Rattlesnake Safety

Utah is snake country, but that’s no reason to be afraid. Most of Utah’s 31 snake species are harmless. Only rattlesnakes are venomous. There are no cottonmouths, copperheads or coral snakes in Utah, and contrary to popular belief, no diamondback rattlers either.

Despite all the urban legends and silly movies, snakes don’t want to bother us, and they certainly don’t want to bite us. Like any animal, a snake will defend itself if it feels threatened, but there are easy precautions you can take to avoid being bitten:

~ Use caution in tall grass and never reach into a burrow or bush with your bare hands.

~ When climbing, never place your hands where you can’t see them. There may be a snake on the ledge above you.

~ When hiking or going to the bathroom outdoors, always look before you step over a rock or log and before you sit anywhere.

~ Making noise will not scare snakes away. Snakes can’t hear most airborne sounds, but they do feel vibrations in the ground, so if you want to reduce your chances of seeing a snake, walk with heavy steps.

~ All snakes can bite, but most snakes are harmless and a bite requires little or no treatment. Washing with soap and water is usually sufficient.

~ Don’t handle venomous snakes! Don’t handle any snake if you don’t know what kind it is, and teach your children to admire snakes from a distance. Even rattlesnakes are harmless if you leave them alone.

~ Snakes often bask on trails or roads in the morning and evening hours. They may be asleep. Do not step over a snake as it can be easily startled and inclined to strike. If you can’t go around one, stomping your foot should wake him and cause him to crawl away. People have rolled pebbles at a snake until it moved off the trail.

~ There is rarely such a thing as an unavoidable encounter with a snake. Even if you find yourself face to face with one, all you have to do is take a step or two in reverse and you’ll be out of striking range.

~ Teach your dog to avoid snakes. A snake-sniffing dog is usually bitten on the face or neck. If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, get her to a vet as soon as possible. Better yet, put her through a snake avoidance training course such as Rattlesnake Alert at http://www.rattlesnakealert.com or Get Rattled! at http://www.getrattled.com

~ If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, do not attempt treatment in the field. Cutting, sucking, tourniquets, ice, and liquor are outdated treatment methods that can do more harm than good. Today’s snakebite kit consists of a cell phone and car keys.

~ There is a 25% chance that a bite is “dry,” meaning that no venom was injected. Symptoms of envenomation may include pain, swelling, nausea, muscle tremors, weakness, dizziness and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat). Keep the bitten extremity lower than your heart. Stay calm and get to a hospital or call 911 and have help come to you.

~ Snakebite deaths in America are extremely rare, but time is of the essence. The longer a bite goes untreated, the more damage can occur to tissues and bodily systems.

~ Do not kill the snake that bit you. It’s a waste of valuable time. Besides, except in limited circumstances, it is against state law to kill a snake in most states, and killing a protected or endangered species in Utah could result in a hefty fine.