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General Avoidance Information Regarding Rattlesnakes

By Open Space Manager Sean Warren

The Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) is the only poisonous snake on the Ranch. It hibernates in subterranean dens from late October to mid-April depending on weather and other environmental conditions. When rattlesnakes emerge from their dens in the spring, they are very active replacing depleted energy reserves and seeking a mate. There may be concentrations of rattlesnakes around den sites as the snakes migrate and disperse.

Consider the following points for avoiding rattlesnakes in open space and at home:

  1. Rattlesnakes will use trails to hunt because their prey (primarily small rodents) use trails. Rattlesnakes lay in wait for prey to pass at which point they strike and inject poison into their victim. Rattlesnakes, especially during cooler temperatures, can be seen on trails and roadsides soaking up heat radiating from these warmer surfaces. Trail users should be aware of these facts and always keep an eye on trail edges where these snakes could be hiding. Some trails, like the Hogback Trail, are mowed along the edges to provide better detection of any lurking snakes.
  2. The Hogback Trail pass through a prairie dog colony. Rattlesnakes tend to be concentrated in these areas because of the prey base. When in these areas, be especially aware of the potential presence of rattlesnakes.
  3. Rattlesnakes are cold-blooded, meaning their body temperature fluctuates with air temperatures. They have an optimum temperature range that affects their activity. If temperatures are outside this range, they will be less active. Trail users often mistakenly assume that they can avoid rattlesnakes during the hottest days of summer by waiting until evening to use the trails. Rattlesnakes will avoid the intense heat during the day, opting to hunt during the cooler temperatures of the evening.
  4. Do not walk where you cannot see what is around you. Do not step over logs or rocks unless you can see what is on the other side. Do not place your hands in cracks or ledges if you cannot see what is there.
  5. Keep your pets on a leash. Keep small children near you. Dogs and children are curious and not always aware of hazards and need to be watched.
  6. Western Rattlesnakes are not aggressive. In most cases they will avoid confrontation by quietly crawling away. They do not always “rattle” to warn humans of their presence. It is best to rely on your vision for avoiding encounters with rattlesnakes.
  7. You can reduce the chance of encountering rattlesnakes on your property by making your property as undesirable as possible for them. For instance, be careful with pet food and bird seed; don’t let it lay around on the floor or ground. This type of situation attracts small rodents, which attracts rattlesnakes. Remove accumulations of leaf litter, firewood piles and other types of cover. Keep your lawn mowed. Fill holes under patios and around your house foundation. Consider putting an enclosure around the underside of a low deck; make sure that mesh openings are small, i.e., ¼”. Be wary of large rock clusters or dry stack, stone walls in your landscaping; these are very attractive to snakes.

If you have a rattlesnake on your property and want it removed, there are private wildlife/pest control contractors that can help with trapping snakes, or homeowners can build or buy traps for their own use. If you have questions about rattlesnakes in general or would like to know how to make your property less attractive to rattlesnakes, call the Rangers at 303-979-1876, ext., 170, and we can help.

For information on rattlesnake bite first aid, visit the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service website at www.ext.colostate.edu. Look for the Coping with Snakes page in the natural resource section. Besides information on treating bites, you will see tips on keeping snakes off your property. I think the best advice I’ve read regarding snakebites is, “The most useful snakebite first aid kit consists of car keys and cell phone for calling the hospital and/or poison center.” At Ken-Caryl Ranch, we are close enough to professional health care facilities to get treatment within an acceptable amount of time.

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