As the 13 species of rattlesnakes found in Arizona start to slither out of their winter hibernation dens to enjoy the hot season in metro Phoenix, be aware that you could encounter a rattler on the trail or even in your backyard.
However, there’s no need to panic. With a little bit of knowledge and a few common sense precautions, you can head outside with confidence and facts that might just save your life.
Here’s what to know about rattlesnake season in Arizona:
When are rattlesnakes most active in Arizona?
The president of the Phoenix Herpetological Society, which promotes conservation of native and nonnative reptiles, says rattlesnakes’ activity is entirely temperature driven.
“Snakes don’t have a calendar,” Russ Johnson said. “Once it gets warm out, they are coming out.”
Rattlesnakes in Arizona are most active from March through October and typically can be seen during the day. In the winter and early spring, they hibernate underground, under rock piles or in mammal-made burrows to avoid freezing temperatures.
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, rattlesnakes live only in the Americas. There are 36 rattlesnake species, 13 of which are present in Arizona. That’s the most species in any state. The rattlesnakes most commonly seen in Arizona are the Mojave, black-tailed and Western diamondback species.
How do you identify a rattlesnake?
Rattlesnakes have triangular-shaped heads and their distinguishing feature is the “rattle” found at the tips of their tails. It is used to alert potential predators and distract prey.
The rattle looks like multiple layers of scales stacked on top of one another. When the rattle moves or contracts, the scales of the rattle hit each other and make the distinctive sound. Rattlesnakes also hiss as a warning sign.
Are rattlesnakes poisonous?
Rattlesnakes are venomous and their venom is composed mainly of hemotoxic elements. According to Infoplease.com, hemotoxins puncture the blood vessels, causing hemorrhaging and tissue damage and destroying red blood cells. However, rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal unless they are left untreated.
What to do if you encounter a rattlesnake on the trail
Rattlesnakes don’t want to bite you, Johnson said, but they will defend themselves if they feel threatened.
“If you’re on the trail, you don’t need to be worried at all as long as you keep your eyes open and don’t put your hands and your feet where you can’t see them. If you see a snake, don’t go near it. Just go around it. if you do that, it’s impossible to be bitten,” he said.
“Most bites occur when people go into the brush. Snakes have no ears; they can’t hear you coming. People are usually touching rocks or putting their hands and feet on the other side of the trail, which is where bites happen.”
Here’s how many people have been bitten by rattlesnakes in Maricopa County in the past three years, according to the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center in Phoenix:
- 2018: 88.
- 2019: 95.
- 2020: 90.
Rattlesnake safety tips for hikers
- Stay on the trail.
- If you see a snake, do not panic or throw rocks at it. Distance yourself from it.
- Warn others on the trail about where you saw the snake.
- If bitten, stay calm and call 911 or the Poison Control Centers hotline at 800-222-1222.
- Do not make any incision on the affected area.
- Remove tight clothing to help prevent the affected area from swelling.
- Keep the bitten area below the level of your heart to avert the venom from going to your heart.
- Stay still to decrease the chance of the venom circulating around your body.
For more tips on how to handle a rattlesnake bite, visit: https://www.azgfd.com.
How to keep snakes out of your yard and house
Snakes seek warm places to hide. Likely spots in your yard include tall grass, rock piles, firewood piles and other debris. They also can sneak through tiny openings to get into your garage, shed or house.
If you find a rattlesnake in your yard or garage, do not attack it. Call a professional to remove it, and secure your pets until it’s gone. Call your local fire department, a professional removal service or a nonprofit such as the Phoenix Herpetological Society at 602-550-1090. Be aware that there can be a removal fee.
Russ Johnson offers these suggestions for keeping rattlesnakes out of your home and yard:
- Do not leave food scraps outdoors because they attract rodents, which are the primary food of rattlesnakes.
- Do not leave bird feeders out, as birds may spill their seeds on the ground, which also attracts rodents.
- Make sure to build all gates to below the surface of the ground. This will help keep rattlesnakes out.
- Keep your yard free of clutter and brush that could be attractive for a rattlesnake to hibernate in.
- Inspect your home and fence or block wall for possible entry points that a snake could use and seal any openings.
Click here for more information from the Phoenix Herpetological Society.