SALT LAKE CITY —The Division of Wildlife Resources would like to remind those getting ready to explore Utah’s outdoor trails and campsites snakes are coming out of winter hiding places.


FILE PHOTO – Western rattlesnake.

Snakes and other amphibians do not hibernate like warm blooded animals do. Snakes stop eating as the weather gets cold and their metabolism slows down and they look for a place underground to hide from the cold.

As the weather warms snakes start to move, they look for water and rodents after emerging from their dens following a long winter. The serpents are most active during the summer at dawn and dusk. Snakes mainly eat rodents, birds and other reptiles.

High elevation rocky slopes are some of the places in Utah where you might encounter rattlesnakes; however, a rattlesnake’s camouflage helps it to blend into its surroundings, so a hiker may pass by a rattlesnake and not know it.

Killing a rattlesnake is a class B misdemeanor because they are protected species under Utah law. Unless a person is threatened or defending themselves, it against the law kill a rattlesnake. Tall snakes are an important part of Utah’s ecosystem and help keep the rodent population in check.

Rattlesnakes can be slithering on trails and yards near you

A black tailed rattlesnake is another species that may also be found around Cache Valley.

Rattlesnake bites are quite rare, and most people who are bitten by rattlesnakes are usually harassing or trying to illegally kill the snake. Like most animals in the wild, rattlesnakes fear humans and will do anything they can to get out of a person’s way.

“However, that changes if a snake thinks it’s threatened and there’s no way to escape,” DWR Native Species Coordinator Drew Dittmer said. “In that case, 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 you will be safe.”

It is probably not a good idea to hike while being distracted by electronic devices, instead make sure to always watch the trail ahead, and check carefully before stepping over rocks, reaching onto ledges or sitting down on a rock.

DWR gives the following suggestions for an encountering a rattlesnake

  • 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 trying to move, so you don’t step closer to the snake or on top of it.

Here are some hints for keeping rattlers out of a yard

Depending on where you live, you could find a snake in your yard. Aside from building a fence that rattlesnakes can’t penetrate, here are some other useful tips to help keep rattlesnakes out of your yard:

  • Reduce the number of places that provide snakes with shelter. Brush, wood, rock and junk piles are all things you should eliminate from your yard.
  • Control rodent populations. Bird feeders and water are two of the main items that draw rodents to yards, which in turn can attract snakes.
  • Avoid scaring away harmless snake species, such as gophersnakes. Having other snake species on or near your yard may deter rattlesnakes.

Identifying a rattlesnake

Gophersnakes are the most widespread and abundant snake species in Utah and are often confused with rattlesnakes because when alarmed, gopher snakes hiss and vibrate their tails. A rattlesnake’s tail is wide and blunt and tipped with a rattle, while a gopher snake’s tail is slender, pointed and lacks a rattle. Rattlesnakes also have broad, triangular-shaped heads, and vertical eye pupils, while non-venomous snakes in Utah have longer snouts and round pupils.

If you can’t identify the snake from a distance, leave it alone and treat it as if it were venomous.

More information on rattlesnake safety tips can be found on the Wild Aware Utah website or listen to the DWR Wild podcast to learn more about the rattlesnakes in Utah.

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