FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 10, 2019
This article is being provided to you to use free of charge courtesy of The Rattlesnake Conservancy. TV and radio interviews available. Photos and captions included attached.
Spring brings increased chance of snake encounters
Knowing what to do is half the battle
Photo: Dusky pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) by Tiffany Bright
Spring is nearly here and for many people, that means a lot more time enjoying the great outdoors. Whether that means gardening or hiking the back country, outside activities sometimes include surprise interactions with venomous snakes. These encounters can be peaceful – and even enjoyable – with a little preparation and knowledge.
“In the past, we used to hear that the only good snake was a dead snake. As we learn about these animals, we know they play important roles in keeping rodent and insect populations down,” says Tony Daly-Crews, executive director of The Rattlesnake Conservancy.
One of the many myths around rattlesnakes and other rattle-less venomous snakes is that they are emerging earlier and spreading farther every year. Overall, rattlesnake populations aren’t growing – they are typically retreating as more and more habitat is lost to human sprawl. But that does mean that every year, streets, businesses and houses are constructed in what used to be wild areas. When that happens, people who haven’t seen rattlesnakes before are more likely to encounter one for the first time.
Those who aren’t big fans of animals with scales can take solace in the fact that these feared creatures are actually helping humans live longer. “Venom is being studied with some astounding results,” explains Daly-Crews. “Several medications have already been developed, such as Integrillin, an antiplatelet drug used for arterial blood clots and heart failure. If we didn’t have rattlesnakes, we wouldn’t have that line of treatment.”
Another common myth is that snakes will spread out further in an area experiencing a drought. However, recent research has shown that in periods of drought, rattlesnakes tend to reduce their travels and stay put to weather those tough times.
When gardening or doing other yard work, always look before reaching into or under anything. Using a garden tool or even a handy stick to sweep under areas you can’t visualize will help reduce your chances of an unwanted, hands-on experience with your reptile neighbours.
Although snakes are known for being cold-blooded, this does not mean they can remain out in the heat and sun indefinitely. They require shaded, covered areas to avoid overheating, and reducing snake-friendly hiding opportunities near homes and garages can reduce your risk. Some residents install snake fencing to prevent legless travellers from frequenting their properties.
If you encounter a snake in your yard and you aren’t certain whether it’s venomous or not, simply give it a wide berth, and maybe snap a few photos from a safe distance. As a general rule, use the length of the snake and double that to establish your safe zone. For instance, if the snake appears to be three feet long, remain six feet away. (Just be sure not to lose yourself in the lens – it’s easy to get closer than you intended when using a camera.) There are many snake identification groups on social media to help you determine which species your visitor is.
Many cities and towns do not have government or animal control have services to remove snakes, so you may need to contact a local herpetological society or private company to safely remove a venomous snake from your yard. Keep pets and children inside until the snake has been removed, or until it has moved on – which they usually will do on their own.
If you encounter a snake out on a hike, simply retreat and go around it. They rarely go on the offensive – fast retreat or their clever camouflage to avoid potential predators. However, when that doesn’t work, they will sometimes stage quite a show to convince you that they’re dangerous. Hissing, tail-shaking, head-flattening and striking for show are all behaviours venomous and non-venomous snakes exhibit to dissuade potential predators. Venom is biologically expensive to snakes and they don’t want to use it unless it is absolutely necessary. People increase their chances of being bitten by handling the snake, which is an unnecessary risk for both parties, and is a common cause of snakebites..
In the very rare event a bite does occur, remain calm and call 9-1-1 for medical attention. Do not apply a tourniquet or attempt to suction the wound. Do not try to kill or capture the snake, as all snakes in Canada and the U.S., except coral snake species, utilize the same treatment. , but consider taking a photo for identification. Snake bites are rarely fatal with prompt treatment, thanks to advanced medical care and the availability of anti-venom. There is no homeopathic or “at-home” treatment that has shown to be effective.
“You don’t have to love snakes to live peacefully with them, and our goal is to reduce negative encounters through education and prevention,” Daly-Crews said. “Most of us enjoy our yards and wild areas because we all crave to be a part of our natural world. Learning how to avoid attracting snakes, and what to do if you come across one is simply part of enjoying our shared outdoor spaces.”
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The Rattlesnake Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to advancing the protection of rattlesnakes, and their habitat through research and education. We understand the challenges of dealing with human and wildlife conflict and we strive to educate individuals about snakes and how to live peacefully with them.
For more information, or to set up an interview, please contact Tony Daly-Crews, executive director.