More Rattlesnake Info

RATTLESNAKE FAQ’s by Christie Klinger

 

Q.  How can I tell the difference between a rattlesnake and a harmless non-venomous snake?

A.  Rattlesnakes can usually be identified by two key characteristics that non-venomous snakes lack.  First, they have a broad triangular head, narrow neck and thick body.  Secondly, they have a rattle on the end of their tail.  Sometimes the rattle may be broken or missing, and the small button of a baby rattlesnakes rattle may be hard to see.  If you can’t quickly determine from a safe distance whether a snake is a rattlesnake or not, leave it alone.

 

Q.  How many different kinds of rattlesnakes can be found in Nevada?

A.  There are five different species of rattlesnakes in Nevada.  One of them, the Great Basin rattlesnake, is only found in the northern two-thirds of the state.  The other four, the Western diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled rattlesnake (two sub-species, the Southwestern Speckled and the Panamint), and the Mojave rattlesnake can be found in various areas of southern Nevada.

 

Q.  The possibility of encountering a rattlesnake frightens me.  What should I do?

A.  Don’t let your fear keep you from enjoying the outdoors.  Rattlesnakes are actually quite docile and shy when left undisturbed and will only strike in self defense when harassed or startled.   Use caution when hiking in rattlesnake country.  Wear sturdy shoes or boots and loose fitting pants.  Stay on established trails and keep pets on a leash, even if they are well behaved.  Scan the area in front of you and be aware of where you are placing your feet.  Use caution when placing your hands or feet atop or among rocks and crevices.  Avoid running or allowing children to run, especially in dense vegetation, as you may startle a snake or you may not see it until it is too late.  If you do encounter a rattlesnake, keep a safe distance from it and leave it alone.  Most rattlesnake bites result from the snake being harassed or picked up!

 

Q.  Will I alert a rattlesnake on a trail if I make a lot of noise?

A.  No.  Snakes do not have external ears and are essentially deaf; however, they are very sensitive to vibrations.  Therefore, although they may not hear you approaching, they will probably “feel” your footsteps as you get closer to them.

 

Q.  What should I do if I get bitten by a rattlesnake?  What if my pet gets bitten?

A.  If you suffer a rattlesnake bite, seek medical attention as soon as possible.  Remain calm and immobilize the wound, keeping it below heart level.  Do not apply a tourniquet, cut or suction the wound, and do not apply ice.  Identify the snake if possible, but only if it can be done safely and quickly.  If it is necessary to walk, do so slowly, and rest frequently.  Go immediately to the nearest emergency room or call 911.  Follow the same procedure for a pet; only take them to the nearest veterinarian.

 

Q.  Can I die from a rattlesnake bite?

A.  With advancements in antivenin research and today’s medical technology, it is rare for a person to die from a rattlesnake bite provided they seek immediate medical attention.  Although extremely painful and possibly life threatening with out medical intervention, most people make a full recovery without lasting effects from the bite.

 

Q.  Can I tell how old a rattlesnake is by counting its rattles?

A.  No.  The rattlesnake’s rattle is composed of individual segments of keratin, the same material as your fingernails, and each time the snake sheds its skin (usually between 1 and 4 times a year) a new segment of the rattles is added.  Baby rattlesnakes are born with one segment called a button and cannot make any sound until they shed and add new segments.  Additionally, over time segments of the rattle may be lost due to wear and tear. 

 

Q.  Why do rattlesnakes rattle?

A.  Rattlesnakes use their rattle to warn others.  They may rattle to indicate they are present so they won’t be stepped on, or they may rattle if cornered or harassed to warn that they may be about to strike.    

 

Q.  Do rattlesnakes always rattle before they strike?

A.  No, and they don’t always strike every time they rattle. 

 

Q.  How far can a rattlesnake strike?

A.  As a rule of thumb, rattlesnakes can, at best, strike a distance of two-thirds their total body length.  For example, a three foot long snake may be able to strike a distance of two feet.  Always keep a safe distance from any snake.

 

Q.  Do rattlesnakes always inject venom?

A.  No.  Some rattlesnake strikes are ‘dry bites’, meaning no venom is injected.  In fact, rattlesnakes can discharge venom from either fang, both fangs, or neither one.  If you suffer a rattlesnake bite, do not assume it was a dry bite.  Always seek medical attention for any rattlesnake bite.

 

Q.  What happens if a rattlesnake breaks a fang?

A.  Rattlesnake fangs are continuously lost and replaced every six to ten weeks, much the same way shark teeth are replaced with new ones.  If a rattlesnake breaks a fang as a result of a strike or other injury, it is simply replaced with the next available fang. 

 

Q.  I heard a rattling sound in my bushes.  Should I assume there is a rattlesnake in my yard?

A.  Not necessarily.  There are several sounds that are often mistaken for the rattle of a rattlesnake.  Cicadas are insects that can produce a loud buzzing noise that is often mistaken for the rattling of a snake.  Wind rustling dry leaves also sometimes sounds like a rattlesnake.

 

Q.  Can rattlesnakes swim or climb walls?

A.  Rattlesnakes are capable of climbing trees and shrubs but rarely do so.  It’s unlikely that they climb high block walls; however, many harmless non-venomous snakes can and do climb walls and shrubs.  On the other hand, rattlesnakes are adept at swimming and will take to water readily in order to pursue food, mates and refuge, and to escape harassment.

 

Q.  Are rattlesnakes territorial?  If I see one near my house, is it going to stick around?

A.  Rattlesnakes do not tend to be territorial, but do occupy home ranges.  The home range is an area used by the snake that contains food resources and possible mates.  They do not defend home ranges nor will they fight other snakes for access to a particular area.  A snake may reuse a hiding place to rest, such as a hole or pile of debris, but once the prey has been depleted in that area, the snake will move on to a new area with more food.  Rattlesnakes primarily feed on mice and other small rodents.  By keeping your property free of this food source and eliminating hiding places by removing wood piles and other clutter, you can reduce your chances of encountering a rattlesnake on your property.

 

Q.  If I kill a rattlesnake, will its mate hang around?  I heard they travel in pairs.

A.  Rattlesnakes are usually found together during the mating season but are rarely observed traveling in pairs during other times of the year.  It is a myth that if a rattlesnake is killed its mate will remain behind to seek vengeance on the killer. 

 

Q.  Do rattlesnake mothers take care of their babies?

A.  No.  Unlike most snakes, rattlesnakes give birth to live babies and do not lay eggs.  Within hours of birth the baby snakes scatter in search of food and receive no assistance from their parents.

 

Q.  What should I do if I see a rattlesnake on my property?

A.  If you find a snake on your property, from a safe distance try to get a good look at it and determine if it is a rattlesnake or, more likely, a harmless non-venomous snake.  Pay close attention to the shape of the head and tail, and whether it has any distinctive markings or colors.  If possible, try to contain the snake by placing a bucket or some other object over the snake, but only if you can do so safely.  If you are certain the snake on your property is a rattlesnake, call the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and someone will come out to remove the snake.  If the snake is not a rattlesnake, it is harmless and should be left alone, and it will eventually move on.

 

Q.  What time of year and time of day are rattlesnakes most active?

A.  Generally, rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in March or April, or when the average daytime temperatures reach and remain about 60F and higher.  The snakes are then most active when the temperatures are between 80-90F.  This means that the snakes may be active most of the day during the spring, and during the early mornings and late afternoons throughout the summer.  Exposure to temperatures above 110F for more than a few minutes is enough to kill a rattlesnake; therefore, during the hottest part of summer, snakes are seldom observed, except occasionally at night.  Snake activity picks up again as temperatures begin to fall in late summer and early autumn before they go into hibernation as early as September or as late as December.

 

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