Before we begin, let's review a few things:
What should you do if you encounter a rattlesnake on a trail?
What should you do if you are bitten by a rattlesnake?
How should you protect your dog?
Now, we can move on...
What have we done so far this year?
Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS) is working to formalize more recreation opportunities on South Table Mountain. To assist JCOS, Adaptation will be surveying proposed trail routes and parking areas to better understand how rattlesnakes might also be using these areas. We also want to know how rattlesnakes use the mountain during active months and where they spend the winter. To facilitate this, we will collect and surgically implant transmitters in 25 snakes.
So far, we have collected 13 rattlesnakes and Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, with Alameda East Veterinary Hospital, has surgically implanted radio transmitters into them. We will continue to collect rattlesnakes until we reach our goal of 25 and we have started tracking the first 13.
Above is a map of the first 13 rattlesnakes we found on South Table Mountain.
Above is Prairie rattlesnake #3 overlooking the city of Golden.
If it wasn’t for our awesome volunteers we would not have found so many in such a short time!
One of our volunteers searching for prairie rattlesnakes and enjoying a fantastic view!
Many of the rattlesnakes we have found have had a nice meal in their belly.
Chris, one of our volunteers, with a Central Plains milksnake that was found crossing the trail.
Here is Ryan with a large bullsnake that one of our wonderful volunteers found.
#9 was on the move one evening. We tracked him into the nice evening glow of the sun.
We will keep you updated as the season continues. If you happen to see us while we are on the mountain, stop by and say, “Hi.” We are always happy to talk with park visitors. Until next time, keep one earbud out, keep your dog on a leash, and enjoy the beauty of South Table Mountain.
Keeping rattlesnakes where they belong: tips for preventing patio snake encounters
Periodically, we will have guest bloggers, sharing stories and insight about all things rattlesnakes! Here is our first guest blogger of the season, Bryan Hughes, of Rattlesnake Solutions in Arizona, giving us some insight about urban rattlesnakes!
If you live in an area where rattlesnakes do, you may be like thousands of people across the country each day who have an unexpected encounter where you least expect it. While the bunnies and birds who are the intended target of baths and feeders are welcome sights, other wildlife will also show up, and this includes rattlesnakes. Even if your yard looks like the surface of Mars and wildlife doesn’t want any part of it, you can still get the occasional wandering rattlesnake show up for a bit of shade against the side of the house, or just passing through.
So what can you do to keep snakes out of your yard?
The first is the reduction of habitat. If you are offering food, water, shelter, or all three, you are inviting wildlife to use it. Get rid of any debris, remove leaf litter and keep landscaping tight, and only water what needs watering. If you’re on the fence about whether or not one of your bushes is pulling its aesthetic weight, get rid of it. If you’ve got an impenetrable jungle of rosemary that you’ve had on the list of stuff to take care of for months, get to it. The more places and spaces that offer shady refuge, the more animals can potentially use them. If not rattlesnakes themselves, their prey may be using them, and attracting rattlesnakes from well outside your property.
If you have a pest control guy that’s selling you snake-a-way or some other stinky stuff to keep snakes out: good news, you can stop the service and save some money each month. These snake repellent products do nothing to deter snakes; the only effect is a yard that smells like a cat box and a bottle of windex had a baby. How do I know? I have personally captured hundreds of rattlesnakes from inside a snake-a-way perimeter. My team here in Phoenix has seen no difference at all in the possibility of rattlesnake encounter at homes that area treated with snake repellents and those that have not.
The most effective method is to build a physical barrier. Rattlesnakes can climb to some extent, but are not able to go up straight and flat surfaces without supporting texture. If you have cinderblock walls or a fence around the property, you’re halfway there. What you really need is something called snake fencing, or a rattlesnake fence. A rattlesnake fence is a series of preventative barriers that are attached to existing structures that seal open areas to an area smaller than the smallest baby rattlesnake, or about ¼”.
What’s a rattlesnake fence, and what do I need to know about it?
It can me made of many materials, but we have found that steel is best. The rattlesnake fence techniques we have worked out here in the brutal Phoenix weather would work anywhere, but each region may differ based on soil type and other factors, like precipitation. In general, stay away from materials that aren’t going to hold up well to the sun and elements. Steel mesh and steel plating will do this the best.
The snake fence needs to be constructed in a way that leaves no area open. A rattlesnake fence goes around the entire property but leaves a 2” gap in one area makes the yard an effective snake trap. While it may seem like just blocking the area nearest to the open wilderness would deter snakes, it can in fact do the opposite. Snakes movements often follow the outer edges of surfaces, as do the rodents that they eat that the snakes may be following. We have many projects that we unfortunately have to turn down because the home owner wants to snake proof the whole yard but leave a gate unprotected. While we are happy to have the opportunity to have the business, ethically we know that we cannot create something that could make the situation even worse.
There is a lot to understanding the little things; the small situations where a gate doesn’t quite match up with the wall, or the back of a fence bends up in a way that prevents a straight line of mesh, etc.. This is where having a group of installers who actually work with rattlesnakes or have some expertise with rattlesnake behavior is a must. Being able to interpret a situation and predict how a rattlesnake may interact with a feature, coming from a place of knowledge and experience of how rattlesnakes actually behave and move, can make the difference. While there are some snake fence projects that are done by handymen and pest control companies, even DYI by the home owner, that rattlesnake experience is often what really separates the effective fences from the ones that we are called to catch one that slipped in. More than half of our rattlesnake fence projects are re-work of existing fence projects that failed to effectively stop rattlesnakes. This is a job that must be done correctly, or not at all in most cases.
Why is rattlesnake fencing important?
Even if you don’t have a home bordering a wild area where a rattlesnake on the patio is a possibility, rattlesnake fencing and the development of a workable standard is an important component to wildlife conservation. Relocation of rattlesnakes, when done properly, is a great way to resolve a rattlesnake situation. However, in order to be a long-term sustainable solution, action must also be taken to prevent future problems. Relocation followed up by rattlesnake fence installation is a newly developing recommendation for long-term success in areas where rattlesnakes and residential areas come into conflict.
Check out Rattlesnake Solutions for more information on rattlesnake fence and prevention services in Arizona and Adaptation Environmental Services snake fencing services in Colorado.
How much do I need to worry about rattlesnakes, really?
Rattlesnakes are certainly something to be cautious about in areas near wild, native habitat. However, even in places where rattlesnakes are very numerous, it’s something that can be managed with some thought and consideration of the big picture - a rattlesnake in the yard is a symptom of a larger problem of wildlife displacement, ongoing development, and ultimately unintentional provision of needed resources by homeowners. Just be mindful of the possibility, and you’ve already handled the hard part.
TLDR; get a rattlesnake fence. Snake repellent doesn’t work. Stop feeding the bunnies.
Bryan Hughes is the owner of Rattlesnake Solutions in Phoenix, Arizona, a business dedicated to the conservation and understanding of rattlesnakes in urban environments, and to the safety of residents who encounter them. More information at https://rattlesnakesolutions.com or on Facebook at https://facebook.com/snakeremoval
Wait!!! What about our 2017 research with Jefferson County Open Space? You can find results here.
So, what should you do if you encounter a rattlesnake on the trail? Give them time and space to leave the trail on their own. Our project partners at Jefferson County Open Space suggest using their “30/30 rule” – and we support this! Give the snake at least 30 seconds (or more) to leave the area, and about 30 feet (i.e. a lot of space) to get away. Why this works: Rattlesnakes, when startled, may hold their ground rather than quickly darting away. Their defensive posture is like a coiled spring ready to defend itself from potential predators, of which you may look like one to a rattlesnake.
What should you do if you are bitten by a rattlesnake? First, move away from the rattlesnake, try to remain calm, and immediately Call 911! Then remove any jewelry or constricting items from your body and follow the instructions from the dispatcher.
Why shouldn’t you use a venom extractor? – They don’t really work. Why shouldn’t you apply a tourniquet or cool with ice? - That concentrates the locality of the venom and causes more problems in area of the bite. Why shouldn’t you use marijuana or drink alcohol? – C’mon, you’re smarter than that.
How should you protect your dog? Keep your dog on a leash when in rattlesnake habitat; it’s an easy way to control your dog by keeping it in areas where you can see (i.e. away from under rocks, bases of shrubs, or clumps of grasses). If your dog gets bitten, pick it up if possible and rush it to a veterinarian. NOTE: Not all vets carry anti-venom, so call ahead to know where to take your furry loved one.
2018 Rattlesnake research in Jefferson County
North Table Mountain – We are wrapping up our project on North Table right now! We’re in the process of collecting all of our research snakes and removing their transmitters before their batteries stop working. It’s been fun recapturing and visiting with our former project partners! Thank you for following our 2017 work and asking so many great questions! The questions help us structure our public presentations and educational materials, so please keep them coming.
South Table Mountain
Jefferson County Open Space is working hard to provide more recreation opportunities. We will be surveying proposed trail routes and parking areas to look for and track rattlesnakes using these habitats. Our partners at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory also want to make their campus as safe as possible, and so we’ll be tracking snakes near this area too. Ideally, we all want to maximize safe recreation and protect wildlife at this Open Space.
We want to hear from you and your rattlesnake questions! Along with our JCOS partners, we will continue to ask trailside questions and offer various opportunities in the field. We want everyone to be rattlesnake experts and be safe in the field!
Have a question now? Please leave a comment for us, or visit us on the social medias!
Joe, Bryon, Ryan, and Kelly – AES Rattlesnake Research Leaders
*Photos by NoCoastPhotography
Adaptation Environmental Team: Bryon, Joe, and Kelly