Ask Zimo: Give rattlesnakes and gopher snakes their space

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comApril 24, 2014 

Prairie Rattlesnake 2.JPG

Watch your step: Western rattlesnakes, Idaho's only venomous snakes, are found in many parts of the state. This one was spotted near Halverson Lake at Celebration Park in Melba. Source: The Idaho Digital Atlas, imnh.isu.edu/digitalatlas/index.htm

Q: I just saw an enormous rattlesnake down on Succor Creek. I am sure it was not a record or anything, but it was one of the fatter and nastier ones I recall ever seeing around here.

I understand that you wrote an article about why we should not just kill them whenever we run into them.

WILLY B., via email

A: Although seeing a huge rattlesnake can freak you out, it's best to just get out of its way and leave it alone.

Don't kill snakes. They are vital to the ecosystem and effective in controlling rodents and other pests, says Frank Lundburg, a local snake expert. This is especially true in Idaho for both gopher snakes and rattlesnakes, he said.

I know when we have gopher snakes near our house or out in the garden, we don't usually have mice. I'm glad to see the snakes.

While they seem scary, snakes are not naturally aggressive and will try to get away, says Lundburg, who teaches classes on rattlesnake safety.

It's best learn how to identify snakes and the terrain where they are found. Pretty soon you get a "feel" for snake country.

Lundburg says Idaho has Great Basin and prairie rattlesnakes, which are very similar in appearance. A gopher snake looks like a rattlesnake and will also scare the heck out of you.

When in rattlesnake country, which is pretty much a lot of the state, step lightly.

Watch when you step over rocks and logs. Staying on the trail is best although I've seen them sunning themselves right in the middle of the trail. At least they are easy to spot on the trail.

Be careful going cross-country and in high grass or brush. Watch where you sit down for a rest and don't reach in places where you can't see, like while gathering firewood.

Wear ankle-high boots.

In spring, snakes will be active during the warmest time of the day. In summer when it's hot, you'll see them being more active in the mornings and evenings when it's cool.

Although you'll want to jump as high and far as you can if you come across a snake, stop dead in your tracks and move slowly. Don't make any fast movements in front of it.

My wife and I were hiking in the high desert over the weekend in Oregon near where you were, but we didn't see any rattlers. We were at about 4,100 feet in elevation.

We were careful because we were definitely in snake country. Actually, we saw more ticks than snakes. It might be a bad tick season in certain drainages.

Anyway, as a side note, according to Lundburg, most snake bites in the United States occur when people are trying to do things with or to snakes.

"In short, they're just being stupid, he said. "Remember, a dead rattlesnake is still venomous and dangerous."

If you'd like more information on snakes, go to ecosnake.com.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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