Snake season: Watch out on the trails, and in your yard
Hikers are out on the trails, and so are the snakes.
As the weather warms up, snakes come out of hibernation and one misstep can lead to an emergency room visit.
According to Arizona Game and Fish, there are 13 species of rattlesnakes in Arizona — including the Western diamondback (responsible for more bites and deaths to humans than any other rattlesnake species in the U.S.) and the Mohave rattlesnake (otherwise known as Mohave Green, widely considered the most toxic rattlesnake in the U.S.) — more than any other state.
Some of them can grow to more than 60 inches – about the size of a young teenager. They prey on small mammals, birds, other reptiles and even centipedes — all of which are probably scurrying through your backyard right this minute.
Rattlesnake venom is toxic, but according to Arizona Poison Centers, less than 1 percent of snake bites are fatal.
Reptile enthusiast Nicole Cofer-Butler and her husband, Ryan, are proud owners of numerous reptiles, including 15 nonvenomous (poison is ingested whereas venom is injected) snakes. Nicole travels to schools throughout the county educating the public about snakes and said there are plenty of misconceptions.
Snakes don’t actually chase people, but it may seem that way when they’re slithering towards shelter behind you. Snakes don’t create their own burrows but use empty burrows and other holes to hide. If you have holes in your yard, keeping them filled will deter snakes.
Rattlers don’t always warn before striking, so if you feel something thump your boot while bushwhacking between hiking trails, it could be an errant weed or a snake making a beeline for cover.
Don’t handle dead rattlesnakes. Reflex bites can inject venom hours after their death, Butler said.
“It’s good to know your native species,” she said. “The common kingsnake and gopher snake will keep down the rodent population that would otherwise attract rattlesnakes.”
Dogs, often hiking and hunting partners, are notorious for taking a shot to the muzzle when they sniff up a snake. The best safety measure is to keep them on a leash, but the whole point of taking Fido out in the sticks is to let him frolic through nature.
Kristen Andrews, a veterinarian in Kingman, said next to leashes, vaccination against the Western diamondback venom is the next best precaution.
“I would recommend it to pet owners in areas with snakes,” she said “I’ve had pets come in with bites that have been vaccinated and they have much less severe reaction. I’ve found it to be very effective.”
Open rural areas sare rife with the venomous reptiles and the vaccination (only for Western diamondbacks, not other rattlers) will buy a dog some time until an emergency vet visit.
“There’s not much as an owner you can do and that’s why the vaccination is important,” Andrews said. “Be prepared, and if your dog does get bit, it is an emergency, so don’t wait.”
Butler and her husband have removed rattlesnakes from homes and yards in the past. They currently aren’t licensed to remove snakes (you can get a wildlife service permit through AZGF) and certified snake removal businesses are few and far between. Mohave County Animal Control won’t touch them. Game and Fish will take action on special occasions. Kingman Police Department’s Neighborhood Services will respond, remove and relocate snakes.
For more information on how to deal with venomous snakes, visit https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/livingwith/rattlesnakes/.