The snakes you are most likely to encounter at Ken-Caryl Ranch include garter snakes, racers, bull snakes and rattlesnakes. A less common snake is the Western Hognose Snake.
Should you encounter a snake, please take time to identify it. It is illegal to kill snakes in Colorado. If you are not sure of the identification of the snake, or you do not want to get close enough to get a good identification, leave it alone. Snakes play an important role in rodent control and are very beneficial to the health of the overall environment. If, however, a rattlesnake is endangering people or pets, use whatever means necessary to protect yourselves. If you have questions regarding snake removal methods or habitat modification, you may call the Ken-Caryl Ranch Rangers at 303-979-1876, ext. 170.
Garter snakes are the most commonly encountered snakes of the Ranch. The Plains Garter snake and Western Terrestrial Garter Snake both reside here, and are often found near water. Their diets include toads, frogs, salamanders, small fish, earthworms, and grasshoppers. Female garter snakes give birth to live young, usually in late summer or early fall. Garter snakes can reach up to four feet in length, however, at Ken-Caryl Ranch they are more commonly two feet or less. Garter snakes are not poisonous, but may attempt to bite. When handled, they may emit a foul smelling liquid from the anal scent glands.
Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix)
These snakes have a bold yellow or orange stripe along the middle of their backs from head to tail.
Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans)
Western Terrestrial Garter Snakes are sometimes mistaken for bullsnakes or rattlesnakes. They have pale off-white stripes on the sides of their bodies. A pale stripe, which may be prominent or somewhat obscure, runs down the middle of the body from head to tail.
Racer (Coluber constrictor)
Racers have a slender body with an upper side of plain brown or olive. The underside of the snake is cream to yellow in color. The young have dark blotches on their backs and are often mistaken for bullsnakes or rattlesnakes. Racers are egg-laying snakes with the young usually hatching in late summer.
Racers eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and large insects. They swallow their prey whole with or without killing it first. They are not constrictors but, sometimes crush their prey in their mouths. Racers are snakes with a defiant attitude and are probably the most aggressive snakes found on the Ranch, but they are not poisonous. Racers can get up to five feet long, but none that large have been observed at the Ken-Caryl Ranch.
Bullsnake (Pituophis melanoleucus)
Bullsnakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes. Their upper body is yellowish to cream-colored with numerous dark blotches. They often try to fool you into thinking they are rattlesnakes by coiling and striking repeatedly, hissing loudly and vibrating their tails. If the vibrating tail hits dry vegetation it may sound like the rattles of a rattlesnake. They will sometimes spread their jaws to make their head look triangular. Many of these harmless and beneficial snakes lose their lives by putting on this rattlesnake mimic act. Bullsnakes are great rodent eaters, but also eat birds, bird eggs, and lizards. Bullsnakes are constrictors and kill their prey by suffocation. Bullsnakes lay eggs which usually hatch in late August or September. Bullsnakes can get up to eight feet long.
Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus)
Unlike bullsnakes and rattlesnakes, Western Hognose Snakes have a prominent, upturned, spade-like snout and are only 2 to 2.5 feet long. When distrubed, a hognose can put on quite a show, spreading its head, striking (with a closed mouth), and hissing. If this act does not scare off the attacker the snake may play dead by rolling onto its back, regurgitating, defecating, and hanging its tounge out of its open mouth. When turned right side up, it rolls onto its back again.
Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
The venomous Prairie Rattlesnake is a subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are most easily identified by their triangular-shaped heads and the rattles on their tails. The rattles are made of keratin, similar to the material your fingernails are made of. The number of rattles does not indicate the age of the snake because the snake gains a new rattle each time it sheds its skin. In addition, older segments of the rattle tend to break off, so large rattle are seldom complete. The rattles serves as a warning device, although rattlesnakes do not always rattle before they strike.
- Snakes are most active at temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, therefore, if you are active at cooler or hotter temperatures, you reduce the likelihood of encountering snakes.
- Wear leather boots. Rattlesnakes usually can’t bite through leather.
- If climbing rocks, never put your hands or feet where you cannot see and don’t step over logs or rocks without first checking the other side.
- A coiled snake is not necessarily aggressive. This is a defensive pose so, if left alone, they usually will not strike.
- If you do encounter a snake, back away slowly and give it a chance to escape. Believe it or not, the snake is more afraid of you than you are of it. A snake caught by surprise can be dangerous and deserves respect.
- Cover window wells, firewood and compost piles. Keep the area around bird feeders clean, and apply mortar between rocks in a rock wall. Window wells are cool and attract snakes in the heat of the day. Firewood, compost piles and spillage from bird feeders attract snakes. Snakes are attracted to the spaces between rocks in a rock wall for protection and heat regulation.
- Caulk holes around windows, water lines and power cables entering the foundation of your house. These are potential sites through which snakes can enter your house.
- Don’t leave pet food or feed pets in the garage. This attracts rodents, which will attract snakes.
Treatment of a Snake Bite
There are about 15 rattlesnake bites a year in the metro area. Victims should seek medical help as soon as possible, within two hours is best.
- Slowly move away from the snake so it can’t bite again.
- Call 911
- Keep the victim quiet and treat for shock.
- Remove any restrictive clothing or jewelry.
- If the bite is on a hand or foot, wrap to immobilize the elbow or knee by wrapping with an Ace bandage. Wrap no tighter than one would for a sprain. Make sure pulses are present.
- Apply Sawyer Extractor until no more drainage occurs from fang marks. Extractor can be left in place for 30 minutes.
- If extractor is not available, apply hard direct pressure over bite with a gauze pad.
- If possible, keep extremity level and at, or below, heart.
- Get to the nearest hospital or medical facility immediately!
- Do not put ice or a cold compress on the bite.
- Do not put a tourniquet (tight band) above the bite area.
- Do not make incisions in the wound. Such measures have not been proven useful and may cause further injury.
- Snakes can not jump.
- A rattlesnake can strike approximately a third of its body length.
- Snakes do not dig holes but will occupy holes made by other animals.
- Snakes are true hibernators and migrate to habitual hibernacula that they can share with other snake species. In this area, snakes become active in late April and retreat to dens in mid to late October.
- Snakes are not slimy. They have dry, scaly skin.
- Fewer than 10% of all snakes have venom that’s capable of harming people.
- Snakes are unable to close their eyes because they lack moveable eyelids. A clear, spectacle-like shield protects their eyes.
- If you find a snakeskin in your yard it does not necessarily mean that the snake is still around.
- When snakes stick out their tongues, they are smelling by picking up particles from the air.
Photos provided by L.J. Livo and S. Wilcox