Don’t get rattled, it’s snake season: Handy tips for chance encounters

Timothy Rawles
Diamondback RattlesnakeGetty Images

Timothy Rawles / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Pinal County, AZ) Yell the word “snake” amongst a group of hikers in the desert and you might get the same reaction as shouting “shark” at the beach. But panic is the last thing you should do when encountering a curled-up predator in any environment.

You might be hard-pressed to find a native Arizonan who isn’t aware that rattlesnake season begins in March and goes through October. Experts might tell you these cold-blooded reptiles are worshipers of the sun that like their privacy and if you invade it, there might be consequences.

As scary as that sounds, snakes are natural social distancers who don’t want any part of being around humans. So any attacks that happen are usually caused by someone who won’t leave them be, or by unknowingly surprising them by walking through shrubs or reaching into dark rocky places.

“They give you many chances to walk away,” says Andy Baldwin, chair of Life Science at Mesa Community College.

Unfortunately, snakes aren’t great listeners. In other words, they may not hear you and react in surprise.

"If you were swimming and went underwater, and somebody standing next to the pool shouted to you, you would hear them," Sara Ruane, a herpetologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told Live Science. "You might not be able to make out the details ... That's sort of what snakes are hearing at higher frequencies."

Out of 60 species of snake, Pinal County is home to 28. Eight of those are considered venomous, so you'll have to know what to look for and how to react.

Only one of those eight snakes In Pinal County is not a rattlesnake. The Sonoran coral snake is related to the cobra and native to the region. They are striped with black, red, yellow, or white bands. The red bands don't appear on the tail.

The other seven are: The large western diamondback, Sonoran subspecies of the sidewinder, the Mojave rattlesnake, Arizona black, speckled, black-tailed and tiger rattlers.

So what should you do if you accidentally come across a rattlesnake? Knowing that their first instinct is to flee, don’t panic. They don’t want to stick around and will usually make a fast getaway. If they can’t, they might lash out with a warning strike to get you to leave them alone.

If you happen to get bitten, call 911 immediately advises Baldwin, refrain from any of the following:

  • Don’t do like what you may have seen in an old western, such as cutting the bite and sucking out the venom.
  • Don’t restrict blood flow with a belt or tourniquet.
  • Don’t waste valuable time trying to kill the snake and bring it to the hospital. Treatment is not snake-specific, according to Banner Health.

Other tips include warning other hikers of when and where you saw the snake. Remove tight clothing to prevent swelling, keep the bite below your heart and try not to move to prevent the venom from circulating.

In 2021 there were 79 rattlesnake bites reported throughout Maricopa County. To reduce your risk of being bitten keep your distance from the snake and let them be on their way. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) reports more than half of all bites were the result of provocation.

Although Arizona has more rattlesnake species than any other state, with a little knowledge and some proactive tips, everyone can enjoy the summer whether it’s hiking on one of its many beautiful trails, or just relaxing in your own backyard.

For more information on rattlesnakes in Arizona check out the AZGFD website.

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Timothy Rawles has been a journalist for over 20 years. He has written for global publications in San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix. His favorite stories are features, interviews, entertainment news, and local stories.

San Tan Valley, AZ

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