LOGAN – Utah Department of Wildlife Resources put out a warning for people enjoying the outdoors that as the weather heats up rattlesnakes become more active.
Terry Messmer, a Utah State University professor and wildlife specialist, said with more people social distancing in wilderness the more the need to be careful because there are rattlesnakes in Cache Valley.
“The thing is, right now there are a lot of people trying to escape COVID-19 and we are seeing more people hiking and camping,” he said. “This is the peak season for wildlife young being born and we do have populations of rattlesnakes in Cache Valley.”
He said there are plenty of rattlesnakes to be encountered especially in the foothills and other hiking trails outside of the city.
“Like most wildlife, rattlesnakes are afraid of people and will flee from them if given the chance,” Messmer said. “There are about 30 different kinds of snakes in Utah and the Great Basin Rattlesnake is the only venomous snake we have up north.”
“When you are out in wildlife country you need to be careful where you put your hands and feet,” the professor said. “Be wildlife aware, leave your earbuds at camp. You want to be aware of your surroundings.”
He said every year in Cache Valley there are about a half a dozen people bit by rattlesnakes, but if you leave them alone the chances of getting bit are not as great. We get relatively few people bitten as compared to other parts of the state.
“Killing or capturing a rattlesnake is against the law. They are a protected species,” he said. “Utah State has some rattlesnakes in captivity they are doing research on and they have a permit to have them in captivity. The best thing to do is leave wildlife in the distance and you should have a great time and you won’t have any negative encounters with them.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 6,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snake annually and that up to six of those bite victims die. Every year, they estimated 90 human deaths will occur from various venomous animal encounters.
The stings and subsequent anaphylaxis from bees, wasps and hornets are responsible for over 90% of the reported human deaths.
Cache Valley has one venomous snake, but there are seven venomous snakes found in Utah.
Utah Department of Wildlife Resources said rattlesnakes are commonly called pit vipers because of the pit located between their nostrils and eyes. Most pit vipers found in Utah also have tails with a series of rattles, hence the name rattlesnake.
DWR officials also said High-elevation rocky slopes are places in Utah where you are most likely to encounter rattlesnakes; however, a rattlesnake’s camouflage helps it to blend into its surroundings, so you may pass by a rattlesnake and never know it.
“If a snake thinks it’s threatened and there’s no way to escape they are more likely to strike,” Division of Wildlife Resources Native Species Coordinator Drew Dittmer said. “In that case, the snake will often strike to protect itself. Just don’t approach it. Give it plenty of space, and leave it alone. Respect the snake, and you will be safe.”
The state agency suggested when you are out hiking, make sure to always watch the trail ahead of you, and to check carefully before stepping over rocks, reaching onto ledges or sitting down on a rock or log.
Here are some tips for people who may encounter a rattlesnake:
- Remain calm and do not panic. Stay at least five feet away from the snake. Make sure to give it plenty of space.
- Do not try to kill the snake. Doing so is illegal and greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you.
- Do not throw anything at the snake, like rocks or sticks. Rattlesnakes may respond to this by moving toward the person doing the throwing, rather than away from them.
- Alert other people to the snake’s location. Advise them to use caution and to respect the snake. Keep children and pets away from the area.
- Keep your dog on a leash when hiking or camping. Allowing your dog to roam around increases the chance the dog will find a snake and get bitten.
- If you hear a rattle, don’t jump or panic. 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.
Depending on where you live, you could find a snake in your yard. Aside from building a fence that rattlesnakes can’t penetrate, here are some other useful tips to help keep rattlesnakes out of your yard:
- Piles are things you should eliminate from your yard.
- Control rodent populations. Bird feeders and water are two of the main items that draw rodents to yards, which in turn can attract snakes.
- Avoid scaring away harmless snake species, such as gophersnakes. Having other snake species on or near your yard may deter rattlesnakes.
For more information about snakes, visit WildAwareUtah.org.