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Snake season: Stay aware of your surroundings to avoid rattlesnake encounters

4/12/17

Elizabeth Medora
Staff

NORTH VALLEY – The north valley spring weather is here, and the return of warmer temperatures also means snakes are heading out of wintering sites and becoming more active.

While many varieties of snakes aren’t venomous and don’t pose a danger to people or pets, Arizona is home to some venomous snakes, including the well-known Diamondback rattlesnake. According to snake safety experts, awareness of your surroundings is key to avoiding snakebites. Rattlesnakes often issue a warning rattle when they feel threatened, but they don’t always rattle, so it’s important to be alert not just for noises but to keep an eye out for them, as well.

“Typically, you get warned,” said Daisy Mountain Fire Department Captain Matt Wood. “Especially during snake season, you have to be super vigilant, and you have to be aware of your surroundings.”

DMFD regularly goes out on snake calls, removing snakes that are in residents’ yards, garages, or other potentially dangerous areas. Based on his experiences with snake calls, Wood recommends using special caution around pool motors, where snakes have been known to hide, as well as in sheds, garages, and near barbecues.

“Before you lift stuff up, look. Use a rake to lift stuff up,” Wood said.

Tom Jones, Amphibians and Reptiles Program Manager at the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said in an email interview that homes with yards that attract rodents also attract snakes.

“Rattlesnakes are attracted to homes that have already attracted rodents, i.e., the yard has lots of debris, cover or food that might attract rodents, which are important food items for rattlesnakes,” Jones said.

If you see a snake in your yard, however, it may not be staying – it may just be passing through the area.

“Nonetheless, often times snakes are simply passing through during their routine activities, and happen to stop for a while or are seen crawling by,” Jones added.

However, if you see a snake in an area where it presents a danger, such as in your backyard, garage, etc., several local entities, in addition to DMFD, will remove it for you, including Precise Pest Solutions and Anthem Rattlesnake Relocation; contact them for details.

If you’re not sure if you’re seeing a venomous or non-venomous snake, stay on the safe side and treat it as venomous, Wood recommends. Getting up close and personal with a potentially venomous snake to try to identify it or trying to make a snake rattle puts you at risk to be bitten.

Wood noted that DMFD’s most common snake calls are for rattlesnakes (venomous) and bull snakes (non-venomous).

“The bull snakes strongly resemble rattlesnakes,” Wood said, noting that bull snakes can make a hissing sound that sounds a bit similar to a rattle. “We tell people, the best thing to do if you’re not sure – just call us and we’ll come get it.”

Residents who need a snake removed are welcome to call a private service or the fire department, Wood said. Snake calls aren’t considered emergencies for first responders except in rare circumstances of imminent danger, so anyone calling 911 for snake removal will have that call triaged, and emergency calls will be taken care of first. First responders en route to a snake call who get an emergency call will be taken off that call and head to the emergency instead.

“They’ll triage the call. When we get the dispatch [for a snake call], we’re AOI – available on an incident,” Wood explained. “Any emergency call and we’re the closest truck, they take us off of the snake call and put us on the emergency call.”

Wood noted that the fire department runs service-type calls, in addition to emergency calls, using the example of a call for a smoke detector going off in the middle of the night that turns out to be caused by a low battery; that call would then be considered a service call. In the case of snake calls, DMFD wants to help ensure community safety by encouraging residents to call a snake removal service or to call 911 for the department to remove a snake and not to try to do it themselves if they don’t have the proper equipment, as they will then run the risk of getting bitten.

“One of the reasons we provide the service is that we have tools and training in which to come and safely remove and relocate your snake,” Wood said.

“It’s a service we provide for the community. We are there for them, and it’s one of the things we do for our community,” Wood added.

Keeping dogs safe from rattlesnake bites can be difficult, as pet owners often don’t see the snake until it’s too late.

In a recent email newsletter, Anthem Pets Animal Rescue reminded pet owners of the risks of rattlesnake encounters and encouraged looking into rattlesnake avoidance training and/or the rattlesnake vaccine.

“When walking your dog keep it leashed on the trail. Do not let it explore shrubs, grassy areas and rocks where a snake can be camouflaged,” the newsletter said.

Jones concurred with this, saying the best way to protect dogs “is to keep them on-leash.”

“Whether people are out with their dogs or not, if they encounter a rattlesnake, they should simply give it a wide berth and continue on their way. Don’t attempt to move it, or antagonize it in any way. Rattlesnakes have no desire to have a potentially deadly (for them!) encounter with a giant potential predator, like a human; they would rather go unnoticed,” Jones said.

Wood agreed and once again stressed the importance of awareness, saying “Be looking for them, because they are there.”
“They [rattlesnakes] don’t want to be around us any more than we want to be around them,” Wood said.