Trick or Treat, or Rattlesnake? Halloween caution for Arizona neighborhoods, and FREE rattlesnake removal Halloween night.

 

Throughout most of the desert areas of Arizona, rattlesnakes are quite busy in late October. They’re finishing up activity for the year–getting a last meal, some are mating, and all of them are on the move to wherever it is they are looking to spend the winter. They tend to move right at dark and just after, and are “camping” in spots that aren’t necessarily long-term or ideal for rattlesnakes. Contrary to popular belief, in Arizona, rattlesnakes are still quite active well into November. Halloween is no exception.

Here’s a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake found hiding in decorations.

This just happens to coincide with an evening when every child in the country is also walking around in the dark, often without full visibility. That means that there is some potential for encounters with rattlesnakes. That doesn’t mean trick-or-treaters should stay home or be overly concerned, of course, just take some precautions and stay aware, just like anything else you do in our urban rattlesnake habitat. That goes not only for the kids, but homeowners who have decorations set up.

Trick-or-treater rattlesnake safety tips:

  1. Everyone have a flashlight! Rattlesnakes are not aggressive, but may defend themselves if stepped on.
  2. Don’t cut through yards, use the path to the front door.
  3. Make sure you can see the ground clearly through any mask that may be worn.
  4. Don’t pick up or play with toys or Halloween decorations that resemble snakes!
  5. Stay on sidewalks and avoid brushy or debris-filled areas.
  6. Be especially cautious in areas within 1/4 mile of new development.

Halloween rattlesnake safety tips for home-owners:

  1. When cleaning up decorations, be aware that rattlesnakes could be using them for cover. Look before you reach.
  2. If you have pumpkins out, place them outside of the entryway overhang, and avoid creating a protected space in corners.
  3. Clean up pumpkin remnants immediately, the next morning, to avoid attracting rodents.
  4. Make sure any debris is cleaned up and landscaping is taken care of several days before Halloween.
  5. Store Halloween decorations in a plastic box or other container, rather than cardboard or in the garage corner.

Rattlesnake Solutions is offering FREE rattlesnake removal in the Phoenix-Metro area on Halloween night for any snake in a public area.

If you see a rattlesnake on Halloween night:

  1. Keep an eye on the snake from a safe distance.
  2. Call 480-237-9975.
  3. Prevent anyone from going near it, attempting to capture, or kill it.

Approaching 50 Wild Rattlesnakes to See If They Attack

Do rattlesnakes chase people? Which is the most “aggressive”? Did a rattlesnake really attack my uncle?

These questions and comments, often the cause of online arguments, are a perfect example of just how far off the mark common perception is from rattlesnake reality. Why are herpetologists and professionals never chased by rattlesnakes, but others claim to be chased at every encounter? Why is there an apparent correlation between how much a person experiences wild rattlesnakes, and apparently calm demeanor.

There are a lot of reasons why someone may believe a rattlesnake chased them – misunderstanding behavior or context, fear response and perception, and many others. As I have found rattlesnakes and observed the variety of ways they attempt to evade the predator (me), there are certainly behavior that I could reasonably assume to be aggression if I didn’t know better, didn’t understand the intent, and certainly so if some adrenal fear response were added to the mix. Our perception and memories can be molded by our expectation and personal bias, as a lifetime of misinformation and context float to the surface the instant the rattle sounds off.

There are of course other reasons why rattlesnake chases are common stories, and they have nothing to do with snakes. Rattlesnakes hold a special place in our culture as a symbol of the West, and rattlesnake experiences (and how they are handled) can be easy tools to tell other people about ourselves. Rattlesnake encounters are a way of telling about our adventurous nature, our courage, or and other traits that have to do with our perceived identity than rattlesnake behavior. They’re also something people often love to hate, and are proud to fear.

Here’s the video:

Why do we, as a culture, hate rattlesnakes so much?

Yuck. Ick. Yikes. Scary. Huge! Kill it. Run. Shovel. It chased me to my house. It attacked my bike tire. It stalked me for hours. I had a showdown in a canyon and was trapped. On, and on, and on. These may be the real perception of many people, but what is really happening?

I’m not a psychologist, but I do work with rattlesnakes, so let’s just leave the human behavior aspect behind and see what happens with real rattlesnakes in wild situations. I recorded the approach, and sometimes contact, with 50 wild rattlesnakes to see if any of them will aggressively chase me. Watch to see what happened.

Do rattlesnakes chase people?

No, sorry.

There may be a snake that is confused by what a human is and attempts to hide under the nearest cover, which may be us or our car.

There may be a snake confused by a flashlight and attempts to flee into it instead of away, unaware of where the “predator” is.

There may be a snake that is being interacted with and disturbed by someone actively looking for snakes that advances takes active and advancing defensive movement. Of course, if you’re messing with a rattlesnake and it continues to defend itself beyond your expectation or what you would prefer, that’s not aggression. If I’m asleep in my bed and a guy shows up and pokes me with a stick, my escort of that person out the front door is not an attack or a chase. For those of us that are herpers, don’t forget the context of the conversation here. Do rattlesnakes attack people hiking past them, or see someone and chase them into the house? Of course not.

If you disagree, just post a video of a rattlesnake chasing 🙂

Is your home a rattlesnake den? How to stay rattlesnake-free this winter.


It’s October, and rattlesnakes are as active as ever. They’re moving around a lot right now, getting in some last meals, mating, and general rattlesnake “housekeeping” as they get ready for cooler months. This is also the time of year they begin to move back towards where they will spend the winter. Unfortunately for many homeowners in Arizona, that means your house or property. Rattlesnakes can and do overwinter in and around buildings, so how can you prevent your property from being a rattlesnake den?

Before going into the details, I should specify that this information may really only be completely relevant in the Sonoran Desert portions of Arizona, particularly Phoenix and Tucson. It’s also a lot of good general advice, but be aware that the further you are from saguaros, the less accurate it may be for your situation. The rattlesnake species that most-often comes into conflict with people is the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. They’re generalists that make good use of the desert landscaping found at most homes on the outskirts of Phoenix and Tucson, and the species that I’ll be referring to in this article as “rattlesnake”, despite the several other species that also occur in these areas.

How rattlesnakes den for the winter in the Sonoran Desert is a bit different than in other parts of the country, or even other parts of their range within Arizona. In the lower, hot desert, it just doesn’t get cold enough in the winter to create a need for a lot of fuss over finding a perfect den. You may be familiar with photographs online of dozens or hundreds of rattlesnakes pouring out of a hole in the ground, usually with some silly comments. These are actual and accurate photographs, but from cooler climates where rattlesnakes may have fewer preferable areas to select from, during the longer and colder winter.

Here, where we may only get a handful of nights each year with sub-freezing temperatures, sun exposure everywhere, and countless rock piles and tunnels to choose from, snakes have it easy. This means that they tend to den in smaller groups, perhaps only a few individuals, or even alone. While some larger dens do certainly exist in some places, with 20 or more individuals, this is not as common as the smaller sites. Other species, like Speckled Rattlesnakes and Tiger Rattlesnakes, tend to den in a general area rather than a particular crack year-after-year, so avoiding the creation of an accidental den can be challenging. A primary driving force for choosing a den site appears to be the preservation of moisture, rather than sun exposure and access to heat [Hamilton, Nowak, Western North American Naturalist 69(3):319-328. 2009 ]. That means that a rattlesnake den in much of Arizona isn’t just some high rocky hilltop, but can be really anywhere at all. They may use different dens in different years, and are generally less predictable than in cooler climates.

Do rattlesnakes den at homes?

The Rattlesnake Solutions relocation hotline largely stops ringing in mid-November, after the snakes have completed ingress (moving into the den area they’ve selected). After that, we still get calls, but they are of a different nature – they are denning rattlesnakes. The places where we have found them over the past decade and the conditions they appear to be drawn to are consistent enough that we have a good idea of which features at a home are likely to become a rattlesnake den without some consideration.

These are the most common places where we see rattlesnake dens in the winter, and how to keep it from happening to you:

1. Rattlesnake Den in the Garage

To a rattlesnake a garage is just an insulated cave with some golf bags and fishing gear. By far, the most common rattlesnake den situation we find at homes in Arizona are storage areas in the garage. Typically, they are discovered in the early Springtime once the snakes tend to move towards the front of the garage, and are found coiled in the corner near the door. Upon inspection, these are almost always snakes that have apparently spent the entire winter in the garage (the homeowners usually don’t like this news).

They tend to use areas where boxes or other storage comes in close contact with the wall. This description probably fits most garages (including mine), but long-term storage with poorly-sealed boxes seems to be the most common and useful situation for rattlesnakes. Cardboard boxes that contain holiday decorations seem to be commonly used as a dens, as they provide some cover and additional insulation.

What can you do to keep your garage from becoming a rattlesnake den?

  1. Make sure the garage door is in good shape and tightly sealed, especially at the edges and corners.
  2. Fix any cracks in concrete and vents that lead to outside areas.
  3. Keep the garage door closed as much as possible, even during the day, especially during the ingress period of October-November.
  4. Keep the garage clean and move long-term storage to other areas.
  5. Close access to any built-in closets, water heater areas, equipment rooms, etc.
  6. Watch for signs of rodents (droppings, nesting material) and get rid of them if rodents are found.

2. Rattlesnake Den in the Pool Pump Area

A swimming pool is an extremely common feature at most homes in the Phoenix area, and it’s no surprise that rattlesnakes will make use of the often-overlooked pool pump and equipment area. These pump and filter areas are usually closed off and alongside the home, or otherwise separated from the rest of the yard. They’re also less often-visited than other areas of the property, so can get a “pass” on rodent activity and are generally less tidy than other parts of an even manicured yard.

In the winter, a common place for rattlesnakes to den is under the concrete base of the filter unit or other pump equipment. Rodents and erosion, along with the generally-higher humidity near the pump equipment and vibration, create caves and spaces that rattlesnakes apparently love. Each year, we receive numerous calls to relocate multiple rattlesnakes from situation.

What can you do to keep your pool pump and filter area from becoming a rattlesnake den?

  1. Control the rodent population and make sure that any tunnels or digging is addressed immediately.
  2. Keep the area clean and do not store anything there that isn’t necessary. Any clutter, buckets, bricks, and other things that tend to be stored in these areas can increase your chances of seeing a rattlesnake here.
  3. Seal the entrance to the pool equipment area with a gate, then have rattlesnake fencing installed onto it.
  4. Fix any cracks in the concrete pad and eliminate any spaces possible in the surrounding walls.

3. Rattlesnake den in decorative rocks

The third most common situation where we find rattlesnakes denning are rock piles and rip rap placed as decoration on the property. In many of these situations, the rock piles are placed in areas where they also come into contact with the surrounding landscaping. If this is done in a particular way, it can create a perfect situation for rattlesnakes looking to hide for the winter. More specifically, rosemary bushes or other large, low cover that tends to create deep leaf-litter that is allowed to grow over the top of rock piles, where the rocks are the size of a cantaloupe or larger, and are piled to a depth of more than 20″. If there is water nearby (drip system, pool, etc), this is even better for the snakes. If this all exists on a slope or at the edge of a wash, you should be surprised if rattlesnakes are not using it already. Each year we capture rattlesnakes in these situations, and more often than not, there is evidence to show that the snakes have been using these areas for a long time.

What can you do to keep your landscaping and decorative frock from becoming a rattlesnake den?

  1. Keep plants and bushes trimmed back from the edge of the rock, and never let it grow over the top of or through the rock pile itself.
  2. Make sure that decorative rock piles do not have deep spaces and are as shallow as possible.
  3. Watch larger boulders for rodent activity and tunnels that may create spaces under them. If tunnels are found, use a garden hose to flood them and destroy them from the inside-out.
  4. Seal spaces and crevices between larger rocks with concrete (or similar) so that access to the interior, protected area is eliminated.
  5. Consider removing any plants or rocks in the property that you do not feel adds to the appeal to the property, or that you’re “on the fence” about keeping. Generally and unfortunately, a boring yard is a safe yard. Be sure not to add superfluous features.

4. Rattlesnake den under the home

The fourth, and most common in many areas, place where rattlesnake dens are frequently found are underneath homes themselves. This is typically most common in areas where manufactured homes are numerous, where the aluminum or wood skirting that lines the space under the home is easily breached by rodents and general wear and tear. In larger homes with a solid foundation, the situation can be even more difficult to solve, since the crawl spaces leading to where the snakes den can be difficult for a tall snake relocator (ahem) to fit into. We are often alerted to these dens by Air Conditioning repair technicians, who see a shed skin and refuse to crawl any further until it gets checked out. Fortunately, even though this can be relatively common and difficult to handle, it is relatively easy to prevent.

How can I keep my house from becoming a rattlesnake den?

  1. Seal all cracks in the foundation, no matter how small or minor they appear to be. Even cracks that are too small for a rattlesnake to fit through may widen over time, and it is best to fix them as they are found.
  2. Watch for any signs of erosion or digging by rodents at the edge of the home. If these holes go under the foundation, you’ve created an insulated and safe cave for rattlesnakes to use. Have a zero tolerance policy for any rodent activity at the base of the foundation.
  3. Be aware of spaces in the flashing or spaces at the corners, pillars, and other joints where the stucco frame meets the foundation. Modern home construction seems to be less-than-concerned that the house is sealed properly. We commonly see gaps in corners, even completely open overhangs that can lead up and over the foundation itself or into the walls of the home. Do whatever needs to be done to fix this.

5. Rattlesnake den under the shed

A place where we regularly find rattlesnakes denning on a property is under a backyard shed. These structures are almost always less-maintained than the home itself, and have a variety of foundation types, even just plopped onto the dirt on a few cinderblocks. Unfortunately for us, these are perfect conditions for rodents, and the predators that eat them. Rattlesnakes can move into the spaces under the shed and be relatively undisturbed. Of all of the den conditions described here, backyard sheds seem to offer the most long-term refuge from winter cold, according to the number of shed skins and even dead snakes that we find there. Sometimes rodents even dig up into the shed itself and find additional cover opportunity in the stuff stored in there, which usually gets even less attention than boxes stored in the garage.

How do I keep rattlesnake from making a den under my shed?

  1. Watch for any rodent activity and do what you can to eliminate it.
  2. Put the shed on a foundation or support structure of some sort that does not allow gaps and easy access.
  3. Use heavy materials and avoid things like particle-board, cheap plywood, and things that a rodent can easily get through.
  4. Schedule a yearly cleanout of the shed itself to keep things clean and review items to possibly cut down on the amount of clutter stored inside.
  5. Keep anything that can be eaten out of there – birdseed, dogfood, grass seed, and other edibles are often kept in these sheds, and can attract rodents (and rattlesnakes as a result).
  6. If the shed is build near a wall, make sure to clean out the space between the wall and prevent landscaping debris from piling up there.

6. Rattlesnake den in the grill island

This will be the last potential rattlesnake den situation that is covered here. It’s a little bit less common than the others, but its nature and tendency to put sandal-wearing or bare feet in close proximity to rattlesnake fangs makes it worth noting. At many homes in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas, a stand-alone grill island is a standard feature. The trouble is, all those burger drippings and hot dogs that slip through the cracks can attract rodents, and once again, rattlesnakes who are looking for them. These islands usually have an access door on one side, and at least one vent on the rear side. Some also have inlets for propane stored elsewhere, or even extend into other features like a bench. The construction of these islands is usually flimpsy and tends to fall apart at the corners relatively quickly, leaving easy access for hungry rodents and one-stop-shopping for rattlesnakes in search of a place to hide away for the winter.

How do I keep a rattlesnake den from forming under my grill?

  1. Keep the access door closed at all times and make sure that it latches tightly.
  2. Cover vents with 1/4″ steel hardware cloth mesh.
  3. Completely seal all cracks that may appear in the stucco, and make sure that any interior openings for access to propane and other pipes is sealed entirely.
  4. Keep it clean! If you see any rodent droppings under there (like a squishy brown tictac), you have rodents running around the area where you make your hamburgers. That’s not only gross, but a potential attractant for rattlesnakes.
  5. Have your entire yard sealed properly by having rattlesnake fence professionally installed.

Don’t let your guard down just because it’s cold outside. Rattlesnakes in Arizona are active all year.

A term that people throw around and the local news loves is rattlesnake “season”. This implies that rattlesnakes show up at some point, stay awhile, and disappear – and nobody has to worry about it until rattlesnake “season” starts up again! This may be true in some places where ice-scrapers are sold, but here in Arizona, rattlesnakes are active to some degree every month of the year. They may not be traveling or hunting, but if they definitely will come out on a sunny day or after a rain even on cool winter days. No matter if you have one of the above feature or not, the greatest rattlesnake den advice I have to give is to continue to follow the rattlesnake safety rules as you normally would. Don’t reach where you can’t see, clean up messes as you make them, get rid of rodents and clutter, and so on. Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you can’t meet a rattlesnake, and if you’re sharing a garage with one, that could be any time at all.

If you have any rattlesnake den stories or have found one at your home, or you have questions about any of these features and want more information about what you can do to help keep a rattlesnake den from showing up at your place, contact us.

Rattlesnake Caution After a Big Storm

Right now we’re all happily being soaked by the remnants of Hurricane Rosa. Washes are filling up, and desert life is getting a much-needed last, big drink before we go into another relatively-dry Arizona Winter. But this is a lot of rain, and rattlesnakes don’t have the weatherman to help make wet weather plans for the week. This can cause rattlesnakes to show up in some unexpected places during the next week or so.

Most rattlesnakes in the low desert have been busy doing their fall activities – eating, mating, and generally moving around a lot to get everything done before it’s time to laze-away cooler months. They often use washes and drainages, take cover under large rocks, rodent burrows, and similar situations. Unfortunately for them, when a rare event like regional flooding suddenly happens, this can cause rattlesnakes to be flooded out of their temporary hideouts. Rattlesnakes are often displaced by a major storm event in this way, and may end up moving erratically as they search for place to get out of the elements.

Don’t panic, just be strict with snake safety and be aware.

For homeowners, that means that your garage, covered patio, wood pile, or even car can become temporary shelter. If you live near a wash or drainage, especially, rattlesnakes will have to come to higher and dryer ground, so any available cover may be used. Even places that aren’t especially great rattlesnake refuges can become a port in the storm. Temporary or often-moved items like trash cans and parked cars, even boxes by the door, can become temporary shelter.

For hikers, it means that you may see rattlesnakes crawling in times and conditions that you don’t expect. If you avoid hiking at certain times of day hoping to not see a rattlesnake, the “rules” may be shaken up for awhile. In any case, rattlesnakes that you encounter still won’t chase, jump, or attack, or any of the silly stuff people believe. Follow hiking rattlesnake safety recommendations and be aware of your surroundings.

How to keep safe from rattlesnakes after a big storm:

Do not be overly alarmed, but do exercise extra caution during the next several days while rattlesnakes adjust to having their house flooded. As always in rattlesnake-activity areas, be aware of your surroundings and follow general rattlesnake safety protocol.

  1. Be extra aware of the area around your front and back doors if you have an overhang. If you have pots or decorations in these areas, pull them away from the wall to open the space up.
  2. If you are cleaning up debris from the storm, use heavy gloves and tools. Never reach directly into the sticks and leaves that pile up after rain water recedes. Rattlesnakes may be using this debris as temporary cover, so treat it as you would any other bush or potential rattlesnake-hide.
  3. When you let your dogs out to use the bathroom, go with them. A dog on a leash is seldom bitten by a rattlesnake.
  4. Talk to your children and remind them of basic rattlesnake safety, and accompany them when playing in the backyard.
  5. If you do have debris in your yard, give it a day or two before going in to clean it up, but don’t let it stay too long. Rattlesnakes that are displaced or flooded out by the storm may be using debris as temporary cover, but in most cases this is not suitable for them when things heat up again.
  6. If you have rattlesnake fencing installed, check it out to make sure there have not been any wash outs. If you see a washout, contact your installer to have it repaired as soon as possible.
  7. Be aware that not just rattlesnakes are displaced by the high water. Nonvenomous, harmless species also may make a surprise appearance after a watery eviction. If you’re not familiar with the snakes that live in your area, it may be time to brush up on your snake identification skills.