Outdoor temperatures are starting to make us sweat, which means it's time for cold-blooded creatures to seek out sunny patches near, and even on, the local trails. We received our first report of a Western rattlesnake on Castle Rock on April 1. These tips from last spring will help keep both you and the rattlers safe if you cross paths.
Rattlesnake Encounters - Central Washington
It's been cool snake weather around Central Washington and the Wenatchee Valley this spring, so rattlesnake encounters have been uncommon thus far. This rattler was found sunning itself on warm rocks in Swakane Canyon on May 1. Recently we've also heard rattlesnake reports from hikers in Northrup Canyon (by Banks Lake) and Anthony Lakes.
While there is widespread (often irrational) fear of rattlesnakes, snake bites from rattlers are uncommon. The Western rattlesnakes we have here in Central Washington (Crotalus Viridis) are not aggressive and won't strike you if left alone. They will leave you be if you don't accidentally step on (or directly beside) them, or if you don't accidentally put your hand beside them while scrambling.
That being said, the hemotoxins of a rattler is powerful stuff that sometimes kills people (rare) but that commonly creates some permanent scarring of tissue. If bitten, it's important to get to a doctor and to get antivenom.
To greatly reduce the odds of such an accidental encounter, we recommend walking with hiking poles. With hiking poles
you can sweep the sides of the trail ahead of you while walking. You can
rattle bushes and shrubs you’re approaching, you can thump rocks and
tree trunks you’ll be stepping on or over. You can pre-probe areas where
you might be reaching with your hands. All of this gives you and snakes
time to react to each other.
If you do encounter
a snake, don’t poke or kill it. Just walk around it. Keep the basket of the
pole between it and you -- you'll like the security of knowing you can
deflect the snake should it move toward you (which would be very rare).
Furthermore, the pole keeps the snake’s attention off you when you step
around it. In rare instances the pole will also give you a tool to
gently prod the snake along (or even flick it away) if you decide it’s
sitting in a spot that will endanger the next hiker walking the trail. More about hiking in snake country.
Cool Rattlesnake Facts:
- Diet: mainly rodents and ground-dwelling birds. About 80 percent of a rattlesnake's diet is made up of rodents and they will eat as much as a quarter of an area's rodent population.
- A rattlesnake adds a rattle each time it sheds it skin and it can molt two or three times a year -- so there is not a one-to-one relationship between the rattles and the age of the snake. You rarely find a snake with more than 12 rattles because the outer rattles wear out and/or break off. The rattles are made of keratin -- the same stuff as our fingernails.
- Rattlesnakes have a heat-sensitive structure (loreal gland) between their eyes and nostrils--this is the pit that classifies them as 'pit vipers.' They use this gland to locate warm-blooded prey.
- Rattlesnakes can live up to 20 years in captivity.