A little bit of snake knowledge goes a long way


Most people are pretty squeamish when it comes to snakes, yet snakes play an important role in our ecosystem. Rattlesnakes prey on rodents and, in turn, are prey to hawks, eagles, coyotes and other snakes. Rattlesnakes are a part of Colorado’s outdoors.

With our growing population, more and more people are hiking and running on trails where rattlesnakes may live. Did you know Colorado has 25 species of snakes? Only the prairie rattlesnake (crotalus viridis) and the massasauga (sistrurus catenatus) are venomous. According to the Colorado Herpetological Society, the prairie rattlesnake is found in all but 10 counties in Colorado up to an elevation of about 9,000 feet. The massasauga, on the other hand, is only found in the southeastern grasslands in Colorado.

The prairie rattlesnake and massasauga can be identified by a flat, broad triangular head and narrow neck, generally tan and brown patchwork and thick bodies, and can grow to 4 feet, with the average length of 2.5 feet.

Most people identify a rattlesnake by the rattle at the end of its tail. The rattle is made of modified scales, which can be broken off, malformed or silent. Therefore, this should not be the only form of identification. If the rattle is missing, the snake will have a blunt stub. Rattlesnakes do not have sharply pointed tails. Rattlesnakes may not always shake their rattle before striking.

If you encounter a rattlesnake, remain calm and still at first, then slowly move away. Leave the snake alone. Many people who are bitten by rattlesnakes were bitten as a result of trying to handle or kill the snake. Rattlesnakes are typically not aggressive, but will defend themselves if startled, cornered or stepped on. Wear long, loose pants and tall leather hiking boots, and use a hiking stick to sweep tall grasses you may be walking in. An added precaution is to wear snake guards in areas where rattlesnakes are known to live. Rattlesnakes have heat-sensitive facial pits they use to find prey. A word of caution: A dead rattlesnake, even if it has been beheaded, can still bite and inject venom because its heat sensory pits are active until rigor mortis is complete.

Rattlesnakes begin hibernation in October and November and resume activity in April or early May. During cool temperatures in the spring and fall, snakes can be found basking in the sun or on warm surfaces much of the day.

Rattlesnake deaths are very rare in Colorado. Prior to 2017, the last snake bite death was in 1999. When it comes to rattlesnakes, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way in identifying and understanding what to do to prepare yourself in the event you encounter a rattlesnake on the trail. To learn about discouraging snakes from moving into your yard or home, what to do in the event of a snake bite and their legal status, see CSU Extension fact sheet, “Coping With Snakes.”

Upcoming events

July 13: Archuleta County Annual Weed Tour.

Aug. 1-4: Archuleta County Fair. Do you quilt or sew, can vegetables or fruit, grow hay crops, veggies or flowers? Maybe you do leather or wood work? Possibly brew beer or make wine? Or, maybe you have a hidden crafting talent that you would like share with us? If so, then you can enter the Archuleta County Fair Open Classes. Go to www.archuletacountyfair.com/exhibits-rules to find out how to enter.

CPR and first aid classes

CPR and first aid certification classes are offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.