SALT LAKE CITY — Rattlesnakes in Utah are currently on the move, looking for water and rodents after emerging from their dens following a long winter.
So what should you do if you inadvertently come upon one while camping, hiking or working in the yard?
According to Drew Dittmer, native species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, rattlesnakes fear humans and will do anything they can to avoid us.
“However, that changes if a snake thinks it’s threatened and there’s no way to escape,” Dittmer said in a statement. “In that case, the snake will often strike to protect itself. Just don’t approach it. Give it plenty of space and leave it alone. Respect the snake, and it will respect you.”
Dittmer said knowing a little about how the reptiles behave and doing a few simple things can go a long way in keeping you and the snakes safe.
Five rattlesnake species live in Utah, the most common of which is the Great Basin rattlesnake. They are most active during the summer at dawn and dusk, and they mainly eat rodents, birds and other reptiles.
People are most likely to encounter rattlesnakes on rocky, high-elevation slopes, however, a rattlesnake’s camouflage helps it to blend into its surroundings, so you may pass by one and never know it.
And snake bites are quite rare.
When out hiking, make sure to always watch the trail ahead and to check carefully before stepping over rocks, reaching onto ledges or sitting down on a rock or log.
So what should you do if you encounter a rattlesnake?
• Remain calm and stay at least 5 feet from the snake.
• Don’t try to kill the snake. Doing so is illegal and greatly increases the chance the snake will bite.
• Don’t throw rocks or sticks at rattlesnakes. They may respond by moving toward the person doing the throwing.
• Alert people to the snake’s location. Keep children and pets away from the area.
• Keep dogs on leashes. Allowing your dog to roam around increases the chance it will find a snake and get bit.
• If you hear a rattle, don’t jump or panic. Try to locate where the sound is coming from before trying to move, so you don’t step closer to the snake or on top of it.
To keep rattlesnakes out of your yard, Dittmer recommends reducing the number of places that provide snakes with shelter, such as brush, wood, rock and junk piles. He also advised keeping mice and other rodents at bay.
Other rattlesnake safety tips can be found on the Wild Aware Utah website at wildawareutah.org/utah-wildlife-%20information/snakes.