Wildlife

Rattlesnakes out and about: how to avoid them

They will avoid you if you avoid them

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Summer is in full swing, which means most Coloradans are spending more time outdoors. Whether it's a hike through the foothills of the Front Range, a bike ride along the High Line Canal, or a barbecue out back, wildlife encounters are inevitable.

And snakes enjoy the warm sunshine as much as humans do.

Laura Lacerte, a Highlands Ranch Metro District park ranger, teaches Nature EdVentures classes on the habitat, environment and benefits of snakes. Although most are harmless, the rattle snake is venomous and should be left alone.

Below are five things to know about snakes this season.

They tend to avoid human contact.

Most of Colorado's snakes are innocuous, including backyard dwellers like the common garter snake and bullsnake.

But the prairie rattlesnake — characterized by green-and-brown coloring, key-hole shaped pupils, a triangular-shaped head and a rattle at the end of the tail — is venomous.

The reptile tends to avoid humans and humans should return the favor.

“If you see a rattlesnake, give it plenty of space,” said Lacerte. “Do not try to move it.”

They can be found in almost all of Colorado's ecosystems.

During winter months, rattle snakes hibernate in outdoor dens, including rodent holes and rock piles.

Rattlesnakes are active from spring to fall. Most sightings happen on summer mornings and evenings between temperatures of 50 to 80 degrees, Lacerte said. They spend most of their time basking in the sun on pavements or trails.

Be aware of surroundings, especially on hiking trails. Know what wildlife inhabits the trail, stay on the trail and watch wildlife “respectfully from a distance,” said Lacerte.

There are state laws on the treatment of snakes.

In Colorado, rattlesnakes may be legally killed if they pose a threat, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

All other snakes are classified as non-game wildlife, which includes more than 750 species that cannot be hunted, fished or trapped. Native cutthroat trout, bats, boreal toads, lynx, and black-footed ferrets are non-game species. They are all protected by state law.

Warning signs.

Rattle snakes will sound their tails as a warning sign. If an onlooker gets too close, they may elevate into an “S” shape.

“A snake in this position is highly agitated and should absolutely not be approached,” according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife report.

Baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous because they do not know how to use their rattler and will strike first if disturbed.

Adult snakes will bite as a last resort. If bitten, the victim should seek immediate medical treatment and try to remain as calm and still as possible, Lacerte said. Victims should not cover the wound with any type of bandage or suck the venom.

Although rattlesnake bites are painful, they usually aren't fatal for healthy adults, Colorado Parks and Wildlife says.

Eliminate potential dens.

Simple adjustments to a property can prevent snake encounters.

Homeowners should keep firewood covered in a box to eliminate dwelling spaces, says Colorado Parks and Wildlife. They should also avoid rows of large rocks in open, sunny areas, and trim vegetation where snakes could potentially hide.

Rodents are a major food source for snakes. Homeowners should reduce the rodent population indoors and outdoors, and seal all entrances to crawl spaces and basements.

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