How often do you see rattlesnakes hiking in colorado

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Hiking in rattlesnake country with (or without!) a dog

This is a guest post from Roxanne Hawn, a freelance writer and author of the wonderful blog Champion of My Heart. Roxanne and her husband share their home with Lilly, a smooth-coated Border Collie, and Ginko, a Lab-Greyhound mix. I asked Roxanne to write this post after I saw a tweet she’d written about the rattlesnake encounter she describes. Rattlesnake country is also, often, gorgeous hiking country — Roxanne’s post is important reading for hikers with (or without!) dogs.

When we moved to a high mountain valley in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, people told us there were not rattlesnakes at this altitude (about 8,500 feet above sea level). People are wrong. Of four known rattlesnake encounters on our own property, two resulted in bites to Lilly’s face. Our snake-to-bite ratio would have hit 75% if my elder dog (Ginko) didn’t have such natural snake aversion.

The lovely Lilly Elizabeth

Not long ago, only a few weeks after Lilly’s second rattlesnake bite in two years, we had another snake right behind the house. When Ginko barked in an odd way, I stepped outside and heard what sounded like a swarm of cicadas buzzing. The sound echoed off the back of the house. It reverberated off the hill behind us. It seemed to come from everywhere at once. Then, I saw Lilly squared off with a coiled, rattling snake. She stood well within striking distance.

After stuffing Ginko through the back door and screaming “Snake!” at my husband, I used “out,” an agility cue meaning move out and away, then I ran like mad for the other end of the deck – in a sort of run-away recall.

It worked. Lilly moved away from the snake, without either of us being struck. Still, I checked both dogs every hour on the hour, looking for pain and swelling. Everyone was fine…this time.

I recently researched and wrote an article for a national dog magazine about dogs and rattlesnakes, and I had the sad duty of interviewing someone whose dog did not survive his one and only rattlesnake bite. That sobering conversation and everything I learned about how rattlesnake venom destroys dogs from the inside out only reinforced how lucky I feel that Lilly has now survived two bites.

I like to think I could protect Lilly when we’re hiking because she is always on leash. I know others love to let their dogs run, but there is just too much dangerous wildlife in our area for me to feel OK with Lilly getting too far afield. We see snakes often on our hikes, and we’ve never had a problem.

Sadly, the dog who died WAS on leash. So, there goes my theory on that.

Roxanne’s neighborhood near Boulder, CO

How Snakebites Happen

You’ll find rattlesnakes of various kinds across North America, with some more poisonous than others. The Eastern Diamondback, the Western Diamondback, and the Mohave Rattlers, for example, carry large amounts of super-toxic poison. The ones we have here — Prairie Rattlers — are weak venom-wise, but still a danger. Dogs in Colorado die all the time from snakebites.

Most dog-snake encounters happen by accident. Our dogs stumble upon them. The snake gets freaked out, and dogs – who explore the world with their noses and mouths – get right in there to take a better look. Even the most patient snake won’t take kindly to snuffling or barking for too long before it bites.

Rattlesnake Sensory Perception

Like all snakes, rattlesnakes can literally taste the air with their tongues, so when they flip that forked tongue out there then put it against the roof of their mouths, they’re sampling molecules from the air.

As pit vipers, rattlesnakes have an extra sensory organ that helps them “see” other creatures. It senses heat so that it can tell a rock from a mouse. It also gives them a decent enough “picture” to know big mammal from a small one.

These snakes also can feel vibration from the ground through their whole bodies, so very often they feel us coming. (They do not have ears, so they cannot hear us or the barking, but they feel the vibration instead.)

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Rattlesnake Behavior

It’s important to know that there are many myths about rattlesnakes. For example, NOT all of them rattle, and even with those that do … you cannot expect they will always rattle before striking.

And, rattlesnake CAN bite from a flat position, so a rattlesnake need not be coiled up to sneak in a bite. That means if your dog steps on a snake or is standing next to a snake, it can still get bitten on the foot or something.

Bites to the face and leg are most common in dogs. Bites to the chest or abdomen are worse. Bites to the tongue are like getting an IV injection of venom.

Rattlesnake Dos

  • Do keep your dog on leash while hiking in snake-riddled areas.
  • Do use a walking stick to clomp along and create vibrations that warn snakes you are there. (Most will avoid you, if they can help it.)
  • Do use your LEAVE IT cue (or whatever word you use) to keep your dog from poking her head into tall grass, gaps in rocks, etc.
  • Do back up if you see a snake either flat or coiled. Often if you give them enough space, they will slink off on their own.

Rattlesnake Don’ts

  • Don’t step over, try to move the snake with a stick, or pick it up. If you must pass before it gets out of your way, give it wide berth. Snakes can strike a good 1/3 of their body length.
  • Don’t let your dog attack the snake, if you can help it. An injured or dying snake will unload every drop of venom it has. These “agonal” bites can be the most deadly. That’s how the dog from that magazine article died. He tried to protect his mom from a striking snake.
  • Don’t fall for Old-West ideas of what do to for snakebites. They only waste time. Experts say that best first-aid for snakebites is a set of car keys. Walk (don’t run) to your car. Get to the nearest veterinary hospital.
    I want to point those of you who haven’t already found it to, a great site owned by Cruden.I don’t fly on Sun Country, so I was delighted when reader Bev sent me an e-mail (with photos!) about.You win some, you lose some. Yesterday Northwest lowered its fee for in-cabin pets, and today Sun Country increased its.A blogging friend who has traveled abroad with her dogs got me thinking about taking dog food through Customs (“be.


Great advice – and I’m really grateful we didn’t need it as we were hiking in the Denver area!

An excellent post, thanks for sharing! Very valuable information for people that are going to travel to an area with snakes.

Thanks, Amy and Karen — It’s something I think about even here in the PNW (though across the Cascades, not in Seattle). I’m so glad Roxanne was willing to guest post!

Thank you so much for this post. The warm weather brought with it signs warning of rattlesnakes at our beloved dog park, so I’m trying to educate myself as much as possible. Ain’t no rattlers in the Midwest where we’re from.

There is a rattlesnake vaccine you can get for your dog at your veterinarian. While a snake bite still needs treated at your vet, it will help build your dogs resistance to the venom. I get each of my dogs vaccinated (and cat ) early spring. We live in the foothills of southwest Colorado in an area I know has rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnake season is here in Colorado; what you need to know

With the weather getting warmer it’s probably wise to review what to do if you encounter one of Colorado’s three venomous rattlesnakes while enjoying the trails.

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DENVER — It is now officially rattlesnake season.

Read below to learn how to identify rattlesnakes, where you might find them and what to do if you’ve been bitten.

Where will I see rattlesnakes?

Rattlesnakes like rocky outcroppings, grasslands, rocky stream crossings and ledges. They den in prairie dog burrows, rock crevices or caves.

You might see them on trails, most likely stretched across the trail to soak up warmth. It’s likely they’re in grasses and other vegetation beside a trail, a good reason to stay on the beaten path.

Here are common areas to see rattlesnakes in northern Colorado:

  • Horsetooth Mountain Open Space
  • Devil’s Backbone Open Space
  • Cathy Fromme Prairie Natural Area
  • Coyote Ridge Natural Area
  • Pineridge Natural Area
  • Reservoir Ridge Natural Area
  • Bobcat Ridge Natural Area
  • Greyrock Trail
  • Hewlett Gulch

When am I likely to see rattlesnakes?

Rattlesnakes are active from early spring through mid-fall and hibernate in winter.

They are more active in spring, shortly after emerging from hibernation, so you might see a flurry of activity on the trails through May.

In summer, rattlesnakes are not likely to be seen in great numbers but might be seen individually in their typical habitat, which can range up to two miles. Mornings and evenings are common times to see rattlesnakes out of their dens since temperatures are cooler.

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In fall, you might see another flurry of activity as the rattlesnakes seek a warm place to hibernate for the winter.

What is the difference between a rattlesnake and a bull snake?

If you can’t see the rattle, there are several other identifying features:

  • Rattlesnakes have a chunky body with a blunt tail; bull snakes have a long, lithe body and pointed tail (with no rattle), though both snakes can make a rattling sound.
  • Rattlesnakes have a white stripe pattern on the face; bull snakes have a black stripe over the eyes.
  • Rattlesnakes have a wide head and narrow neck; bull snakes have heads and neck that are the same width.
  • Rattlesnakes have eyes that are vertical slits; bull snakes have round pupils.

What do I do if I encounter a rattlesnake?

If you see a rattlesnake coiled and/or rattling, that means it’s agitated. Keep your distance. Leave it alone. Rattlesnakes can strike at a distance of two-thirds of their total body length.

Wait for the snake to leave the trail. They are afraid of you, and prairie rattlesnakes, most commonly found in Northern Colorado, are the least aggressive rattlesnake.

If the snake is going across the trail, stand still and wait for the snake to move away. Snakes do not see well, but they perceive sudden movement as a threat.

What do I do if I’ve been bitten?

If you or a member of your hiking party is bitten, look for swelling and large, bloody or dark-colored blisters forming in the bite area. Either of these symptoms means the bite was venomous. Some bites are dry, with no venom injected.

Call 911. Getting to a hospital as soon as possible is your main priority. Time is of the essence. Deaths due to snake bites often involve cases of elderly patients and delayed hospital care.

Keep the patient as calm as you can and gently immobilize the bitten limb, if possible, with an improvised splint. Don’t tie it too tight, however. You don’t want to reduce blood flow.

Remove all jewelry, watches and any other constricting clothing near the affected area in case of swelling.

Do not ice, use a tourniquet, try to suck out the venom (it doesn’t work), or try to catch and kill the snake.

There are three venomous snakes in Colorado, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife; prairie rattlesnakes, massasauga rattlesnakes, and midget-faded rattlesnakes.

What about my pet?

Dogs are more likely to die from rattlesnake bites than humans due to the difference in body weight.

Keep dogs on a tight leash if you’re in rattlesnake country. Dogs roaming free are more likely to be bitten by rattlesnakes than leashed dogs, and more than likely will be bitten on the nose or face from sniffing the ground.

Colorado Rattlesnakes: What Sportsmen Should Know

Colorado is home to about 30 species of snakes. Of these, only three snakes are a risk to humans: the prairie rattlesnake, the Western rattlesnake and the massasauga rattlesnake.

A prairie rattlesnake in Morgan County

A prairie rattlesnake in Morgan County. Prairie rattlesnakes are the most common and the largest rattlesnake in Colorado, reaching sizes of 3.5 feet in length.

Springtime in Colorado is a great season. The warm days provide a glimpse as to what lies ahead, while the cool nights remind us that winter hasn’t retired quite yet. It’s also a time when nature begins waking up; leaves bud out, migratory birds return and (my favorite) the reptiles reappear.

In fact, I had my first report of a snake just a couple weeks ago. Amazingly enough, the e-mail arrived during a spring snowstorm, though, the picture was obviously taken days earlier in the warm sunshine.

This particular identification was easy: a young-of-the-year racer, really no bigger than a typical ink pen. Although most of Colorado’s snake species pose no threat to humans, I’ve been working with snakes and educating the public long enough to know not everyone believes this to be true. And because of their appearance, snakes evoke fear in many people, which almost always is unwarranted.

A young-of-the-year racer snake.

A young-of-the-year racer snake.

Colorado is home to about 30 species of snakes. Of these, only three snakes are a risk to humans: the prairie rattlesnake, the Western rattlesnake (also known as the midget-faded rattlesnake) and the massasauga rattlesnake. Do you see the pattern here? The only venomous snakes native to Colorado are rattlesnakes.

Prairie rattlesnakes are abundant and are found statewide in nearly every type of habitat (prairies, foothills, riparian corridors and towns/suburbs) below 9,000 feet. The Western rattlesnake, hence the name, is found west of the Continental Divide, primarily along the Colorado/Utah border. The third species, the massasauga, is a small rattlesnake localized to the sandy terrain of southeastern Colorado.

So as we humans change our routines from winter outdoor pursuits like ice fishing, skiing, and competitive hot-chocolate drinking, to spring fly fishing, turkey hunting, hiking and general vitamin-D replenishment, we have more chances to bump into a rattlesnake or two.

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Meeting a snake on the trail to your favorite fishing hole or hunting spot is not a huge cause for concern, if you remember a few safety tips and understand snake behavior.

1. Rattlesnakes Prefer to Hide

A Western rattlesnake

A Western rattlesnake, also known as the midget-faded rattlesnake, takes cover along a rocky ledge. Hence the name, this snake is found in western Colorado along the Colorado/Utah border. Photo by Stephen Mackessy.

Rattlesnakes are cryptic and use camouflage as their first line of defense. They would rather hide than interact with humans or other animals. Because of their coloration, most rattlesnakes blend in with their surroundings exceptionally well. In most cases, they will simply ignore you, thinking that you cannot see them. However, if the snake coils up and rattles, you are too close and should move away slowly. Stepping back just a few feet can be enough to convince the snake that you are not a threat. Most rattlesnakes will not strike at people unless they feel threatened or are deliberately provoked.

2. Don’t Touch Any Snake

massasauga rattlesnake

The massasauga rattlesnake is found in the sandy terrain of southeastern Colorado. Photo by Stephen Mackessy.

Even though only three of our native snakes are venomous, all snakes have teeth and know how to use them. Regardless of the species, it’s a good idea never to handle any snake. Contrary to popular belief, snakes don’t need to be moved off a trail or “helped” anywhere, although, a snake using the road as a heating pad might appreciate some coaxing to the shoulder. Most people get bit on the hands, so you can limit your chances by keeping your digits out of range.

3. Watch Where You Put Your Feet and Hands

Remember: Snakes like to hide. So on rocky trails or areas with downed trees, be sure to check what’s on the other side before putting your appendage there. It’s also a good idea to avoid hiking in tall grass where you cannot see what’s lurking below. Move slowly and use a walking stick to check what lies ahead before stepping forward. A pair of snake-proof boots or high-top hiking boots can provide additional protection if you are walking in known rattlesnake country. When hiking, it’s also best to leave the iPod at home so you can hear a snake’s warning rattle.

4. Keep Dogs Close to You

Dogs are curious and snakes are defensive—a bad combination. Unfortunately, a snake isn’t going to take the time to determine if that large, canine nose headed in their direction is a curious domestic dog or a wild coyote or fox that is searching for a snake dinner. On hiking trips, you should keep dogs on a short leash. Hunters using bird dogs should be especially mindful of rattlesnakes during dove season and the early part of pheasant season prior to the first winter freeze. Training your hunting dog to avoid snakes may also help prevent bites. Although somewhat controversial, some veterinarians are now administering a rattlesnake vaccine, which can help minimize the effects of a snakebite. It’s best to check with your veterinarian for recommendations, as opinions and treatments vary. If a dog gets bitten, it’s important to seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible.

5. If You Get Bitten by a Snake, Don’t Panic

As mentioned above, most snakes in Colorado are not venomous. But no matter what species administered the bite, the best option is to have it looked at by a doctor. Don’t try any of the Western remedies you’ve heard about like cutting open the bite and attempting to suck out the venom. Leave the bite alone and seek medical attention as quickly as possible. The best “first-aid kit” for a snake bite is your cell phone and car keys. If possible, call ahead to the medical facility so doctors can be prepared with the appropriate treatments.

6. Remember: Snakes Benefit Our Ecosystems

A bullsnake coils to defend itself.

A bullsnake coils to defend itself. Bullsnakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes because of their ability to mimic rattling sounds by shaking their tail. Like other snakes, bullsnakes help manage rodent populations.

All snakes, including rattlesnakes, play an important role in balancing our ecosystems. Snakes eat rats, mice, prairie dogs, and they help control insects and other “pests.” Snakes also sit in the middle of the food chain, providing food for raptors and other predators. Respect and enjoy snakes when you see them in the wild.

By taking these simple precautions, it will help ensure that your time spent in the outdoors this spring and summer is both safe and enjoyable.

This article was written by Tina Jackson. Jackson is the species conservation coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She became fascinated with snakes in childhood and has spent the last 10 years learning about snakes and sharing her knowledge with others.




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