ST. GEORGE – 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, the chance you’ll have a negative encounter with the snake is almost zero. And if you can find a safe place to observe the snake, “you’ll have a chance to observe the behavior of one of the most unique critters in the world,” Jason Jones said.
“Rattlesnakes are neat and novel members of our native reptile community,” Jones said. “They control pests. They’re very important to Utah’s ecosystems.”
Jones, a native aquatic species biologist with the Division of Wildlife Resources, said summer is the time of year when you’ll most likely encounter rattlesnakes in Utah.
Eight rattlesnake subspecies live in Utah. The most common is the Great Basin rattlesnake, which is found across the state.
Rocky, talus slopes are the places in Utah where you’ll most likely encounter rattlesnakes.
“Because many snake species are camouflaged,” Jones said, “there’s a chance you’ve been close to a snake and never knew it.”
If you encounter a rattlesnake, the way you act will likely determine the experience you have.
“Like most animals,” Jones said,“rattlesnakes fear humans and avoid us whenever possible.”
Jones said respecting the snake and giving it plenty of space are the keys to avoiding problems.
“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,” he said. “Approaching the snake will ultimately lead to a negative interaction.”
Jones also reminded readers that rattlesnakes are fully protected by Utah law; it’s illegal to harass or kill one.
Tips to keep you safe are available in a free brochure titled “Living with Venomous Reptiles.” The brochure is available at Southwest PARC’s website.
Wild Aware Utah also provides free rattlesnake safety information. WAU’s information is available at its website.
If you encounter a rattlesnake while hiking, Jones said you should do the following:
* Remain calm. Do not panic.
* Stay at least five feet from the snake. Give the rattlesnake respect and space.
* Do not try to kill the snake. Doing so is illegal and greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you.
“Most venomous bites happen when untrained people try to kill or harass a snake,” Jones said. “In most cases, the snake is simply moving through the area, sunning itself or attempting to find refuge. If you leave the snake alone, it will leave you alone.”
* Alert people to the snake’s location. Advise them to use caution and to respect the snake. Keep children and pets away.
Keeping snakes out of your yard
Rocky, talus slopes aren’t the only place in Utah 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, Jones said the following are the best 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 good things to 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 your yard.
* Jones said he’s heard of people using “snake repellents.” “But I’m not aware of any scientific testing that shows these products are effective,” he said.
Martin Schijf, Urban Wildlife Specialist with the DWR in Southern Utah said that a lot of times people see a snake in general and they don’t like snakes – not just rattlesnakes, which are a protected species; while you can kill a rattlesnake if you are being threatened, Schijf said that the DWR specialists prefer to be called and they will gladly come and remove the snake from your property.
For assistance or information in Southern Utah, telephone the DWR’s Washington County field office: 435-879-8694; or Urban Wildlife Specialist, Martin Schijf: 435-879-8694.
For assistance or information generally or in other areas of Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR’s Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.
Related article: Dogs at risk: Rattlesnake vaccine an option
Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this article.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.