As stay-at-home rules are relaxed around the state of California, hikers are undoubtedly anxious to take advantage of the opportunity to visit their favorite hills, mountains, paths and trails. It’s important to remember that snakes are enjoying the fine weather this time of year as well – including rattlesnakes.
With the coming of summer, snakes of many species are through hunkering down, making human encounters with these elusive creatures more likely. Although most native snakes are harmless, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommends giving the venomous rattlesnake plenty of space and knowing what to do in the rare event of a bite.
Most bites occur between the months of April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors.
Early mornings and late afternoons are prime times for when snakes come out - they avoid the midday heat.
In general, snakes are not aggressive. When people are bit, it’s most often because the animal was surprised.
The most basic but important tip to remember: If outdoors, make sure to stay on trails, as this provides a better position to see and avoid a snake if it’s on the path.
Rattlesnakes are widespread in California and are found in a variety of habitats throughout the state, from coastal to desert. They may also turn up around homes and yards in brushy areas and under wood piles. Rattlesnakes will likely retreat if given room, and are not provoked or threatened. Most bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally brushed against by someone walking or climbing.
On occasion, rattlesnake bites have caused severe injury - even death. However, the potential of encountering a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors.
Fish and Wildlife provides the following tips for safely living in snake country, along with other snake-related advise:
- Be alert. Like all reptiles, rattlesnakes are sensitive to the ambient temperature and will adjust their behavior accordingly. After a cold or cool night, they will attempt to raise their body temperature by basking in the sun midmorning. To prevent overheating during hot days of spring and summer, they will become more active at dawn, dusk or night.
- Wear sturdy boots and loose-fitting long pants. Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through brushy, wild areas. Startled rattlesnakes may not rattle before striking defensively.
- Children should not wear flip-flops while playing outdoors in snake country.
- When hiking, stick to well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
- Do not step or put hands where you cannot see. Step on logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use.
- Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers. Rattlesnakes can swim.
- Be careful when stepping over doorsteps as well. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.
- Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
- Do not handle a freshly killed snake, as it can still inject venom.
- Teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone.
- Leash your dog when hiking in snake country. Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten due to holding their nose to the ground while investigating the outdoors. Speak to your veterinarian about canine rattlesnake vaccines and what to do if your pet is bitten.
What to do in the event of a snake bite:
Though uncommon, rattlesnake bites do occur, so have a plan in place for responding to any situation. Carry a cell phone, hike with a companion who can assist in an emergency and make sure that family or friends know where you are going and when you will be checking in. In the event of a bite:
- Stay calm but act quickly.
- Remove watches, rings, and such, which may constrict swelling.
- Transport the victim to the nearest medical facility.
For more first aid information, please call the California Poison Control System at (800) 222-1222.
- Do no apply a tourniquet.
- Do not pack the bite area in ice.
- Do not cut the wound with a knife or razor.
- Do not use your mouth to suck out the venom.
- Do not let the victim drink alcohol.