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Rattlesnakes: what to know and what to do when you encounter one

Apr 6, 2022, 4:55 PM | Updated: Apr 7, 2022, 10:31 am
(Division of Wildlife Resources)...
(Division of Wildlife Resources)
(Division of Wildlife Resources)

As the seasons begin to change, rattlesnakes will begin to leave their winter dens and seek out warmth and water. Biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources said you may be seeing more rattlesnakes as Utah is in an ongoing drought and they search for water.

Here’s what you need to know about rattlesnakes and what to do when you encounter one.

There are actually five rattlesnake species in Utah, and according to the DWR, the most common is the Great Basin rattlesnake subspecies.

Snakes don’t need as much water as mammals and mostly feed on a diet of rodents, birds, and sometimes other reptiles.

Rattlesnakes are most active at dawn and dusk, but can be seen at other times of the day as well.

“Rocky, high-elevation slopes are the most common place in Utah to encounter rattlesnakes — typically while someone is out hiking. However, you can encounter rattlesnakes in lower-elevation areas, as well. A rattlesnake’s camouflage helps it to blend into its surroundings, so you may pass by a rattlesnake and never know it,” DWR states.

So what should you do if you encounter one? DWR suggests the following:

  • Remain calm and do not panic. Stay at least 5 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 you.
  • Do not throw anything at the snake, like rocks or sticks. Rattlesnakes may respond to this by moving toward the person doing the throwing, rather than away from them.
  • Alert other 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 your dog on a leash when hiking or camping. Allowing your dog to roam around increases the chance the dog will find a snake and get bitten.
  • If you hear a rattle, don’t jump or panic. Try to locate where the sound is coming from before you react, so you don’t step closer to the snake or on top of it.

“Like most animals, rattlesnakes fear humans and will do anything they can to avoid us,” said DWR Native Species Coordinator Drew Dittmer. “However, that changes if a snake thinks it’s threatened and there’s no way to escape. In that situation, 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 its space, and you will be safe.”

It’s important to remember that rattlesnakes are protected and killing or harassing a rattlesnake, unless in self-defense, is illegal under Utah law.

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Rattlesnakes: what to know and what to do when you encounter one