End of Rattlesnake Season Checklist – 8 Steps to Make Your Yard Rattlesnake Free this Winter

Summer has left us, and cooler temperatures are on the horizon. Yet, rattlesnakes are still incredibly active. In fact, the pre-hibernation flurry of activity means that encounters will be on the rise for a short amount of time.

In just a few short weeks, rattlesnakes need to eat and drink as much as they can, find mates, and travel long distances to their selected winter refuges. That can put them in conflict with people and pets, both on the trail and at home.

Here are some easy things you can do right now to get your property in shape so that any rattlesnakes that might be eyeballing your place as a winter den will keep on crawling.

1. Take care of that long-neglected landscaping project.

We all have one … that overgrown bush along the back wall that just never gets priority treatment, or that messy stack of agave that’s firmly on the “take care of that someday list”. Well, now’s the time! These may be opportunities for rattlesnakes to find the thermal protection they need to den for the winter.

Lantana is a rattlesnake’s best friend.

Over the years, we have removed hundreds of rattlesnakes from overgrown lantana, rosemary, and others. Any plants that tend to drop a lot of leaf-litter are suspect. That deep layer of organic material retains moisture and provides thermal protection.

Time for a yearly deep-maintenance landscaping check in. The rule of thumb: if you can see the ground under a ground-laying bush from above, it’s properly maintained.

2. Make any repairs to, and clean up, the pool equipment areas.

As we’ve mentioned many times, pool equipment is a favorite rattlesnake den for the winter. Concrete pads with rodents, combined with relatively high ambient moisture and a little vibration every time they turn on and off, means the formation of caves. These caves, even though they don’t look like much, can go deep, and be the perfect home for rattlesnakes and other animals.

This situation is what we encounter all winter – these often-neglected spots are perfect for rattlesnakes to camp out over winter.

The back corner of the property, complete with the little wall that usually hides it, is made to forget. For that reason, it often doubles as a graveyard for deflated pool toys, pavers, and old buckets.

Spend a little time this Saturday filling in any holes you find with gravel, repairing any concrete you need to, and cleaning it out. If there are no tunnels, the area is useless for rattlesnakes.

3. Bulk pickup day!

If you’re like most of us, you have a stack of roofing tiles or pavers someone on the property. We stack them there to deal with later, maybe have them around just in case a tile breaks or … whatever. But let’s be honest with ourselves; it’s been years and we haven’t touched them.

Time to go! Especially if stored near a wall or against the foundation of the home, as they tend to be, rodents will use them. These situations where rodents create tunnels under a stack of bricks are absolutely perfect for rattlesnakes to use during the winter. Fortunately, it’s as easy to take care of as posting “free pavers! come and get em” on Facebook Marketplace.

Free rattlesnake house!

Any other debris, too, has to go. You’d be surprised to learn how many winter rattlesnakes we pull out of situations like debris from the previous-summers kitchen remodel, old pool toys and unused stuff of all kinds. If you need a little motivation to finally kick this stuff to the curb, here it is: RATTLESNAKES WILL LIVE IN YOUR YARD IF IT’S THERE. Feel free to use that with your spouse this Saturday. You’re welcome.

4. Get snake fencing installed already.

If you live in Arizona, snake fence installations are probably something you’re familiar with. It’s a physical barrier that is designed and installed in such a way that it keeps them out of an area. If done properly by a reputable company *cough cough*, you could make rattlesnake heaven in the backyard and they’d not be able to come in.

Unlike the other items on this list, this one isn’t free. However, it is the most effective way to go, and removes the subjectivity. While everything else will have a high likelihood to decrease the chances of seeing a rattlesnake, snake fencing all-out prevents it.

If getting a snake fence installed has been on your list for awhile, right now is the best time to do it. It’s also near the end of the season, so discounts may be available. Here’s a massive and detailed guide of what to look for in a snake fence provider to help you in your snake-free journey.

You can barely see it, but this viewfence has snake fencing installed.

5. Seal up and clean out the garage.

If someone told you about a spacious, comfortable house … kept nice and warm (or cool), secure and safe, with free food … oh, and free … would you move in? Rattlesnakes say “YES”! The house we’re talking about is your garage. Every winter and early Spring, we get many calls for rattlesnakes who’ve found a comfy garage to spend the cool months.

That stack of boxes along the back wall? That’s cover. To you the garage may be highschool yearbook and christmas tree storage, to snakes it’s a furnished condo. If possible, find another spot for storage. Especially along the walls, rattlesnakes will take advantage of easy hiding spots.

If you are storing in your garage, use plastic boxes with lids so that rodents and snakes can’t use them, too. You can also get storage shelves (easy to buy and install from Amazon and other places) so that they’re up off the ground at least 5 or 6 inches. These actions help reduce the thermal protection that is attractive to snakes.

This Western Diamondback Rattlesnake found a nice place to hide in the corner of this garage. The leaf litter in the corner is an indication that the seal should be replaced.

You should also seal it up! It doesn’t take long for hot weather and rodents to make short work of the rubber seal on the garage door. If your garage door doesn’t close to allow no greater than 1/4″ at any point, you should consider calling a garage door company out to get it replaced. They may have a seal option that is made to keep bugs out, which would work just fine for rattlesnakes as well.

6. Fix any cracks or openings in the foundation

Not only for homes, but external garages and sheds, too. If there’s access under the home, animals will find it and use it. Rattlesnakes certainly do, too. If you notice that there’s a way in or under the foundation of your home, don’t wait to get it fixed.

Walk the property perimeter (this only takes a few minutes) and identify any potential issues. If you want to fix them quickly, you can get something from Home Depot to quickly seal it up. Or, have a concrete repair company make the repairs … you’ll want to get on that quickly, though.

Any opening into the wall or foundation may be used by a rattlesnake. Fortunately, it’s often an easy fix.

7. Attend to the wood pile!

It’s almost firewood season! Unfortunately, rattlesnakes are excited, too. The pile of debris at the side of your house that you haven’t touched since last year is a dream scenario for rodents and snakes alike. It’s basically a free log cabin.

Firewood maintenance can help avoid this sitation.

Fortunately, there are a couple of easy fixes here:

  1. Use a stand or lift to keep the firewood up off the ground at least 6 inches. This will eliminate much of the thermal protection and make it useless to snakes.
  2. Move the location of the woodpile each year. Even if it’s to the spot immediately next to it, it will help. When a woodpile has been in the same location for years, it invites rodents, often has tunnels under it, rotting material, and all the good stuff that they like.

8. Go deep! Go through the full checklist

The steps you take to keep rattlesnakes away from the yard are really not different than you’d do in other times of year, though the priority may shift to those potential den situations. If you want to do more, that’s always better. Review the Ultimate Guide to Keep Rattlesnakes Away and follow all instructions that apply.

What to expect.

If you take care of these items, and have an overall perspective of keeping habitat opportunities to a minimum, you will likely never see a rattlesnake in the winter. The spots that they choose are very specific, allowing them to survive and wait for Spring. If none of these spots are offered, your yard is simply not useful.

Usually, based on call volume to our snake relocation hotline and surveys, rattlesnakes are more or less where they intend to be for the Winter by the second week of November. That means that October will be busy. You can expect the most activity to occur in the late afternoon until about 1 hour after sunset. It’s important to keep your garage doors closed during this time, even as weather finally becomes more reasonable.

If you’re a seasonal resident, be sure to check out our Snowbird’s Guide to Rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnake in a house! How does this even happen?

A rattlesnake in the backyard is one thing … but how about in the house, in the bedroom, and even under the bed? It happens, though, thankfully very rarely.

The thing is: rattlesnakes don’t want to be in your home. There are species of snakes that get in often, daily even, like Nightsakes and baby Longnosed snakes. Rattlesnakes, on the otherhand, for one reason or another just don’t make an effort to come inside. If I were to assume, based on how rattlesnakes handle stress and modify their behavior accordingly, the activity inside a home makes them less than ideal hiding spots.

This rattlesnake was found inside a home; a rare event.

How often does a rattlesnake get inside?

Fortunately, Rattlesnake Solutions has a very large collection of human-conflict data of this sort from over ten thousand individual encounters. It happens, but not very often.

Of all encounters we’ve documented, fewer than 100 were rattlesnakes inside the home. If you remove homes that were previously abandoned, missing entire walls, or in a condition where they should be condemned … you end up with fewer than 40. That puts the chances of a rattlesnake encounter in your home, based on snake removal records, at 0.4%. That puts it into a solid “don’t worry about it and go on with your day” category.

Most of the time, a call to catch a rattlesnake inside a home ends up with a Desert Nightsnake in our bucket. These little guys look quite a bit like a rattlesnake and are often mistaken for them.

Not a rattlesnake.

How does a rattlesnake get into the house?

Fortunately, rattlesnakes are easy to keep out of the house. They come in the same way we do – right through the front door. Most of the time, a rattlesnake inside a house, and in fact a good portion of the other types of snakes as well, come in through a door left open.

Who leaves the door open in Arizona? Everyone, it seems, on the right cool day. Especially our midwestern friends, where it seems an open backdoor on a breezy spring day is a normal thing, tend to leave that sliding door open a bit during prime rattlesnake activity time.

They also can get in through any other opening. Famously, the wife of a former Maricopa County Sheriff was bitten by a rattlesnake in her office. The reason? Workers had opened gaps into the home, which allowed the snake easy access.

On other relocation calls where we’ve captured rattlesnakes inside the home, the situation is often similar. A home with a wall partially removed during construction, a partially-completed vent removal allowing access, large gaps under garage doors or patio doors, etc. Simply, if there is access to inside the home, animals may find their way in.

What’s going on with this photo of the rattlesnake under a bed?

This photo was from an apartment complex in the North Phoenix, Cave Creek area. Mitch ran out to capture it. Upon arriving, he assumed it would be another nightsnake (which it often is) and had to run back out to the car to get his tongs and bucket after seeing this.

Not a nightsnake!

He was able to quickly and safely capture it. But how and why was it in there? And does the resident need to worry about more of them?

As we described earlier, it turns out that the resident left the home for less than 5 minutes, leaving the door slightly ajar. That’s all the time it takes for a wandering rattlesnake to find the cool, air conditioned “cave”, and slip inside.

This also does not mean there are others. Rattlesnakes, while being quite social in a variety of situations, are most often found at homes alone. They do not, as a popular myth goes, travel in pairs.

This also does not indicate that there are more rattlesnake encounters in the Cave Creek area … that is just true, regardless of this particular encounter.

How to keep rattlesnakes out of the house?

The best way to keep rattlesnakes out of your home is to keep doors closed and eliminate access, down to a 1/4″ space.

Sometimes that can be tricky, however. Something we have seen with homes in the valley is an issue with how cabinets are put together. This seems to be the reason behind a majority of nightsnake visits, and at least a few rattlesnakes.

If you look under the sink in your kitchen or bathroom, you’ll most likely see the pipes disappearing into the wall in an orderly, well-sealed way. Behind the cabinets, though, is a different story. The pipes coming into the home may be unsealed. That means if there are any gaps under the cabinet overhang (there most often are), there’s a direct highway from under the home to your bedroom bathroom. This may also be the cause for your scorpion and rodent issues.

The easy fix? Seal the gaps under the cabinet overhang. You could go through the trouble to pull out the whole cabinet, but without knowing for sure there’s a problem to begin with, that’s probably overkill. A Saturday afternoon with some expanding foam is all you likely need.

This small Western Diamondback Rattlesnake was in a kitchen under the cabinets

The other thing you should do is to take steps to reduce the overall number of rattlesnakes visiting your property. That is best done by a combination of property modification (landscaping, etc., here’s our step-by-step guide) and physical barriers, like properly sealed garage doors and rattlesnake fence installation.

So rest easy. While a rattlesnake inside the home is something that does happen from time to time, it’s nothing to be overly concerned with. No need to call the realtor or burn the house down; just keep the door closed and you’ll be just fine.

Yes, rattlesnakes can climb trees–this is normal.

An article has been going around showing a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake sitting high in a tree, prompting many emails and messages asking about its validity.

This is normal behavior: rattlesnakes can and do climb trees, though it is not commonly observed. There is no reason to think that the series of photos was faked, staged, shopped, or anything but a totally natural observation.

Despite many comments saying this is a giant rattlesnake, and/or photoshopped … it’s not.

How do we know that? We see rattlesnakes in trees sometimes. A variety of species in very different areas all find some need to occasionally wander up the bark of a tree. Over the years, I have personally seen Blacktailed Rattlesnakeds, Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, Speckled Rattlesnakes, Tiger Rattlesnakes, and Banded Rock Rattlesnakes in branches over my head. Additionally, Timber Rattlesnakes and other east-coast species have been repeatedly seen high in the trees.

An example: here’s a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake I saw just last night. It was disturbed by my flashlight and fled into the bushes … where it suddenly started to climb. It went higher and higher, and was still up there when I passed through the area again hours later. This snake decided the best escape route was: up.

Here’s a Blacktailed Rattlesnake seen on a job site by Jeff Martineau, one of our field team, as it ascended a tree. Blacktails are known to climb like this, possibly to hunt birds and squirrels.

Going up! Photo by Jeff Martineau

Here’s another Blacktail, which I saw from the edge of a road high in a tree, clearly not photoshopped 😉

Why do rattlesnakes climb trees?

There are probably a variety of reasons why a rattlesnake would climb a tree, but in most cases, I would assume that it’s to access prey. If you’re able to get off the ground, a lot of potential prey items, like birds and squirrels. They may also climb to escape predators, to stay cool, or to escape potential flood water during the monsoon season.

Are rattlesnakes going to drop out of the trees?

Almost certainly not. I suppose a snake could happen to make a mistake and fall out, and if you’re walking by right at that second you could possibly have a rattlesnake falling out of a tree onto you. But that’s an extremely remote, chance circumstance that isn’t worth worrying about.

You may have heard friends from the east claim that water moccasins routinely jump from trees into the canoe, too … but we’ll just gently say that they are completely full of it. Sure, it’s possible that someone scared a snake at the right time but and there are likely a handful of “lightning strike” type scenarios where this has possibly happened, but it’s not what they “do”. It’s like saying that the handful of dogs each year who accidentally disengage a parking brake and end up rolling the car down the street qualify the statement of “dogs drive cars”. Just think it through.

Does this mean they can climb the wall and get into my yard?

Not at all. Rattlesnakes can climb if there are sufficient rough surfaces to grip, which excludes your block wall or rattlesnake fence (if it’s installed properly) While they clearly can and do climb, they’re not nearly as good at it as a snake like a Gophersnake, Kingsnake, or Coachwhip, which are built for the task. If you’ve got a secured yard without “footholds” for lack of a better term, you should not expect rattlesnakes in the yard.

Here’s a video explaining how rattlesnakes climb … or don’t … smooth surfaces.

How high can a rattlesnake climb on a smooth surface? Not very far, it seems.

To close: a note to those on social media who like to shout answers on topics they don’t know much about: stop it 🙂 A simple google search in advance would have shown you how often rattlesnakes are actually found in trees, and that it’s totally normal. Here are some other videos of this behavior that I’ve found out there:

Speckled Rattlesnake going up.

Past due: Baby rattlesnakes are finally joining us

Better late than never – rattlesnakes are giving birth, even without the rain. One of the services we offer are serial property inspections, to continuously monitor properties to evaluate possible rattlesnake activity and provide recommendations to landscapers, pest control, and property managers.

We have been inspecting this particular property for many years, and this is the most interesting thing found there to date.

On the previous inspection, Greyson noted a shed skin in an area at the edge of the property. Knowing a fresh shed during this hot and dry period could indicate an estivation den nearby, he focused on that spot during his visit yesterday, and, whoa.

This mother rattlesnake gave birth to babies after being captured at a home in Phoenix.

Here is what was found: a late-season estivation den with a mixed bag of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, with one having given birth in the recent past, and another in a deep blue phase (preparing to shed skin)

While this is not entirely unusual, what is different about this year is that we are seeing that rattlesnakes are having their babies later than usual, and they are doing so in their estivation dens instead of moving to their usually-preferred birthing spots.

This is likely a response to our exceptionally hot (the hottest on record) summer and near-complete lack of rain. This is similar to a recent visit to a home by Dave in Tucson (I’ll be posting this shortly as well) where he captured a total of 14 rattlesnakes.

Are rattlesnakes giving birth later this year than normal?

According to our observations and activity on the relocation hotline: yes, it appears that rattlesnakes are having babies later this year than usual. In a normal year, we start to receive our first calls to capture groups of mother Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes with their newborn babies in early July, usually hitting its peak around the first week of August, then trickling in here or there until around the first week of September. This year, it took much longer for this to be normal, only now (mid-August) has it become routine.

Rattlesnakes give live birth and hang out with the babies for a period of time afterward.

Likewise, rattlesnakes seen in informal surveys and in our study of rattlesnakes in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve have shown that Western Diamondback Rattlesnake and Tiger Rattlesnakes that would have likely given birth by now are still languishing in a gravid (pregnant) state at estivation dens.

While this is in no way a full representation of what’s happening out there, but does represent 10 years of data collection and informal survey observations. It should also be noted that while this is the case in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, it is unlikely to represent behavior in other regions.

Why are baby rattlesnakes being born later this year than usual?

The most notable difference of this year from previous years is the combination of extreme, prolonged heat and a nearly-complete lack of meaningful rain. It has been documented that the birth time of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes coincide with the onset of the monsoon rain (G. Schuett et all 2013).

This year makes that a little bit tougher than normal. If monsoon rain triggers pregnant rattlesnakes to give birth, what happens when there is no rain at all?

They have to give birth eventually … so what we are seeing is this: The mother rattlesnakes are staying at estivation sites (spots selected to hide away during the hottest summer months) far longer than they normally would. Rather than moving to a birthing site as they normally would, they are having their babies right in place.

This likely isn’t good for the babies, ultimately and unfortunately. They lose moisture more than twice as quickly as adults (J. Agugliaro, H. Reinert 2005). Unless we get some rain soon, that could be big trouble for this year’s babies. We’re hoping for the best, but looking at the forecast … hoping is all there is to do.

How homeowners can keep baby rattlesnakes out of the yard

Keeping the smallest rattlesnakes out of your area is a bit different than the larger ones.

First, the space they need to get in is much smaller … anything more than about a third of an inch can allow access. Second, they make frequent movements and may not necessarily know where they’re going. Unlike adults, who’ve had a lifetime to map out a homerange, babies may show up any place, any time. For that reason, physical barriers are the best bet. Rather than go too far into detail here, I’ll refer you to our guide to keep baby rattlesnakes out of the yard.

References

Schuett, G.W., Repp, R.A., Hoss, S.K. and Herrmann, H.‐W. (2013), Parturition in a Desert Rattlesnake. Biol J Linn Soc Lond, 110: 866-877. doi:10.1111/bij.12166

Agugliaro J, Reinert HK. Comparative skin permeability of neonatal and adult timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2005;141(1):70-75. doi:10.1016/j.cbpb.2005.04.002

Are these snake holes?

“Is this a snake hole?”

This question is one we hear often when we arrive at a homeowner’s residence to relocate a snake or perform an inspection. From the homeowner’s perspective, they’re likely a bit befuddled and nervous, because who wants a snake taking up residence where the kids play or where the dog likes to run around, right? Well, it’s a good question, and one I’ll answer as we explore a little bit about snakes, their behavior and where you’re likely to encounter them.

The quick answer: no, it’s not a rattlesnake hole. But that doesn’t mean a rattlesnake doesn’t live in it.

If you’ve lived in the Sonoran desert long enough, it’s likely you’ve seen many holes at the base of bushes, in the sides of wash walls, under rocks, etc. There is a lot of wildlife here, and many species have adapted to escaping the brutal temperatures of an Arizona summer day by getting out of the sun and down a hole. The hole is a refuge whereby the animal can keep hydrated (the humidity underground is appreciably higher than on the surface) and stay cool (the temperatures are appreciably cooler too).

In the greater Phoenix/Tucson areas, we don’t have snakes that dig their own holes In some areas of the country there are a few species that will (for example, in the eastern US female hognose snakes will excavate a hole to lay their eggs in). Here in Phoenix/Tucson, holes are dug by rodents, tortoises, lizards, etc. but not snakes. That said, snakes will sometimes use holes dug by other animals for refuge.

Is this a snake hole? Nope! But it doesn’t mean a snake doesn’t find it to be useful.

When you’re looking at a hole in your yard, how can you tell if a snake has been using it to get out of the sun/heat? Well, there are some indicators. First, rattlesnakes like to bask outside their refuges quite a bit. Depending on the substrate (ie sand, dirt, etc.) that the hole has been dug in, rattlesnakes will leave telling imprints in the substrate as evidence of their presence (similar to the footprint you leave while walking in sand). The imprint often looks like a “disk” of flattened dirt or sand, and in very clear cases you can even make out the belly scales of the snake that rested there outside the hole.

How can you tell if a rattlesnake is using the hole?

Snakes will also leave imprints as they enter/exit a hole. This looks like a flattened strip of sand/dirt that’s “raised” on the edges These edges are raised because as the snake crawls into/out of the hole, dirt and sand are pushed aside. Even in areas where the substrate isn’t conducive to leaving these particular kinds of imprints (ie gravel), it’s still possible to find evidence of snake activity. If there is grass or vegetation surrounding a hole, a snake will “flatten it out” as it rests outside the hole. Depending on the composition of the gravel, you may also see imprints as well.

Now, snakes aren’t the only animals that will leave evidence of their comings and goings into and out of holes. Lizards will often leave tail drags (they look like a line in the sand/dirt with little divots on the sides (the lizard’s hind feet)). Snake tracks are usually much wider and flatter than lizard tracks, and with a little practice it’s easy to tell them apart. Tortoises will leave very wide “slide” marks as they enter/exit, and these are easily differentiated from a snake track. Rodents will leave footprints too, but again, these look nothing like snake tracks.

How do you keep snakes from using these holes?

If you’ve seen rodent activity at a hole in your yard, it’s possible that at some point a snake may decide to use that hole as refuge. This is the best possible scenario for the snake, as it gets the cooler/more humid benefits out of the sun and may get a free meal to boot! If you see evidence of rodent activity in your yard (one big indicator is holes popping up where they didn’t exist before), your best bet is to contact a professional to address the rodent issue.

Also not a snake hole.

You can destroy the holes you see, but rodents also have a habit of making new ones when their old ones are destroyed. Once the rodent issue is addressed, that will also address the possible snake issue because at that point once the old holes are destroyed there won’t be any rodents to make new ones.

So s the hole you’re looking at a snake hole? If you’re in the Phoenix or Tucson areas, I can say that a snake didn’t make the hole you’re looking at.

Is there evidence that a snake has been using the hole (see above)? If not, the answer is likely no. If you do see evidence of snake activity, it’s important to remain calm and contact Rattlesnake Solutions to address the snake issue and a professional rodent expert to address the rodents.

Rattlesnake Solutions will professionally examine any holes, make a determination as to snake activity and also inspect your entire yard for further evidence of snake activity. They’ll discuss their findings with you and answer any questions you may have about snakes, holes, living in the desert, and more.

Ultimately, these holes, even though they aren’t caused by snakes, may be an indicator that your yard has things that snakes like. That means that if you’re in a contact zone with native desert, a visit from a rattlesnake or two is a strong possibility. This would be a good “shot across the bow” moment to take action to make your yard less attractive to rattlesnakes, and take care of things like having rattlesnake fencing installed.

Fastest, easiest, cheapest, and most effective way to get rid of packrats

This is a rattlesnake post in disguise. Though you’ve likely clicked through to learn all about how to get rid of a packrat nest, they’re really one in the same. Getting rid of packrat nests around your property is one of the top things you can do to immediately reduce the number of rattlesnake encounters at your property, second only to installing snake fencing.

The best way to get rid of packrats – poison free.

The homeowners we talk to about their packrat problems often have had quite a difficult time keeping them to come back. They set out traps and poisons and often succeed in killing one or two, but the nests just seem to keep regenerating rodents. So, what can you do?

The issue is that getting rid of packrats has very little to do with getting rid of the rodents themselves, but eliminating the nest.

A packrat nest (also called a midden) is a collection of sticks and debris gathered by the rodent to create a protected, warm (or cool) insulated area to live and breed. These deep burrows are home to a variety of wild animals, which includes rattlesnakes. You can kill all the rodents you want, but unless you remove the nest, more will just move in.

Fortunately, this is very easy to do and any homeowner can get rid of a packrat nest in just minutes, and do so in a way that prevents them from coming back.

How do you get rid of packrats without using poison?

  1. Use a garden hose to flood the nest from the highest point in the nest. You want the water to completely fill the nest. Turn the water to half flow or less so that you can make sure water is getting down deep and not just collapsing the entrance. You also want any animals in there to come out and not become buried.
  2. Use a rake or other tool to completely pull off the debris on the top and open it up.
  3. Using the same tool (or any that will do the job), spread out the debris and make sure that the interior of the nest is completely exposed.
  4. The next day, flood the hole again, use the tool to collapse the entrance as much as possible, and either completely spread out the nesting material or get rid of it.
  5. Watch the area and at the first sign of any rodent starting to dig it out again, do exactly the same thing.

That’s it! Super simple and effective, and free (minus the cost of some water of course). In some instances you’ll need to do this a few times for persistent rodents, but it will work in time and it’s always a better option than destructive and costly solutions. Even better, you’ll not be using poisons that can kill all kinds of non-target wildlife.

How to keep baby rattlesnakes out of the yard

Recent changes in ambient humidity has triggered the start of baby rattlesnake season! Across the state, mama rattlesnakes are tucked away in shaded, damp areas to give birth to babies (they do not lay eggs as is commonly believed). After spending some quality time with mom, the babies are all set to head out into the big world to figure out how to be a rattlesnake.

The behavior that often brings rattlesnakes into an area is a little different for these new little guys, and as a homeowner you should know what you can do to keep baby rattlesnakes away.

This means two big things for homeowners who wish to keep baby rattlesnakes away. First, baby rattlesnakes can show up at any place, any time, without a reason. Second, it becomes even more important to reduce access and opportunities for rattlesnakes in general.

First, let’s learn a bit about baby rattlesnakes. Here’s a Q&A session we did last year that should cover the basics. This post is all about what homeowners can do to prevent baby rattlesnakes from showing up on the patio, however, so we’ll rely on our previous work to talk about how cute they are:

Baby rattlesnake questions and answers

Baby rattlesnakes are wanderers

We often discuss the behavior of rattlesnakes that brings them into yards. Things like moisture-rich pool equipment areas or an unsealed garage (aka, cool cave) are often taken advantage of by rattlesnakes for the opportunities they provide.

Baby rattlesnakes, on the other hand, have no such experience. After they leave their mother (a week or so after being born), their instinct is to wander wide and far searching for what will eventually be its lifelong home range.

As they kick the tires of life, they’re making frequent movements. They will need to eat, find reliable places to get water, and map a variety of spots to stay during different times of year. As babies, however, they have no idea where these things are, so they have to find them.

That means that you can easily find baby rattlesnakes in places where there are no real reasons for them to be there. We often find them in busy parking lots, sidewalks, and shopping centers. At homes, they can be anywhere, often ducking into temporary cover situations regardless of if they can truly survive there or not.

This can also present some challenges with the typical prevention methods because baby rattlesnakes are small. How small? Our testing has shown that any space as small as a third of an inch in diameter can allow entry of baby rattlesnakes:

What you can do about it to keep baby rattlesnakes away:

  1. Keep cover situation, even stuff you plan on throwing away the next day, up off the ground and to a minimum. This includes pool toys, shoes,temporary construction debris, and that stack of Amazon boxes.
  2. Create a barrier to keep wandering baby rattlesnakes out of the yard entirely.
  3. Double up on landscaping efforts to make sure as few shaded and cool areas as possible are available.
  4. If you have rattlesnake fencing installed or are thinking about getting it, make sure that it is done in such a way that it keeps baby rattlesnakes out as well.
Baby rattlesnakes are really cute, though maybe not so much in your slippers at 2am.

Baby rattlesnakes are making a map

As these little newborn rattlesnakes wander around the world searching for all the stuff that makes a rattlesnake happy, it’s not without purpose. Each time they get it right, whether it succeeding in finding food, water, or a spot to hide away, they’re taking note.

Just like you do when you’re on vacation and remember good and convenient spots to get food, coffee, and wifi, baby rattlesnakes are in the map making business. This is why it’s more important now than ever to take action to make your yard less attractive to rattlesnakes. If you’re providing a resource, you may have a repeat guest for life.

This mother rattlesnake and her babies were collected from a house in Phoenix

What you can do to keep baby rattlesnakes from adding your yard to favorites:

  1. Remove as many attracting features as possible. Start with the easy stuff you can do in just a few hours, then move on to larger and more complicated items.
  2. Cut bushes back from walls and use a garden hose to flood any rodent burrows you find, especially near the house.
  3. Contact a garage door company and make sure the seal at the base of your garage door is sealed up.
  4. Have a professional rattlesnake prevention specialist come inspect the property to find signs of baby rattlesnakes and identify attracting features.
  5. Avoid using snake repellents (they don’t work and give false peace of mind)

Above all else, be mindful and keep your eyes open

The random nature of encounters when it comes to baby rattlesnakes mean that every homeowner, hiker, or visitor to places where rattlesnakes can be found should be paying attention.

Baby rattlesnakes are born with a single rattle segment. That’s cute, but it won’t make a sound until its second shed skin, several weeks after it is born. It may try and rattle anyway, but you won’t hear it. That means the courtesy buzz that tells you when you’re getting too close is off the table. You’ll have to rely on your other senses to keep you safe.

This does not mean you should be fearful, thankfully. All it takes is to go back to basics of rattlesnake safety:

  1. Always wear shoes when going outside at night, even to take out the trash or get something you left in the car.
  2. Keep a charged flashlight near all exits. Never walk around after dark without it.
  3. Talk to your kids and visitors just to make sure we’re all on the same page 🙂
  4. Consider having your dog trained to avoid rattlesnakes.
  5. Keep your shoes inside.
  6. If you’re camping or hiking, keep your stuff up off the ground or in the tent whenever possible. Bring some slip on shoes for those midnight walks to the bushes.

Baby rattlesnakes should be considered, but not feared.

Though this isn’t the point of this post, it should always be mentioned that baby rattlesnakes are not more dangerous than adults, contrary to popular belief. Various myths, like that they don’t know how to control their venom or are extra aggressive, have been debunked over and over again. You’ll still keep hearing them, however, because these myths are beloved parts of our culture. A relatively new bit of rattlesnake BS is that they love to breed in pool noodles (not true, FYI). But don’t worry; put those myths on the shelf alongside your neighbor’s bigfoot sighting and your aunt’s miracle diet claims.

We’ll leave you with some articles that can help you keep rattlesnakes away and be more informed. Don’t worry about baby rattlesnakes, but be aware! A few changes to your day to day can keep everyone safe.

Keeping baby rattlesnakes where they should be is a matter of preparation.

Let’s Talk Toads – How to Keep Your Dog Safe

The rain is finally here, and with it, come the toads. Many people are surprised to learn that the hottest region of the country is home to a variety of amphibians. One of them, the Sonoran Desert Toad (or Colorado River Desert Toad if you prefer) is famous. It’s the one of “toad licking” fame due to a highly toxic poison that can cause some interesting effects (never do this, seriously, you can die).

But more often, people learn about these toads because of the unfortunate fact that they kill dogs quite often. Even though we’re “Rattlesnake” solutions, we want to address this aspect of local wildlife and help where we can.

Know which toads can hurt your dogs

The first thing you can do is to simply learn the difference between toads that can hurt your dog, and toads that don’t.

The only one you really need to worry about are the large Sonoran Desert Toads, which are usually easy enough to spot. They’re huge, like a big green nerf football bouncing around out there.

This big guy is a Sonoran Desert Toad. You don’t want your dogs anywhere near them.

They’re not the only toads around, however. More commonly-seen are the smaller Red-Spotted Toads. As the name implies (herpetologists are not creative), they are usually red or orange spots on the body. They’re not as dangerous as the larger Sonoran Desert Toads, but could indicate problems. They, like the larger dangerous versions, need water, and their presence could be an indicator that you have good stuff in the yard that could attract poisonous toads.

This little Red-Spotted Toad isn’t a Sonoran Desert Toad, but could indicate other issues.

Eliminate water sources wherever possible

As you can imagine, life in Arizona is tough for squishy amphibians. It makes it much easier when we supply water. Drip systems, backyard pools, leaky hoses, and more become perfect little spots for toads to take a dip.

One of the things we see quite often while doing rattlesnake prevention work are the number of drip and watering systems that either go nowhere or are watering plants that don’t need them. If you’re watering your Saguaro or other native plants – stop it 🙂

You could also change the time of day that you water the plants. Water in the early morning, just before sunup, to avoid pooling and still allow for the least amount of evaporation possible. This can help reduce the amount of muddy pools, which toads love, sitting out overnight where your dogs can find them.

It’s worth taking an hour or two to go through the yard and evaluate every drop and water opportunity. Ask yourself:

  1. Is this drip necessary?
  2. Is this using more water than it should?
  3. Do I like this plant enough to keep it if it increases potential risk to my dogs?

Fixing the accidental water sources

Other than intentional water sources, there are those incidentals that also attract toads. Perhaps the most common are leaky hoses. If you’re like most of us, the area directly under your favorite hose is damp. In some cases we see, it’s a full-on little pond! Unlike watering the flower bed, this is entirely useless and should be addressed. It may cost a little bit to have a plumber address it, if it’s needed, but remember: the goal here is to keep your dog alive, not minor savings in water costs or aesthetic needs. To that end: it’s absolutely worth it to get any drips fixed.

Another class of accidental water in the backyard are drips from the AC unit. You can usually fix this easily enough one of a few different ways, depending on your situation:

  1. Change the pipe angle or add to it to divert water away from areas where it can create damp patches.
  2. Use a tall bucket or other catch to let it collect and evaporate without creating a wet spot in the dirt.
  3. Use a large, flat stone (or similar) to make a hot surface that evaporate drips as they land.
  4. Get creative 🙂 you can add a bit of pipe or tubing to use this “free” water in any number of ways, like piping it over into a hanging garden, or hanging birdbath.

Get your dog trained to avoid toads

Even though toads kill dogs quite often, let’s look at what’s really happening: the dogs start it. Toads are just sitting there like a squishy bouncy chew toy, and what dog will pass that up? A well-trained one will!

Similar to rattlesnake aversion training, where a dog learns that rattlesnakes aren’t little buzz buddies to play with, dogs can be trained to avoid poisonous toads.

We won’t go into details here, but we recommend talking to our friends at Rattlesnake Ready, who do it better than anyone in our opinion. Rattlesnake Ready has a Toad Avoidance training program that is both economical and effective, and is a no-brainer if you have a dog and live where these potentially-deadly toads can be found.

Beagle dog sitting with white background

Have any toads removed humanely

When you do see a toad? They’re not exactly the kind of thing you can just put out in the desert and expect it to survive … so what to do?

Just like with snakes, you can call us 24/7 for toad removal at 480-237-9975 in Phoenix or 520-308-6211. While we’re there, we’ll search the property to see if we can find any other toads, and give advice on how to fix whatever issues caused them to be there to begin with.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

It’s 2am, your dog isn’t coming in from the late-night pee break. You put on the slippers and head out into the yard to discover your pup chewing on a toad. What do you do?

What you can easily avoid here is the confusion and panic of trying to search for whoever is open and asking what to do. If you live where toads can be found (or snakes, for that matter), whatever planning you can do in advance is the best thing you can do and make the difference between your dog living or dying.

Carve an hour or two out of your day to search for 24 hour emergency veterinary hospitals. Call them, find out the pricing, protocol, and work out the plan from start to finish in advance. The difference in how well your dog can be treated, and how you feel during the very scary experience, can be very different if you’re enacting a plan rather than panicking in the dark.

Find a 24 hour emergency vet long before you think you actually need one. It can make the difference between life and death for your pets.

Be proactive – have your yard inspected

During the monsoon season each year, our rattlesnake removal crew sees a lot of toads while on the search for hidden reptiles. The fact is: toads kill just as many dogs, or more, than rattlesnakes … so it’s good for everyone involved to extend this service to help homeowners keep dogs safe from toads as well. Email toads@rattlesnakesolutions.com to learn more about what we can do to keep toads out of the yard.

Releasing kingsnakes to control rattlesnakes is not a good idea

Here’s the video version of this post is that’s your thing.

A common request from homeowners and something I see people comment about quite often is the idea of capturing, buying, or importing kingsnakes and gophersnakes to release in the yard as a means to control rattlesnakes.

Kingsnakes, as you may be aware, are famous for making meals of venomous rattlesnakes. They completely harmless (even to kids and dogs) and even nice to look at. Because of their rattlesnake-eating preferences, many homeowners are more than happy to see a kingsnake cruising through the yard.

So why wait for nature to bring the kings to your yard? Can’t you just buy one at the pet store and let it go? How about someone in town who’s caught a wild one and does’t want it? Why not bring in a bunch of them to release and then never see a rattlesnake again? Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

It’s increasingly common to see requests like this on Facebook and Nextdoor, where communities of rattlesnake-averse homeowners compare snake experiences. “You don’t want that kingsnake? Bring it to my yard!”. There are also suggestions (and admissions) of buying kingsnakes from the petstore to release. Please, never do this.

Releasing kingsnakes into your yard is not a good idea and almost certainly will not help your rattlesnake issues.

Bubble burst: if your yard has sufficient food sources and resources to support a kingsnake, you already have one. The population and distribution of kingsnakes (and other snakes) is a complicated balance of predator and prey, intraspecies dynamics. It’s like pouring water onto a flat surface expecting it to pile up; the kingsnake you release will almost certainly just wander off, not to be seen again.

If you have rattlesnakes in the yard, you also have kingsnakes already hunting them. You may not see them very often, but moving around unseen is kind of a snakes’ thing. You could release as many kingsnakes into the yard as you want. If there isn’t sufficient food for them, they’re out!

Worse, unless you live in the same area as it’s used to so that it can resume its life, your new pest control idea will probably die out there.

Even worse than that, if you’re bringing kingsnakes in from other areas, you run the risk of spreading parasites and disease to the existing group of kings — your efforts to have more kingsnakes have a chance to make you have no kingsnakes.

Having other snakes in the yard is the best way to attract kingsnakes.

What can you do to get more kingsnakes in the yard?

There is one way 🙂 but you’re not going to like it. Get more rattlesnakes! Really though, prey opportunities are the best way to attract any snake to the yard. Unfortunately, you can’t really do that without also attracting the snakes you don’t want around, too.

It seems the idea of introducing kingsnakes to your yard to keep rattlesnakes away just isn’t as helpful as it may seem. Just stick to the basics of keeping snakes out of the yard and if a kingsnake shows up to help, that’s great! But she doesn’t need any help.

This goes for Gophersnakes and Bullsnakes too. These snakes, by the way, don’t actually eat rattlesnakes like the saying goes … but that’s for another article.

On Herping with Speckled Rattlesnakes

A note to herpers in AZ as we enter July and begin the monsoon season. In particular: those looking for Speckled Rattlesnakes.


This is definitely not aimed at any one person one group, but a common trajectory that plays out again and again. If this is you, listen up. This isn’t criticism; this is to help you see more snakes in the future and progress at what you love to do. I’m also going to attempt to avoid the rant-format that these types of posts tend to take on.

This is when you might find groups of Speckled Rattlesnakes (or other species, sometimes together), in small groups on your hikes. That’s one of the most exciting feelings you can have. I remember very well the season where things finally started to feel like it all made sense and I could find specks at will any morning.

But something happened to those spots, and I want to talk about it so you can avoid making the same mistakes that I did, and many of us make early on. You don’t have to listen of course, but I guarantee that if you do, both you and the snakes you want to see will benefit.

The microhabitat that low-desert rattlesnakes choose for estivation and gestation sites is very specific. You can have a giant group of hillsides and ravines that all boil down to a handful of small holes where they gather to stay cool and safe throughout the hottest part of the year. These sites may be one of many they rotate between, but sometimes it appears to be just one, especially in areas where hikers and development have limited their options.

These summer sites are the hinge that their entire lives revolve on. They are every bit as sensitive and critically-important as Winter dens for snakes in cooler environments. They are easily impacted and can be destroyed by what may seem like nothing.

Speckled Rattlesnakes can be easily disturbed and may alter their behavior.

So if you are visiting for starting to find these groups as described, here’s how this is going to go:

This year you’re going to see so many specks – it’s going to be amazing, tons of photos, lots of learning, so many great experiences, etc. You’ll note the locations, and feel like everything is finally starting to come together into a greater understanding of it all.

You’ll invite some friends … close ones you trust of course … life is good.

You will return to check on these sites a few times a week, sometimes even the next day. You hook them out if they start to retreat and pose them up for some great close-ups – they crawl off just fine, what’s the harm? You come home and post those photos right away so the world can see.

Sometimes you can’t make it and your friends go without you. Sometimes they invite friends as well … close ones they trust of course.

But next year, you’ll come back to those sites and you’ll only see a handful of the snakes you saw before. Maybe it’s a bad year … the moon? Humidity too low? Who knows. You’ll keep visiting those sites hoping for a different result, but nothing changes. You spend most of your free herping time visiting old sites instead of exploring new ones. You still see great things, but not as great as last year! You do start to notice more footprints in that wash though, maybe a discarded gatorade bottle on the ground. Oh well, next year will be better.

The next year comes and now the weather and moon must really be bad, because there are no snakes at all at these spots. Where’d they go! There’s one snake deep in shed at one of them, but where are the others? There are now unrecognized footprints in the wash every time you go. You start recognizing rocks in photos from friends of friends of friends. You start seeing snakes you recognize on Instagram photos in hotel rooms. Herping starts to feel frustrating as you can’t decide on whether or not to explore for new spots or go check the old ones and hope something is happening.
The next year, the site is dead. Occasionally a random snake is there, but it’s nothing of what it was a few years ago. The last time you went there, too, you ran into a couple of guys you don’t know from out of state who heard this was a good place.

So now the choice you’ll have: evaluate what happened, or carry on and repeat this process?

The dopamine response we all develop to seeing and sharing rattlesnake experiences is strong. It’s like ordering a pizza and as soon as it arrives, throwing it in the fridge and going to bed hungry. It can make truly evaluating our actions in the field and potential impact to critical habitat nearly impossible. It’s also the biggest enemy to having repeat encounters; to move past the point of herping being a series of random events, it’s also important to overcome.

Just the act of waiting a few weeks to post photos of finds can help distribute traffic to even the best-known and well-herped sites.

Here’s what happens:

Small stress events, even ones that we don’t even notice … like getting a close up cellphone shot and the snake never tongue-flicks, build up. There are numerous studies of stress-response in several species of rattlesnakes (specks aren’t one of those, yet) if you want to look at it in depth. Those repeated stress events cause the behavior of the snakes to change. Sometimes it just means they’ll spend more time under bushes and out of view and they’re harder to detect, so you walk past more of them instead of the wide-open ambush positions you’re used to. But with these low-desert snakes, they tend to leave entirely. They may end up at a different estivation area. Sometimes that site isn’t as good as the one they originally selected, and sometimes that has negative consequences for the snake, up to and including death.

A single event, or managed stress events that are spaced out adequately avoid this effect. However, there are exceptions.

Rattlesnakes die at a surprisingly low temperature. Once the body gets into there 105-110 range, they are on death’s door. Even if they crawl away seemingly fine, they may not recover. On hot nights, specks will sit out until they are only a few degrees shy of their upper terminal temperature, then make a bee-line for cover. If you are buzzed during this process, then hold it up for a 20 minute photo session, then let it crawl away rattling to cover, you very well may have killed that snake and you will never know it. If the place they retreat to after the encounter is not suitable to survive a 110F+ inferno for the day: it’s dead.

Would you visit a horridus den and hook the snakes out the crevices to photograph? Would you pull them out in the coldst days of winter and pose them on open ice for a half hour shoot and let them crawl off into the snow? Would you flip every rock in a stream for hellbenders and pose them in the sun before releasing them into the sand? Would you dig an eastern massasauga out of a crawfish burrow for photos and leave it in the sun? Of course not – these are ridiculous actions that we know have consequences. For whatever reason, the nature of critical microhabitat for hot-desert species is largely missing from the herper lexicon.

It might be that the perceived abundance of rattlesnakes in Arizona makes it harder to see. It could be that, despite rattlesnakes in general being one of the most well-studied vertebrates on the planet, what they do when temps get to 110F is poorly documented. It could be that they are common animals in common places, so people simply don’t care if they are negatively affected. It could also be, and this is what I assume to be unfortunately true in many cases: the potential for damage is known, but the draw for the excitement of experience and sharing make it less important. I am sure we have all seen specks posed in the open on rocks where the shadow positions reveal the time by herpers who are experienced to know better. I can only guess why this feels acceptable.

Maybe it’s because they never see the results, other than the die-off of estivation sites each year. If that’s just chalked up to “must be a bad year”, as it tends to be, the lesson is never learned personally. Unfortunately, that mess is apparent to those who look for it.

A couple of us are working on a research project in a few areas that are often herped. There is nothing stated above that has not been well-documented, and eventually published. We set out to learn about where and when snakes use different microhabitat. As it progresses, however, the regretful picture of just how quickly well-intentioned herpers can kill off critical habitat is emerging. I hate it, but it’s right there and can’t be ignored. Once an area is discovered by herpers and visited frequently, it changes dramatically. Compared to similar sites that are either not herped or herped at spaced intervals to manage stress, repeated visits by groups of well-intentioned herpers is third in line of destruction of those sites to development and transient use.

Single or rare stress events, even if substantial, seem to not have any impact. Limiting visits to a sensitive site to just a handful a year can mitigate the negative issues I’ve described here. It’s an investment. You’re trading dopamine for future encounters.

This is what gives the Arizona herping community a bad reputation as people who go overboard on coming down on how and where people herp. There’s a reason for this: this is one of the herping hotspots of the world. Every person who seems over the top in their approach is coming from a position of watching sensitive sites be decimated each year. So while that message can certainly be handled better, try and see the underlying message.

All of this is why it seems you can’t so much as post a cell-phone shot of a snake here in Arizona without a bunch of old-timers coming out of the woodwork to tell you you’re doing it wrong. The fact is: they are right, but they need to put it in a better package. Let’s be honest about all this: we all know each other because we like reptiles, not because we’re all aligned on a social level.

So I’m asking you to try this: next time you see a speck in a wash, ask yourself:

Do you want to see this snake again? Is this more enjoyable as a one-off experience, or as an observation spot to visit for a lifetime?

Is my understanding and sharing of this experience better as a piled stress-ball, or as numerous future observations and hundreds of photographs of what this snake actually does?

Is approaching this snake up close for a cell-shot worth it. Is what I am doing hurting or helping?

Is it worth it to post that photo the moment I get home? Is the experience less enjoyable if I wait until after estivation season to do it?

If you don’t think that people can triangulate your position based on a telephone pole and a dirt road in the background, you’re wrong … and thanks for the site 😉

If you think that a snake wasn’t bothered by you because it didn’t tongue flick after that up close cellphone shot: come back in 10 minutes and see where it’s at.

If you don’t think that hundreds of people planning AZ monsoon trips, some much less well-intentioned or ethical as you are, aren’t watching every move you make and every photo you post: be aware that they are.

If you value the experience of visiting specks at the sites you’ve found: please consider all of this.

Or, disregard if you like. Just remember it in a few years when that speck honey-hole seems to have dried up. Guess what: it’s not the full moon.

Limiting stress events to a snake like this can help ensure I’ll be able to watch it for years to come.