OGDEN -- Weber State University allowed some of its employees to go home Wednesday after the fourth juvenile rattlesnake since Oct. 26 was found in their building.
A herpetology expert will determine whether more snakes have found their way into the Receiving and Distribution Building, which is at the far northeast edge of campus, near the mountain.
If more snakes are found, the expert will develop a plan for removing and relocating the reptiles, said John Kowalewski, WSU spokesman.
"It's a safety and well-being issue for us," he said, adding that 25 people work in the building, but a few people in key positions have elected to stay.
"The building is the last one before the undeveloped area in campus," Kowalewski said. "This has not caused any disruption to classroom dynamics, but it is something we take seriously."
The snakes, each found on a different day, have been about the same age and size. Each one was about 12 inches long and about as thick as a finger.
Jon Marshall, an assistant zoology professor, said he was called in to remove the last of the four Tuesday. He used a mechanical grabber to remove the snake from inside a computer, he said.
"They had taken the computer out to the parking lot," he said. "He was wedged up in there. The computer may have had a back panel off, and if it was warm in there, it would have been a good place to hide."
When the weather cools rapidly, snakes may head for their dens, "where they essentially hibernate," Marshall said.
Lots of snakes have dens in rocky outcroppings in the foothills. Marshall speculates that the snakes sought temporary refuge in the Receiving and Distribution Building on their way to their dens.
"They den up together, to overwinter," he said. "I know of a large den near Lehi."
Marshall put the snake he retrieved Tuesday in a jar and put the jar in a bucket for transport.
"We took pictures, then I marched him up Strong's Canyon about a mile and a half, and released him on a south-facing slope. He was already stressed."
Marshall said the snake appeared to be about a year old and was too young to have a working rattler.
Juvenile snakes can be more dangerous than adults, he said, because they are small and feel threatened more easily. In addition, adult rattlesnakes sometimes use a venomless bite to ward off predators they don't expect to eat, but juvenile snakes lack that level of control and are more likely to release all of their venom when they strike.
Marshall said the rattlesnake he saw appeared to be of the Great Basin variety. It's one of the less-aggressive kinds of rattlesnakes, he said, and is happy to leave humans alone if we return the favor.
People who live in the bench areas of the Wasatch Front, where rattlesnakes are fairly plentiful, should leave snakes undisturbed if possible and keep their children and dogs from investigating.
Kowalewski said two of the other snakes were returned to the wild, and one was killed by employees when no one was available to safely remove it.
Marshall said he hates to hear of snakes being killed because they are a valuable part of the ecosystem.
"Any time snakes prey on mice and things like that, they serve to control the population of rodents," he said.
"If you take away snakes, the mice reproduce beyond their usual levels. Any time you take away an important piece of the ecosystem, it will affect a lot of other species.
"We have king snakes here that eat the rattlesnakes. Everything is interconnected."