Living with Rattlesnakes
(Read more rattlesnake stories.)
It's that time of year again (assuming the weather has finally decided to cooperate) time to pull out the tents, sleeping bags, hiking boots and go camping! It is important to remember, however, we aren't the only ones using the land. Utah is home to venomous rattlesnakes as well!
According to Jim Glenn, a herpetologist from the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Salt Lake City, there are six different rattlesnakes found in Utah: the Great Basin, midget faded, prairie, sidewinder, Modave and speckled. The Great Basin is the most common rattler here, ranging from Bear Lake on the north down through the central mountains and much of southern Utah. Bites from the sidewinder, Modave and speckled rattlesnakes are very rare.
Glenn said deaths from snake bites are even rarer. There have only been five deaths from snakebites in Utah since 1900.
Glenn says there are normally less than 10 rattlesnake bites per year in Utah. Some 40-60 percent of the bites are classified as "legitimate," meaning they occurred in a natural setting when someone encountered a snake while hiking or engaged in other outdoors activities. The other 30-40 percent of the bites are "illegitimate" and happen when people are handling snakes people usually bring these bites on themselves.
A rattlesnake fang has an opening near the end, connected by a duct to a poison gland behind the eye. Normally, the fang lies against the roof of the mouth, but when needed, the fang is pushed forward and the poison injected into the deepest part of the wound. It is important to note: the snake mostly uses the poison to kill prey for food, and less for defense.
If you do receive a snakebite, Glenn recommends that you get to medical aid as quickly as possible. Since venoms are different and affect body parts differently, it's important not to treat the bite without proper training and equipment. Glenn contends if you haven't done anything, you haven't done anything wrong. Sixty percent of bites occur close to the Wasatch Front, in the mountains from Logan to Provo, close to medical aid. Only 10% of the bites come from southern Utah areas.
The old remedy of cutting over the bite and sucking out the poison is strongly discouraged. There is a far greater chance of serious injury from the cut, or ensuing infection, than from the snake bite. Just stay calm and get to a doctor.
Snakes are ectothermic; their body temperature adjusts to that of their environment. If the air temperature is cool, they will seek warmer spots. For example, they may sun themselves on rocks which absorb heat from sunlight. In the heat of the summer they become more nocturnal, coming out in the cool of the evening or the night. They will seek protection from the heat in the shade of rocks and foliage. Be careful in those areas. Watch where you put your hands and feet.
Snakes don't have ears, therefore they sense movement from vibrations rather than sound.
Rattlers inhabit every part of Utah, but aren't as numerous as they were even a few years ago. Many snakes have been killed or driven from population centers, and adjacent areas frequented by man. That has disturbed the balance of nature, resulting in a surge in the number of mice, rats, gophers and other small animals. Kill the snakes which prey on the rodents and the rodent population explodes. Then you have to step up programs to control the rodents.
It's understandable that people don't want rattlers in their back yard. But don't kill them. If you find a snake in the city then call animal control and they will take care of the problem. They have the training and equipment. Never try to catch a rattler. It's extremely dangerous. Don't kill them don't catch them. Just call animal control.
If you find a rattler out in the backcountry then leave it alone. Go around it. Go the other way. It belongs there in nature. Let it live.
Knowing a bit about the snakes, makes it easier to avoid them in the wild. Be careful when you are climbing onto or poking under rocks. Be sure you know it is safe before you put your hands somewhere. That can be difficult when you are rock climbing, but it is important.
Caves, old mine shafts and lava tubes often provide a cool refuge for snakes during the summer. Many people enjoy exploring these structures. Use a good light and be very careful. Have a friend with you and don't take chances.