Snakes, rattlers, at home and beyond: Rattlesnake safety tips

A rattlesnake in Southern Utah, date unknown. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says if you see a rattlesnake, give it plenty of space and don't harass it. | Photo by Lynn Chamberlain, courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

ST. GEORGE –  Seeing a rattlesnake in your yard or in the wild can be a frightening experience.

But it doesn’t have to be.  If you respect the snake and give it some space, the chance you’ll have a negative encounter with the snake is almost zero.  And if you can find a safe place to observe the snake, “you’ll have a chance to observe the behavior of one of the most unique critters in the world,” Jason Jones said.

“Rattlesnakes are neat and novel members of our native reptile community,” Jones said.  “They control pests.  They’re very important to Utah’s ecosystems.”

Staying safe

Jones, a native aquatic species biologist with the Division of Wildlife Resources, said summer is the time of year when you’ll most likely encounter rattlesnakes in Utah.

Eight rattlesnake subspecies live in Utah.  The most common is the Great Basin rattlesnake, which is found across the state.

A rattlesnake in Southern Utah, date unknown. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says if you see a rattlesnake, give it plenty of space and don't harass it. | Photo by Lynn Chamberlain, courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Rocky, talus slopes are the places in Utah where you’ll most likely encounter rattlesnakes.

“Because many snake species are camouflaged,” Jones said, “there’s a chance you’ve been close to a snake and never knew it.”

If you encounter a rattlesnake, the way you act will likely determine the experience you have.

“Like most animals,” Jones said,“rattlesnakes fear humans and avoid us whenever possible.”

Jones said respecting the snake and giving it plenty of space are the keys to avoiding problems.

“I can’t overemphasize how important it is to give snakes space, to watch where you step, to watch where you place your hands when you sit down, and above all, to resist the urge to harass or kill a snake,” he said.  “Approaching the snake will ultimately lead to a negative interaction.”

Jones also reminded readers that rattlesnakes are fully protected by Utah law; it’s illegal to harass or kill one.

Tips to keep you safe are available in a free brochure titled “Living with Venomous Reptiles.”   The brochure is available at Southwest PARC’s website.

Wild Aware Utah also provides free rattlesnake safety information. WAU’s information is available at its website.

Canines Devo, Toby and Scratch take due note of a regional warning sign near the Remote Possibilities RC club in the Bloomington area of St. George, Utah, March 7, 2011 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Hiking tips

If you encounter a rattlesnake while hiking, Jones said you should do the following:

* Remain calm.  Do not panic.
* Stay at least five feet from the snake.  Give the rattlesnake respect and space.
* Do not try to kill the snake.  Doing so is illegal and greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you.

“Most venomous bites happen when untrained people try to kill or harass a snake,” Jones said.  “In most cases, the snake is simply moving through the area, sunning itself or attempting to find refuge. If you leave the snake alone, it will leave you alone.”

* Alert people to the snake’s location.  Advise them to use caution and to respect the snake.  Keep children and pets away.

Keeping snakes out of your yard

Rocky, talus slopes aren’t the only place in Utah where you might encounter a rattlesnake.  Depending on where you live, you could find a snake in your yard.

Aside from building a fence that rattlesnakes can’t penetrate, Jones said the following are the best ways to keep rattlesnakes out of your yard:

* Reduce the number of places where snakes can find shelter. Brush, wood, rock and junk piles are all good things to get rid of.

* Control rodent populations.  Bird feeders and water are two of the main items that attract rodents to yards.

* Avoid scaring away harmless snake species, such as gopher snakes.  Having other snake species on or near your yard may deter rattlesnakes from wandering through your yard.

* Jones said he’s heard of people using “snake repellents.” “But I’m not aware of any scientific testing that shows these products are effective,” he said.

Martin Schijf, Urban Wildlife Specialist with the DWR in Southern Utah said that a lot of times people see a snake in general and they don’t like snakes – not just rattlesnakes, which are a protected species; while you can kill a rattlesnake if you are being threatened, Schijf said that the DWR specialists prefer to be called and they will gladly come and remove the snake from your property.

For assistance or information in Southern Utah, telephone the DWR’s Washington County field office:  435-879-8694; or Urban Wildlife Specialist, Martin Schijf: 435-879-8694.

For assistance or information generally or in other areas of Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR’s Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.

Related article:  Dogs at risk: Rattlesnake vaccine an option


Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this article.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JoyceKuzmanic

Copyright 2012 St. George News. 


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  • Murat July 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I do not like how the state says you can kill this, but not this. This animal is protected, but those are not. When I lived in Hawaii, I cooked up a Green Sea Turtle right on the beach. Some native Hawaiians threatened to kill me, but I knew they were harmless. Regardless, I left the area to enjoy my meal in peace and because they called the DLNR on me. Now, if it had been a shark that I had killed, it would be a different story. For some reason, they’re fair game. I do not appreciate the double standard, which is why I disregard arbitrary wildlife restrictions.

  • SnakeHawk September 13, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Well to Murat I Am a Herpetologist/Zoologist & A Animal Lover & I Wish there wold be a LAW on Anyone Killing Snakes & Anything Unless there Gonna Eat it to Survive on. Other wise if they Kill it and Leave it THEY SHOULD BE BEATEN & TOSSED IN JAIL!! BUT YES I agree that there is A Double standard on lots of Different Animals.. BUT A GREEN SEA TURTLE DUDE??? Them are Protected By Law because There is only like 80 left in the Hole WORLD!! You Could of Killed anything else But that Turtle So That’s NOT COOL AT ALL if your Telling a True Story on that..

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