As summer moves in and the weather gets warmer, Utah wildlife officials want hikers, campers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts in Utah to be aware of rattlesnakes and know how to stay safe around the venomous reptile.
“This is the time of year when Utah rattlesnakes are on the move, looking for water and rodents after emerging from their dens following a long winter,” the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said in a press release Monday.
According to Wild Aware Utah, there are seven subspecies of rattlesnake found in the state: the sidewinder, Mojave rattlesnake, speckled rattlesnake, Northern Pacific rattlesnake, Hopi rattlesnake, midget faded rattlesnake and, the most common subspecies, the Great Basin rattlesnake.
Though mainly found in southern Utah, it isn’t uncommon to stumble upon a rattlesnake in the mountains and grassy fields of Utah County cities like Alpine, Pleasant Grove, Provo and Saratoga Springs.
Despite the fact that rattlesnake venom can be fatal to humans, DWR officials note that rattlesnakes fear humans and, as a result, rarely bite them and are more likely to flee if encountered.
“However, that changes if a snake thinks it’s threatened and there’s no way to escape,” DWR Native Species Coordinator Drew Dittmer said in the press release. “In that case, the snake will often strike to protect itself.”
The DWR gives a number of recommendations for what to do if you encounter a rattlesnake in the wild, the first of which is to “remain calm and do not panic.”
“Stay at least 5 feet from the snake,” the DWR said in the press release. “Make sure to give it plenty of space.”
Another piece of advice is to “not try to kill the snake,” which is not only a class B misdemeanor under Utah Administrative Code but also “greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you.”
“Do not throw anything at the snake, like rocks or sticks,” the state wildlife division continued. “Rattlesnakes may respond to this by moving toward the person doing the throwing, rather than away from them.”
Wildlife officials recommend keeping dogs on leashes while hiking or camping since “allowing your dog to roam around increases the chance the dog will find a snake and get bitten.”
Hearing a rattling sound doesn’t necessarily mean there is a rattlesnake nearby. Gopher snakes, a non-venomous, tan-colored reptile and the most common snake species in Utah, are frequently mistaken as rattlesnakes since they hiss and vibrate their tails rapidly when threatened, according to the DWR.
“If you hear a rattle, don’t jump or panic,” the DWR said. “Try to locate where the sound is coming from before trying to move, so you don’t step closer to the snake or on top of it.”
One way to distinguish gopher snakes from rattlesnakes is by looking at the shape of their heads. Gopher snakes have narrow, elongated heads while rattlesnake heads are wide and triangle-shaped.
To keep rattlesnakes out of your yard, wildlife officials recommend removing wood, rock and junk piles to reduce places where rattlesnakes can hide to escape the summer heat.
“Control rodent populations,” the DWR continued. “Bird feeders and water are two of the main items that draw rodents to yards, which in turn can attract snakes.”
Homeowners should also avoid scaring away non-venomous snakes since “having other snake species on or near your yard may deter rattlesnakes.”
Above all else, wildlife officials encourage outdoor enthusiasts and anybody who encounters a rattlesnake to leave the animal alone.
“Just don’t approach it,” said Dittmer. “Give it plenty of space, and leave it alone. Respect the snake, and you will be safe.”
For additional information and tips on how to stay safe around rattlesnakes, visit Wild Aware Utah’s website.