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

    Herps

    Herps: Long-nosed Leopard Lizard Gambelia-wislizenii Free Image, Courtesy PXhere.com
    Long-nosed Leopard Lizard
    Gambelia-wislizenii
    Free Image, Courtesy PXhere.com
    Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell them- we are the herpers, the mighty, mighty herpers!
    Stumbling around the desert with fishing poles in hand. Hot, dry, no water within miles. A casual observer might question our sanity. But here’s the deal. We have full control over our mental faculty.

    Our defense. First, our fishing poles are used for the capture and release of lizards. Remarkably fast and allusive, these rigs are the answer. A small slipknot noose using monofilament fishing line is attached to the end of the pole. The lizards often freeze as the line is dangled slightly in front of their nose and gently slipped over their heads. A quick upward flip and bingo (with a bit of luck) a lizard dances freely from the line’s end.
    “I caught one!” alerts the others within shouting distance, and the crew soon assembles to view the prize. Photos are taken which includes GPS coordinates, then the victim passes multiple hands, and is released to resume its lizard business following the rude interruption.

    Herps: Western Banded Gecko, Courtesy NPS
    Western Banded Gecko
    Courtesy NPS

    This has become an April tradition for our USU Wildlife Society students with a keen interest in herpetology. We relish the Mojave Desert surrounding St. George with flowers in full bloom and bird song in full tilt.
    Our desert ramblings have revealed many herp treasures- spiny lizards, spectacled rattle snakes, desert iguanas, desert tortoise, chuckwalla, canyon tree frog to name a few. Within the past two years, we have assembled well over two dozen different species. The Mojave is second only to the Sonoran Desert for biodiversity. I’m always amazed how this parched, desolate land can support such a remarkable abundance of life forms. The Mojave Desert hosts about 200 endemic plant species found in neither of the adjacent deserts.

    I’m going to end with a brief description of my favorite little lizard that appears so delicate, like a desert flower, it stands in stark contrast to this seemingly inhospitable environment. In good light its paper thin skin covered with minute scales, allows one to see the interior workings of its slender body.
    The western banded gecko is secretive and nocturnal, foraging at night for small insects and spiders, often seen, silhouetted against the black asphalt of desert roads. It is one of the few reptiles that controls scorpion populations by eating their babies. If captured it may squeak and discard its tail. As a defense mechanism, it can also curl its tail over its body to mimic a scorpion. Geckos also store fat in their tails. Being they maintain a reduced metabolism at low temperatures, their tail fat can sustain them for up to nine months. Because the western banded gecko restricts its activities to nights, it is often seen, silhouetted against the black asphalt of desert roads.

    This is Jack Greene and I’m wild about the banded gecko, all its cousins, and this amazing land we call Utah!

    Credits:

    Pictures: Banded Gecko Courtesy US NPS
    Pictures Leopard Lizard, Courtesy PXHere.com
    Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

    Additional Reading:

    Strand, Holly, The Lizard and His Tail, Wild About Utah, June 11, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/the-lizard-and-his-tail/

    Repanshek Kurt, Western Banded Gecko, Wild About Utah, Feb 23, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/western-banded-gecko/

    Strand, Holly, Gila Monsters, Wild About Utah, Feb 4, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/gila-monsters/

    One Biota Network, Noosing Technique for Capturing Lizards, YouTube, May 25, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkcOpPRfeug

    Reptiles, Zion National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/reptiles.htm

    Reptiles, Canyonlands National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cany/learn/nature/reptiles.htm

    Species List, Arches National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/species-lists.htm

    Reptiles and Amphibians, Bryce Canyon National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/nature/reptiles.htm

    Habitat Heroes Explore More Utah Biomes

    Utah is a wildly diverse place. Ecological and biological diversity are usually tied to an abundance of water; but here in Utah, despite our relative lack of the wet stuff, we boast of at least nine unique biomes spanning from the low-elevation Mojave Desert around St. George to the high Alpine Tundra of our many snowcapped mountain ranges. You can think of a biome as a large community of similar organisms and climates or a collection of similar habitats. Just recently, my third grade students wrapped up a semester-long investigation into seven of those biomes found in Utah including the high Alpine Tundra, Riparian/Montane Zone, Sagebrush Steppe, Wetlands, and the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and Mojave Deserts. We explored those biomes by way of researching a specific animal endemic in Utah to each of those biomes. We called our project “Habitat Heroes.” I’ll let a few of my students explain their findings.

    (Student readings)
    Zach's Rubber Boa  Head, Tongue and Scales Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
    Zach’s Rubber Boa
    Head, Tongue and Scales
    Courtesy & Copyright EBLS
    (Full Student Name Redacted)
    Zach’s Rubber Boa:
    My name is Zach, and my animal is the rubber boa. The rubber boa lives in the riparian/montane biome in Utah. The rubber boa eats shrews, mice, small birds, lizards, snakes, and amphibians and is usually found along streams and in forests and in meadows.
    Noah's Ringtail Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
    Noah’s Ringtail
    Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
    Noah’s Ringtail:
    This is Noah, and I’ve been studying the ringtail. The ringtail lives in the cold desert biome on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. The ringtail is gray and furry with a long black and white tail. How ringtails catch their food: number one-being very sly and waiting for the right time. They live in rocky deserts, caves, and hollow logs.
    Muskrat Collage Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
    Muskrat Collage
    Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
    The Muskrat:
    My animal’s the muskrat. The muskrat lives in the wetland biome in Utah. Muskrats live in Mexico, Canada, and the United States where there are marshes, ponds, and vegetated water. Muskrats go out at night and find food like aquatic plants, grass, and fish. They have special abilities that can be used for a very special reason to help them survive.

    Elizah's Long-tailed Weasel Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
    Elizah’s Long-tailed Weasel
    Courtesy & Copyright EBLS
    (Full Student Name Redacted)
    Elizah’s Weasel:
    My name is Elizah, and my animal is the long-tailed weasel. The long-tailed weasel lives in the Great Basin biome in Utah. They are brown and yellow all year long except for winter. They are white during winter. [The] long-tailed weasel’s scientific name is Mustela frenata. They are mostly nocturnal.

    In addition to researching the different biomes and learning about the adaptations animals must possess in order to survive there, these third graders have been visiting the several biomes local to Cache Valley and investigating their research animals’ habitats. These experiences have been powerful in helping students realize what it’s really like to exist in the wilds of Utah.

    I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

    Investigating Beaver Habitats Along Temple Fork Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Investigating Beaver Habitats Along Temple Fork
    Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Exploring an alpine-type biome along beaver creek Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Exploring an alpine-type biome along beaver creek
    Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Flying like the birds; Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Flying like the birds; Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
    Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Looking at tree migration in Green Canyon Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Looking at tree migration in Green Canyon
    Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Investigating Beaver Curtis Creek wanderings; Hardware Ranch; Blacksmith Fork Canyon Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
    Investigating Beaver Curtis Creek wanderings; Hardware Ranch; Blacksmith Fork Canyon
    Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS

    Credits:
    Images:
        Artwork Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling’s 3rd Grade students
        Photos Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, Edith Bowen Laboratory School Field Experience Director
    Sound:
    Text: Josh Boling, 2017, Bridgerland Audubon Society

    Sources & Additional Reading

    Boling, Josh and students, Habitat Heroes Explore Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-biomes/

    Edith Bowen Laboratory School, https://edithbowen.usu.edu/

    Biomes, Kimball’s Biology Pages, http://www.biology-pages.info/B/Biomes.html

    Mission Biomes, NASA Earth Observatory, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/experiments/biome

    The World’s Biomes, University of California Museum of Paleontology, UC Berkeley, https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/glossary/gloss5/biome/

    State Symbols

    Most people could probably name the state bird or the state tree, but what about the state gem? The state grass? State fruit? Do you know why they are important to Utah? Here are just a few of Utah’s State Symbols that you might not have known.

    State Symbols: Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard's Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
    Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard’s Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
    Topaz was named Utah’s state gem in 1969 because of its abundance on Topaz or Thomas Mountain in Juab County. In this area, perfect topaz crystals can be found and collected. This semiprecious gem can also be found in Beaver and Toole counties. Topaz can be found in a variety of colors, but in the Thomas Range it is known for its sherry hue. When exposed to sunlight, amber colored topaz will often become clear. Topaz collecting is free and open to the public in most areas and could be a great way to get to know Utah a little bit better.

    Utah’s state grass was selected in 1990 to be Indian Ricegrass. As you might suspect, indian ricegrass was given its name because of the significance in Native American life. This tough bunchgrass was a common food source and was absolutely crucial to survival when the corn crop failed.

    Indian Ricegrass Courtesy US National Park Service
    Indian Ricegrass
    Courtesy US National Park Service
    It can be found in wet and dry areas throughout the West. Long ago this grass was important for Native Americans; now it is important in fighting wind erosion and grazing cattle.

    The cherry did not become the state fruit until 1997 when a group of second graders did their research and petitioned for the fruit to be recognized. Cherry was discovered to be the most economically beneficial fruit for Utah when compared to other fruits like peaches and apples. Both sweet and tart cherries are grown commercially in Utah. Utah is the only state ranked in the top five cherry producing states for both types of cherries.

    US Cherries for sale in Korea Courtesy USDA
    US Cherries for sale in Korea
    Courtesy USDA
    The cherry is native to Asia, but flourishes in Utah’s environment.

    The state insect might be a little easier to guess than the state grass and state fruit. Utah is known as the beehive state, so naturally our state insect is the honeybee. When settlers first arrived in Utah they called it Deseret which means honeybee. Some native bees are listed as endangered species, but many Utahns have become “backyard beekeepers” to help these bees survive.

    Honeybee Extracts Nectar Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
    Honeybee Extracts Nectar
    Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
    Bees might seem insignificant, but are actually the unsung heroes of the world’s food supply. Growing bee friendly plants or becoming a beekeeper yourself are great ways to help Utah’s honeybee thrive.

    No matter where in the state of Utah you are, you can learn more about these plants, animals, and rocks and see them in action. As a Chinese proverb says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

    This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

    Credits:
    Photos: Courtesy US NPS and US FWS
    Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
    Text: Aspen Flake

    Additional Reading & Listening

    State Symbols, as found on OnlineLibrary.Utah.gov, http://onlinelibrary.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/

    Utah as found in StateSymbolsUSA.org: https://statesymbolsusa.org/states/united-states/utah

    Gorman, Steve, U.S. Lists a Bumble Bee Species as Endangered for First Time, Scientific American, A Division of Nature America, Inc., Jan 11, 2017,
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-lists-a-bumble-bee-species-as-endangered-for-first-time/

    Hrala, Josh, 7 Bee Species Have Been Added to The US Endangered Species List, ScienceAlert.com, 3 OCT 2016, https://www.sciencealert.com/seven-species-of-bees-have-been-added-to-the-endangered-species-list

    Insects: Bees in trouble and agriculture decline, Endangered Species International, Inc. http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/insects6.html

    Ingraham, Christopher, Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine, Washington Post, October 10, 2016
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/10/believe-it-or-not-the-bees-are-doing-just-fine/