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

    Rattlesnakes

    Great Basin Rattlesnake
    Courtesy & Copyright 2009
    Holly Strand

    Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

    Its rattlesnake season in Utah, for the warm weather draws them out of their dens. We have 5 species plus 2 subspecies of rattlesnake in the state. The Great basin rattlesnake is the most widespread, living all across Western Utah at elevations up to 9000 feet. This is the fellow you see around Logan. Another subspecies of western rattler–the midget faded rattlesnake –is dominant in the eastern part of the state. The Hopi rattlesnake and the greenish colored prairie rattlesnake are found in southwestern Utah. And the Mojave rattlesnake, speckled rattlesnake, and sidewinder are found only in the extreme southwest corner of Utah.

    The rattle itself is a unique biological feature. It’s a loose, but interlocking series of nested segments—actually modified scales– at the end of the tail. When vibrated, the rattle produces a hissing sound. Kevin Colver– an expert in natural sound recordings –provided this clip of a Mojave rattlesnake. Sound from Westernsoundscape.org Hmm. wouldn’t that make a great ringtone?

    Aggression and venom in rattlesnakes vary by both species type and by individual. The western diamondback rattlesnake is the archetypal large, aggressive and very dangerous species, responsible for the majority of human fatalities. But its northern range limit is south of the Utah border. However, the Mojave rattler found in southeastern Utah is extremely toxic and excitable. Its venom attacks both the nervous system and circulatory system.

    Luckily, rattlesnakes aren’t out to get us—mainly they just want to be left alone. You’ll be fine if you stay aware of what might be lurking in or around rocks. And don’t walk barefoot or in open-toed shoes in their habitat. Also, use a flashlight after dark –most rattlesnakes are active at night too!

    Thanks to the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation—the Russell family for supporting Stokes Nature Center programs. And to Kevin Colver for the sound of the rattlesnake. Additional nature sound recordings can be found at 7loons.com and westernsoundscape.org

    For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
    Credits:
    Audio:     Courtesy & Copyright 2006 Kevin Colver, 7loons.com & Univ. of Utah WesternSoundscape.org
    Images:     Courtesy & Copyright 2009 Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center
    Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

    Sources & Additional Reading:

    Klauber, Laurence M. 1982. Rattlesnakes. Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind. Berkeley: University of California Press, http://www.amazon.com/Rattlesnakes-Habits-Histories-Influence-Mankind/dp/0520210565 (1997 Version)

    Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Utah Conservation Data Center. http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/ (Accessed July 17, 2009)

    Rattlesnake safety tips, Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/wildlife-news/1671-rattlesnake-safety-tips-2015.html (Posted June 19, 2015, 11:06 am) (Accessed Aug 7, 2016)

    Don’t Tread on Me!

    Don't tread on me! Great Basin Rattlesnake Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 Holly Strand
    Great Basin Rattlesnake
    Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 Holly Strand

    Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

    Rattlesnakes are pit vipers with heavy bodies and broad heads. There are about 30 species and 40 more subspecies found in North and South America. They aren’t found anywhere else. All possess rattles and all are venomous.

    Here in Utah we have 5 species plus 2 subspecies. The Great basin rattlesnake is the most widespread, living all across Western Utah at elevations up to 9000 feet. Another subspecies of western rattler–the midget faded rattlesnake –is dominant in the eastern part of the state. The Hopi rattlesnake and the greenish colored prairie rattlesnake are found in southeastern Utah. And the Mojave rattlesnake, speckled rattlesnake, and sidewinder are found only in the extreme southwest corner of Utah.

    The rattle itself is a unique biological feature. It’s a loose, but interlocking series of nested segments—actually modified scales– at the end of the tail. When vibrated, the rattle produces a hissing sound. Kevin Colver– an expert in natural sound recordings –provided this clip of a Mojave rattlesnake.

    A snake gets a new rattle segment every time it sheds—and it sheds from one to four times a year. 15 or 16 rattles are common in captive snakes, but in wild snakes six to eight are more common. In wild snakes, rattles are subject to a lot of wear and tear. So they break off before they get very long.
    The rattle sound is the reaction of a startled or threatened snake. You’ll often see the rattling snake in a defensive S-shaped coil—but not always!

    Aggression and venom in rattlesnakes vary by both species type and by individual. The western diamondback rattlesnake is the archetypal large, aggressive and very dangerous species, responsible for the majority of human fatalities in America. But it’s northern range limit is south of the Utah border. However, the Mojave rattler found in southeastern Utah is extremely toxic, excitable and its venom attacks both the nervous system and circulatory system.

    But rattlesnakes aren’t out to get us—mainly they just want to be left alone. You’ll generally be fine if you stay aware of what might be in or around rocks, and don’t walk barefoot or in open-toed shoes in their habitat. Also, use a flashlight after dark –most rattlesnakes are active at night too!

    Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the development of this Wild About Utah topic.
    And to Kevin Colver for the sound of the rattlesnake. Additional nature sound recordings can be found at westernsoundscape.org

    For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

    Credits:

    Sound: Courtesy and Copyright 2006 Kevin Colver
    Image: Courtesy and Copyright 2009 Holly Strand
    Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

    Sources & Additional Reading

    Klauber, Laurence M. 1982. Rattlesnakes. Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind. Berkeley: University of California Press, http://www.amazon.com/Rattlesnakes-Habits-Histories-Influence-Mankind/dp/0520210565 (1997 Version)

    Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Utah Conservation Data Center. http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/ (Accessed July 17, 2009)