Sun Lakes Hiking Club: Snake Smarts

Warren Wasescha

As a hiker during warmer months, can you ever not think about rattlesnakes on the trail? Same here, so I found a great article from Associate Professor Dale DeNardo of the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences, who studies rattlesnakes. Here in part is what he had to say about snakes and hiking:

Q: How do you avoid getting bit?

A: Simple. Stay on trails. Snakes prefer grassy areas or being near or under a rock, not trails. If they are on a trail, likely they’re in pursuit of a small reptile or rodent to eat. And never ever surprise them. They don’t like confrontation. They’ll move away if they can. But if you do surprise them and they feel threatened, that’s when they are most likely to strike and bite. So always be watchful and deliberate on where you put your feet or hands as you hike.

Q: If you get bit, what should you do?

A: Call 911 or get help from others on the trail to strategize how to get you to a hospital for an antivenom treatment. Remain calm to not increase circulation which spreads the venom. Remove anything that may cause swelling below the bite area. Immobilize the bite area and keep it at or below your heart position. And don’t waste time or be complacent. Always assume it’s a bad bite and that you need to get medical attention at a hospital as soon as possible. But remember you have several hours before the bite becomes life-threatening.

Q: What does it look like if a rattlesnake is getting ready to strike?

A: Rattlesnakes have multiple levels of defense. The first is camouflage. If they see you, they’ll stay still unless they think they’ve been detected. You can walk right by them and they won’t move.

A second option is to move away from you. Using this level of defense, they’ll slowly turn towards a bush or burrow and move away from you. They want to avoid confrontation.

But if they think they’re detected and feel they can’t get away, their third option is to defend themselves. That’s when they basically coil back their head, put it in a strike pose and then start rattling their tail. That’s a warning. If they want to bite something, they don’t rattle their tail. If they see a mouse and want to eat it, they don’t rattle their tail. So when they’re rattling, that means they are doing you a favor. They are telling you: “Go away, I don’t want this confrontation.” It’s only if you continue to pursue and approach them, that’s when they’ll use their last option of defense and strike and release venom.

Like hiking? Come join our club. Hikes are offered at all skill levels. We hike November through April and are a friendly, inclusive group that welcomes all able-bodied hiking enthusiasts! Please contact our president DeEtte Faith at [email protected] for information. We look forward to hiking with you!