Utah rattlers are on the move

Tips on how to avoid an encounter with a rattlesnake

A little knowledge can go a long way in helping people get along with rattlesnakes. Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Rattlesnakes strike fear in the hearts of some people. But they shouldn’t. Knowing a little about how these reptiles behave and doing a few simple things can go a long way in keeping people and the snakes safe.

Five rattlesnake species live in Utah, the most common of which is the Great Basin rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes in Utah are currently on the move, looking for water and rodents after emerging from their dens following a long winter. They are most active during the summer at dawn and dusk. Snakes mainly eat rodents, birds and other reptiles.

Rocky, high-elevation slopes are the places in Utah where people are most likely to encounter rattlesnakes; however, a rattlesnake’s camouflage helps it to blend into its surroundings, so people might pass by a rattlesnake and never know it.

Rattlesnakes are protected under Utah law, making it illegal to harass or kill one. They are an important part of Utah’s ecosystem and help keep the rodent population in check.

People might see a rattlesnake while out camping or hiking this summer. However, snakebites are quite rare and most people who are bitten by rattlesnakes are harassing or trying to illegally kill the snake. Like most animals, rattlesnakes fear humans and will do anything they can to avoid coming into contact.

“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 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 it will respect you.”

When out hiking, make sure to always watch the trail ahead, and to check carefully before stepping over rocks, reaching onto ledges or sitting down on a rock or log.

What to do if a rattlesnake is encountered

Remain calm and do not panic. Stay at least five feet 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.

Do not throw anything at the snake, like rocks or sticks. Rattlesnakes might respond to this by moving toward the person doing the throwing, rather than away from them.

Alert 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 the dog on a leash. Allowing a dog to roam around increases the chance the dog will find a snake and get bit.

If people hear a rattle, don’t jump or panic. They should try to locate where the sound is coming from before trying to move, so they don’t step closer to the snake or on top of it.”

Keeping rattlesnakes out of yards

Depending on where one lives, they could find a snake in their yard. Aside from building a fence that rattlesnakes can’t penetrate, here are some other useful tips to help keep rattlesnakes out of the yard:

Reduce the number of places that provide snakes with shelter. Brush, wood, rock and junk piles are all things people should eliminate.

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 gopher snakes. Having other snake species on or near the yard may deter rattlesnakes from wandering through.

Readers can get additional rattlesnake safety tips on the Wild Aware Utah website.