri Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham
    Young Black-chinned Hummingbird
    with beak hanging out of nest
    Archilochus alexandri
    Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham
    They are attracted to the color red, but don’t buy commercial food mixes that have food coloring in them because it is harmful to them. And never use honey or artificial sweeteners. Just boil 4 parts water to one part white-granulated sugar. Let it cool and fill your feeders. And in most cases, if you fill it, they will come.
    If you’re lucky, the little guys may like your wildlife habitat so much they may even nest there, although those are difficult to see since they aren’t much larger than a quarter. They generally lay two eggs about the size of navy beans, but please don’t disturb the little nest or chicks.

    Plant the correct flowers, nesting habitat, and put up feeders, and you may experience one of nature’s flying wonders…the Hummingbird.

    This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
     
    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
    Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
    Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Greene, Jack, Rufus Hummingbird, Wild About Utah, Aug 3, 2015,
    https://wildaboututah.org/rufous-hummingbird/

    Kervin, Linda, Gardening for Hummingbirds, June 5, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/gardening-hummingbirds/

    Liberatore, Andrea, Hummingbird Nests, Wild About Utah, Jun 14, 2012,
    https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbird-nests/

    Strand, Holly, Hummingbirds in Utah, Wild About Utah, Sept 3, 2009,
    https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

    Strand, Holly, Heading South, Wild About Utah, Oct 28, 2010,
    https://wildaboututah.org/heading-south/

    Lawn Reduction

    Lawn Reduction: Riding Lawnmower Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Riding Lawnmower
    Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Traditional American landscaping focuses on maintaining a manicured green lawn. However, the National Wildlife Federation has some better environmental choices for people and wildlife by including native trees, shrubs, ground cover, prairie or meadow patches, flower beds and attractively mulched areas.
    Did you know

  • Approximately 20 million U.S. acres are now planted as residential lawn.
  • 30-60% of urban freshwater is used for watering lawns.
  • 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually.
  • Areas of lawn that include only one type of plant, such as grass, offer very little habitat value for wildlife.
  • Yard waste, mostly grass clippings, makes up 20% of municipal solid waste collected, and most of it ends up in landfills.
  • Reasons to reduce your lawn
  • Save time and money that you would normally spend on mowing and fertilizing grass.
  • Provide habitat and food for wildlife.
  • Conserve water.
  • Reduce lawn mower pollution and decrease run-off from fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Here are some ways to reduce your lawn and help wildlife
  • Use native plant species as ground cover instead of grass.
  • Install native trees and shrubs
  • Create a rock garden
  • Use mulched pathways
  • Provide meadow or prairie patches
  • Install a hedgerow
  • Plant an organic vegetable garden
  • Create a butterfly or hummingbird garden
  • Taking Action
    Make a plan of how you want your yard to look. Check with your local municipality, neighborhood, or homeowners’ association for regulations. Once you have decided on an area of your yard to convert, follow these simple suggestions:
  • Cover your turf grass with 6-10 layers of black & white newspaper or brown cardboard. There is no need to remove the grass first.
  • Make sure the sections overlap one another so that grass and weeds will not come up between the cracks.
  • Wet down the newspaper or cardboard.
  • Cover the newspaper or cardboard with a 4”- 6” layer of mulch or soil.
  • Allow turf grass and weeds to die back for 4-6 weeks.
  • Plant directly through the mulch and newspaper/cardboard. If you know you’re going to be planting trees or shrubs, dig the holes before putting down layers of paper.
  • Some other things to consider
  • Determine what native plants are already thriving in your site. Encourage the native plants already present and replace exotic invasive species with native ones. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has lists of recommended native plants by region and state at www.wildflower.org/collections. There are 158 listed for Utah.
  • Organic mulch can reduce weeds, prevent erosion, improve soil nutrients and increase water holding capacity.
  • Borders of rock or weed can bring a sense of order to a “wild garden” in an urban or suburban neighborhood. This may make your natural landscape more acceptable to neighbors.
  • And don’t forget to make a place for people as well. A bench or path will accommodate this nicely and add to your enjoyment.
  • This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
     
    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright
    Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
    Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Lawn Reduction, The National Wildlife Federation, https://www.nwf.org/-/media/PDFs/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/Lawn-Reduction_web.ashx?la=en&hash=FAC102D0BDBBC0CCD97ECE01BB9A8E2F91E7C150

    Hadden, Evelyn J, Less Lawn, more life, LessLawn.com, http://www.lesslawn.com/

    Plant Lists & Collections, Recommended Species by State, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, www.wildflower.org/collections

    Silent Spring Revisited

    Silent Spring  First Edition Cover Copyright Houghton Mifflin, Publisher.   Note, rights exist for the designer/illustrators Lois Darling & Louis Darling Courtesy Wikimedia and Abe books.
    Silent Spring
    First Edition Cover
    Copyright Houghton Mifflin, Publisher.
    Note, rights exist for the designer/illustrators Lois Darling & Louis Darling
    Courtesy Wikimedia and Abe books.
    We can be part of the problem, or part of the solution. It is a marvel at how some people have an “ I don’t care” attitude when it comes to the outdoors and the natural world. Whether a person believes that God created the world, it happened via evolution, or never really think about it at all, our lives are directly connected to the natural processes of this planet.

    For those who live in the somewhat hectic world of urban employment and the frantic rush of crowded traffic lanes, it may seem that there may never be a moment where they can relax and enjoy the quiet sounds of nature, whether it be the ripples of a stream, the calls of a songbird, or the breeze rustling through trees. We can become so disconnected from nature that its very existence may seem like a foreign land to us as we are absorbed by work, television, transportation, and household bills.

    Then again, you might be the type to schedule an occasional escape to a national park or forest. Or perhaps you will be content simply to bid farewell to Winter and welcome the warmth of Spring, the sounds of songbirds claiming territories and seeking mates, or watching gorgeous butterflies drifting among floral bouquets. But what if some of those natural sights and sounds we seek are no longer there?

    In 1962, Rachel Carson published her book, Silent Spring. Think about that title: Silent Spring. What would it be like to walk outside and never hear the songs of birds or the humming of pollinating honeybees?
    Carson was concerned about the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, especially those being sprayed to control insects on large scales. She was concerned about the near constant presence of such chemicals in our foods and suggested that these products are cancer-causing. And, in certain cases, many insects were developing resistance to new pesticides. Her recommendations were that people use biological controls whenever possible by using natural predators, such as ladybird beetles to attack aphids, rather than spraying for them.

    Humans have developed powers to change our environment in wonderful, or drastic, ways. We need to remember that whether we think about it or not, we are connected to the “natural” systems that support human life.

    So let’s consider a few ways that we can help ourselves by helping those natural systems.

      First:
      Protect your soil. Be careful about chemical additives and fertilizers.
      Second:
      Be prudent about your use of water. It is essential to all life, and we don’t have an unlimited supply.
      Third:
      Reevaluate your affinity for lawns. Their value in the West is overrated. Consider planting more native flower gardens that will feed the pollinators which help provide our food sources.
      Fourth:
      Plant trees. They provide shade, purify the air, provide housing for birds, and raise our property values.
      Fifth:
      Help wildlife. Plant milkweed for declining Monarch Butterflies, place birdfeeders in your yards, and provide a water source for birds and butterflies.

      We can be part of the problems, or part of the solutions.

      This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
       
      Credits:

      Images: Courtesy & Copyright Houghton Mifflin, Lois Darling and Louis Darling, Illustrators
      Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, UPR.org
      Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

      Additional Reading

      Silent Spring, RachelCarlson.org (a memorial site, see Linda Lear), http://www.rachelcarson.org/SilentSpring.aspx

      Silent Spring First Edition Hardback on Amazon, Rachel Carson, Houghton Mifflin, 1962 https://www.amazon.com/Silent-Spring-Rachel-Carson/dp/0395075068

      Silent Spring Anniversary Edition, Rachel Carson (Author), Linda Lear (Introduction), Edward O. Wilson (Afterword), Houghton Mifflin, 2002, https://www.amazon.com/Silent-Spring-Rachel-Carson/dp/0618249060

      Silent Spring First Edition, Abe Books, https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=22902965763

      Wilson, Joseph F, Messinger Carril, Olivia J., The Bees in Your BackYard, Princeton University Press, 2015, https://www.amazon.com/dp/0691160775/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_dp_oRgkCbAF08452
      Bees on a Sunflower, from The Bees in Your BackYard, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0RGx70zNHA&feature=youtu.be

      Q & A with Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia J. Messinger Carril, Princeton University Press, https://press.princeton.edu/interviews/qa-10593

      Wilson, Joseph S.; Forister, Matthew L.; and Carril, Olivia Messinger, “Interest Exceeds Understanding in Public Support of Bee Conservation” (2017). Biology Faculty Publications. Paper 1570. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2520&context=biology_facpub