Rattlesnakes live throughout Colorado anywhere below 9,500 feet. But the Front Range, with its dry grasslands, prairie dog colonies, rocky outcrops …
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Rattlesnakes live throughout Colorado anywhere below 9,500 feet.
But the Front Range, with its dry grasslands, prairie dog colonies,
rocky outcrops and shrubs, is prime rattler habitat.
Recent incidents have brought these usually secretive serpents
to the forefront.
On June 4, a young boy was bitten by a rattlesnake at the
Chatfield Botanic Gardens. Michael Harris, 7, was in good condition
at a local hospital following the incident.
The Great Plains Dog Park in Aurora has been closed since early
May when two dogs in the same incident were bitten by a
rattlesnake. In early June, another dog was bitten in its backyard
Despite these recent incidents, experts say there are no
indications that local rattlesnake populations are growing.
Instead, more people and pets are moving into areas that used to
be snake habitat, said Tudi Arneill, executive director of the
Plains Conservation Center.
“People are frequenting areas where snakes live,” said Arneill,
whose organization has conducted extensive snake research. “The
species we have in Colorado are not an aggressive species. They
don’t want to be around you because you are big and you are
There are three types of venomous rattlesnakes in Colorado and
only one is found on the Front Range, the prairie rattlesnake,
according to Tina Jackson, herptile coordinator for the Colorado
Division of Wildlife.
The prairie rattler can grow up to 4 feet long and doesn’t make
it a habit to be seen very often.
Jackson said the snakes could be more active at this time of
year since it’s breeding season, but agreed there are not more
snakes this year.
“It could be some weather or localized habitat differences, but
we are not seeing anything that makes us think there are more
snakes this season,” she said.
Snakes look for a specific temperature range, so in the spring,
they will be out sunning themselves during the middle of the day,
Jackson said. But with the heat of the scorching summer sun, snakes
will be more active in the cooler mornings and evenings.
Although some veterinarians have reported a higher incidence of
snakebites to dogs this years, David Specht, of Vets on Broadway in
Littleton, says he has not seen an increase. In fact, Specht said
the Littleton area has a very low rate of bites.
Over the last 20 years he has been practicing veterinary
medicine in the city, Specht said he has seen about one snakebite
per year and those almost always occur in other areas, like
Chatfield State Park and Roxborough Park.
Specht says he does not carry the antivenin because it is
expensive and can sometimes cause side effects nearly as bad as the
“I have not lost an animal to rattlesnake bite,” he said. “I use
anti-inflammatory on my animals.”
There is a rattlesnake vaccine, Specht said, but most vets,
including himself, do not recommend it because of its high cost and
Skot Latona, supervisor of Park Interpretation at the Carson
Nature Center, said there have been only three confirmed
rattlesnake sightings in the South Platte Park in the last 25
years. He speculates that the habitat along the Platte just isn’t
what the snakes prefer.
Bullsnakes, which are not venomous but sometimes mimic rattlers
by shaking their tail, are much more common in the park. Bullsnakes
may have created too much competition for there to be large numbers
of rattlers in South Platte Park.
“Bullsnakes often out-compete rattlesnakes,” Latona said.
“Rattlesnakes are ambush hunters, waiting for prey to come by.
Bullsnakes are out there, making it harder for them.”
While Littleton may generally not see a high number of
rattlesnake encounters or bites, surrounding local municipalities
are not taking any chances. The Great Plains Dog Park will remain
closed indefinitely until officials assess its safety.
“We are still evaluating the situation and that’s going to take
some time,” said Jenna Baker, special projects coordinator with
Aurora Parks and Open Space. “We don’t know when it might be
What to do
If you see a rattlesnake:
Stop and slowly back away. Take an alternate route around
“Snakes see motion,” Arneill said. “If you stand still, then
slowly back away and give them room, they will try to get
How to avoid a bite:
Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t put your hands or feet in
places where you can’t see, like the other side of a large rock,
tall grass or a prairie dog hole. Don’t let your dog off leash in
Most instances of snake bites, Arneill said, happen to men ages
18 to 24 who are trying to catch or kill them. Usually alcohol is
“They will try not to bite if they don’t have to,” Arneill said.
“Flip-flops might not be the best footwear for Chatfield.”
If you are bitten:
Remain calm and seek medical attention. Do not follow advice
from old wives tales such as sucking the venom out or applying ice
to the area.
“Some accidents happen, but the good news is the antivenin is
available,” Arneill said. “It’s not a death sentence.”
Open areas up so they do not have a place to hide by removing
dense shrubs, mowing tall grass, getting rid of brush and rock
piles, and closing up any holes under buildings. Don’t do anything
to attract a food source for snakes like mice or other small
“We figured out how to get along with almost everything,”
Arneill said. “Maybe we could figure out how to get along with
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