Temperatures are dropping, and so is snake activity. Every year, we are asked this question and field hundreds of comments wanting to know when the rattlesnake-phobic can once again breathe a little easier.
Even more common, starting in September, people are surprised that snakes are still active. We get comments like “this late?” and “I thought they were hibernating?!”. The answer is of course a little more complicated, but the answer is easy to find.
When do snakes go away in the winter?
According to hotline activity as an indicator of snake activity, snake activity drops dramatically around the second week of November. While snakes can still be found on the surface here and there, this is effectively the end of “snake season”.
This question can be best answered by looking at the average activity on our relocation hotline. Since this is driven purely by chance encounters by homeowners and businesses, it’s a good indicator of how many snakes the general population could expect to not see snakes out there.
But I heard that snakes are active all year?
Yes they are, but to a much lower extent. You may be told that there is no such thing as “snake season” because rattlesnakes can be found any time of year. While it is certainly true that in the right conditions a snake might make an appearance, it’s not necessarily useful for this discussion.
If a snake is found at your home in the winter, it has likely been there for awhile.
Here’s a better, more detailed article about When snakes “go to sleep” for the winter”:
The rumors are out there, and it’s true! Rattlesnake encounters spike in October, and it’s happening right now throughout much of the state. But, this is completely normal, happens every year, and it’s not really anything to worry about. Let’s take a look at the reasons, and why you shouldn’t be too concerned.
If you haven’t been outside yet this morning: it’s cold!
Rattlesnakes don’t have sweatpants and blankets, so they have work to do to avoid it. That means there’s a lot of activity in October, especially in the late afternoon and just after dark. They’re making movements to wherever they’re going to spend the winter … and it just so happens that this occurs right when people spend more time outside enjoying the cooler weather.
More people moving at the same time that more snakes are moving = more snake encounters. This is normal, and happens every year Add in a continued hockey-stick upward graph of population and development, and you have record encounter figures.And no, there is not, as I’ve seen a few post out there, a “bumper crop” of rattlesnakes.
They don’t spring forth from the Earth when water touches it. It would take several years of consecutively prime conditions to result in both higher birth rates and survivorship of young that could show a measurable increase in the rattlesnake population. Even then, their natural predators (every animal with a pulse in the desert) would put it right back where it should be.
The rumor mill is abuzz (see what I did there?)
I am fortunate that the local news allows me to comment on these kinds of rumors, and put it into perspective. Rumors like this can be problematic, and lead to dangerous situations for people and snakes. A person can have a totally normal experience, like seeing two rattlesnakes on a single bike ride, and then remember hearing from old Larry at the feed store that there’s a gull durn rattler invasion happening. That person might then take that typical experience of seeing multiple rattlesnakes and incorrectly use it to confirm Larry’s herpetological theories. Then come further posts, some causing people to do things like kill snakes to “help”, putting themselves in danger in the process.
Now that we know all of this, check out this video from KOLD in Tucson that explains.
More information on that snake fencing mentioned in the article:
Now that evening temperatures are in the 50s for most of the major metro areas of Arizona, with cooler temperatures on the way, rattlesnake behavior shifts yet again. Throughout October into early November, rattlesnakes are on the move, eventually settling into their chosen winter den. For many homes, this den can be the garage.
This is also when many of our seasonal residents (aka snowbirds) fly back to their winter Arizona homes to wait out the snow in our perfect weather. If this is you, you may want to pay special attention.
Why do rattlesnakes go into garages?
Rattlesnakes go into garages for a simple reason: to them, it’s just a cave. Not just any cave, but one that’s slightly warmer than the surrounding areas due to the proximity to a larger, heated cave (your home). This cave is also loaded with golf clubs, various boxes of holiday decorations, and dozens of boxes mentally labeled “stuff I’ll deal with later”. When there’s easy access, why wouldn’t a snake use it for a winter den?
How do I keep rattlesnakes out of my garage?
Fortunately, this is relatively easy – it just takes some attention at the right time. That time, as you might imagine, is right now.
The biggest single thing you can fix is won’t cost you a thing, because it’s a behavior change. That is: keep the garage closed as much as possible. Yes, the temperatures are perfect right now and it’s the ideal time to pull those Christmas decorations out even though it’s barely October and the HOA will throw a fit: keep it closed unless you are actively coming and going from the garage. During the early evening and just after dark, rattlesnakes are very actively moving, and if you accidentally leave the door open, even just a little, you’re all but inviting them in.
You can also check the seal on the garage door to see if it’s doing the job. What’s the easiest way to tell? Look at inside corners on either side of the garage door. If you see leaves and debris blown in from outside: congratulations, your door seal is bad. Or you can just look at it (this is the rubber bumper that comes in contact with the garage floor). If it’s frayed, rodent-chewed, or missing the edges so that it doesn’t come into perfect contact with the floor, your favorite garage door company should be called to be replace it. The best part? You’ll not only not see a rattlesnake in there this year, but fewer scorpions and other stuff, too.
Last of the big things to do: clean up the garage. I know, it’s been on the list for years, but if the possibility of a rattlesnake in the garage isn’t a motivator, what is? Rattlesnakes want to stay in a den where they can rest without disturbance, meaning that they need places to hide. A garage with no places to hide is not useable, so let’s do that. That doesn’t mean you need to clear it out, just arrange it differently. Replace old cardboard with plastic storage boxes (with lids), stored right on the ground, without space in between. Pull everything away from the wall a bit, and create space wherever possible.
Things you can do to keep rattlesnakes out of the garage:
Keep the garage door closed as much as possible, never leaving it open after dark.
Check and replace, if needed, the rubber seal at the base of the garage door.
Re-organize items stored in the garage to eliminate as many hiding places as possible and create space.
Move stored items away from walls 10+ and avoid loosely-placed items, especially in corners.
Have your garage and property inspected by a professional to get insight on specific features that should be addressed, and look for signs of resident rattlesnakes.
Avoid using products like poisons, glue traps, and snake-repellents (these don’t work and give false peace of mind – you want to remain aware)
How can I tell if a rattlesnake is already in the garage?
Here’s an easy trick we’ve learned over the years to tell if a rattlesnake is using the garage, even if it’s hidden somewhere in the back, with relative accuracy. Check the corners! Rattlesnakes don’t just crawl into the back of the garage and stay put – there is actually quite a bit of lateral movement. This staging behavior often puts rattlesnakes in the corners nearest to the garage door. Even if temporarily, this can leave distinctive tracks that can indicate whether or not a rattlesnake may be elsewhere in the garage.
In every garage, these corners have dust, leaves, and various stuff. This dust is very useful – a rattlesnake will leave a circular print in the corner, pushing larger debris to the edge. If you see this pattern, it could mean that a rattlesnake has either visited the garage recently or is still in there. If you see it between November and February, the odds of a rattlesnake visitor are higher.
How long are rattlesnakes in garages?
Though we can find rattlesnakes in garages all year, typically this period of cool weather that the rest of the world calls “winter” is when it happens. You can expect that rattlesnakes will be where they intend to spend the winter by about the second week of November. Rattlesnakes will start to explore and make small movements outside by late February, through early March. By April 1, it’s most likely that any rattlesnakes hiding in the garage over the winter have gone out to do all the stuff they do in the spring.
What about the rest of the yard? How do I keep rattlesnakes away?
In response, we’ve created a video that is our best response to the question. It’s long but comprehensive. It’s not just learning how to look at features, but addresses topics that cause confusion and cognitive bias that can really get in the way when seriously trying to learn to identify rattlesnakes. This video will walk you through the best way look at key features with a logical approach to differentiate between Mojave Rattlesnakes and Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.
What can you do? “Count the scales on the head”, someone says … but how useful is that in real-life situations? “Tail bands look different”, another comment will read … compared to what? There are thousands of photographs of both species online, but telling the difference between a Mojave Rattlesnake and a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is still a point of confusion.
Build your skills to identify a Mojave Rattlesnake vs Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Avoid using wire ties or plastic zip ties wherever possible. Instead opt for a more permanent and removable solution, like self-tapping screws.
Why should you avoid using zip ties or wire on your iron fence? Simply: it’s less effective and can damage the fence. The reason we know the zip tie method has issues is why we’re there to begin with: more often than not, it’s because there was a rattlesnake in the yard. Obviously, something isn’t working as it should.
Some installers or DIY guides may suggest using zip ties or wire. They may say that these are cheaper options and easier to take on and off. But in reality, this isn’t the case. Plastic degrades quickly in the Arizona sun, and wire ties can rust through in a few years, leaving large gaps in fencing that can easily allow a rattlesnake entry into your yard.
When is it justifiable to use wire ties?
There are some circumstances where this is simply the only option. Fence that can’t take a screw, like chain link or rebar, need to be wire-tied or welded. Some HOAs also require wire ties – if this is a regulation in your community, send them the video below and see if you can get that one changed.
Here’s a short video showing some examples and further explanation.
Is this photograph of a giant rattlesnake from Arizona real? That question has dominated my inbox for the last few days, so here’s the answer.
Yes, this photo is 100% real. There is no photoshop involved whatsoever.
However, the snake is not nearly as large as it’s made out to be. It appears to be a standard-sized adult Western Diamondback Rattlesnake for Arizona at around 3′ long.
This is yet another example of an illusion called forced perspective. In real life, your stereoscopic vision (two eyes) gives you depth perception, so you can clearly see that things that are closer to you aren’t actually larger. However, a camera just has one eye – the lens – so it isn’t always as apparent.
But why isn’t it obvious? It’s a no-brainer that closer things look larger on camera. It’s likely the subject matter. If someone held up an every day thing, like a water bottle, you’d not immediately share the photo with your Facebook friends about someone drinking from a 6′ tall bottle. The fact that the subject is a rattlesnake seems to short circuit that part of the brain, and you’re left staring at what seems to your eyes a very, very large rattlesnake.
Exactly why this same photo keeps popping up, though, reported from different cities, states, and even claims to be the photographer, are more interesting. For whatever reason, these photos are useful vehicles to get attention, and many people on social media eat it up. The first two locations I’ve seen were Peoria, AZ and Oro Valley, AZ … so the real location is probably one of those.
So it’s a rattlesnake alright, there’s nothing at all extraordinary about this situation.
If you live in Arizona, you’ve probably heard how dangerous toads can be to dogs. If your pup chews on the wrong one, it can lead to severe distress or even death.
But, how do you know which toad to watch out for? In the Phoenix area, the 5 most commonly seen toads are often confused for one another. And of course, that’s ok – you’re a dog owner, not a toad expert. So, here’s the easy guide to differentiate between the good guys and the dangerous ones. Then, a note on what you can do about it to keep everyone safe.
We’ll start with the harmless ones to help your logical brain form a proper, fear-free identification.
First, perhaps the most commonly-seen toad in the county, the Red Spotted Toad. They are everywhere, and not something to worry about.
Next up: the Woodhouse’s Toad. They can pop up anywhere the others can, but seem to be more commonly associated with neighborhoods that border agricultural areas. If your dog chews on one, it could emit a toxin that might make your dog drool and possibly throw up … but is not a danger. If anything, I might speculate that a bad experience with a gross-tasting toad might even help give your dog some context to avoid chewing on the next one it sees.
Very similar in appearance to the Woodhouse’s Toad is the Great Plains Toad. It’s a stout-looking toad with a more reticulate, blotched pattern than the Woodhouse, but also often has a light colored stripe down the back. They have always looked, to me, to be the grumpiest of all toads.
Not as commonly seen, especially outside of the monsoon season, are these bright green, cat-eyed toads: Couch’s Spadefoot. These cute little guys are not a danger.
Last but not least: the toad that you should absolutely not let your dog near. This is the Sonoran Desert Toad (or Colorado River Toad, as it is also referred to). These large toads, when under attack, will secrete a poison that can severely injure or kill a dog.
What do you do if you find a toad in your yard?
First, figure out what it is. If you’re not sure, you can send it to our team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or text a picture to 4806943020.
2. If it’s a harmless one, just leave it there and go on to step #4.
3. If it’s a Sonoran Desert Toad (the poisonous kind). You can move it elsewhere, then just wash your hands. Or you can call someone to remove it.
4. However, you really need to investigate to figure out why it’s there to begin with, and change that situation if you can. Even if you find one of the harmless toads listed here, it can be an indication that there is moisture nearby that can also bring in the big, poisonous toads.
Starting in early March, rattlesnakes will again be a part of our lives in Arizona! While we’re excited, you may not be as much 🙂 Even when a rattlesnake fence is installed perfectly, things happen; rodents dig, branches fall, gates shift: we’ll make sure you’re good for Spring.
To make sure your yard is as good as it gets before things start getting all rattlesnakey out there, we’re offering a check-up and maintenance service to our Rattlesnake Fence customers through the end of February.
Inspection of rattlesnake fence, and up to 1 hour of repair and maintenance (materials included!)*
Full property inspection, checking landscaping, snake-hiding spots, to look for possible snake dens and advise on potential trouble areas
Removal and relocation of any snakes found, both in and outside of the protected areas
Spot-check garage, storage shed, etc (checking corners and walls for snake tracks and signs of activity)
Booking through the end of February for $200. (You don’t need to be there, but you’ll get more out of it if you are).
If you’re NOT a rattlesnake fence customer, we’ll add an 1-hour credit of labor and materials to an estimate for a new rattlesnake fence, good for anytime in 2021.
In Arizona we have scorpions, and lots of other little things that we don’t want inside our homes. A common way to deal with that is to lay down sticky glue traps in the garage and wherever they seem to be getting in. It works great for their intended target, but there are often some unintended victims.
Every year we are called to examine remains of snakes and lizards that crawled into the glue and died. While most wouldn’t care about this kind of thing, plenty of others (most likely like you, since you’re reading this) would rather the sticky stuff stick to scorpions and the leave the other critters free to go.
If it’s a venomous snake or you aren’t sure, don’t do anything yourself.
If a snake is venomous, it’s not worth the risk. Call a professional to assist. If you’re not sure if it’s venomous or not, take a photograph to send them.
How to get the snake free (no, you don’t have to touch it)
There’s a very simple answer that any house will have on-hand – non-stick cooking spray! The oil neutralizes the glue of the trap, allowing animals caught in the glue to work themselves free. Here’s how you do it:
Move the spray trap to a place where the animal can get away when it gets off the glue. If it’s a rattlesnake, don’t use your hands. Make sure it’s not moved into the sun or to a hot surface.
Lightly spray non-stick spray onto exposed glue in places where the snake hasn’t touched. This prevents it from getting re-stuck when it escapes.
Very carefully spray all around the animal, covering it in oil. Be extra careful around the head to not spray too much right onto the face of the snake if at all possible. If it is a rattlesnake or you’re not sure what it is, keep as much distance as you can. It may take a few minutes for the snake to work itself free, but there is no need to take any chances.
The snake will wriggle free and crawl off, smelling like popcorn.
Most of the time the snake will survive. Don’t worry about the snake being covered with oil. Dirt and dust will stick to the snake and it will be clean in a few days with no lasting damage.
Do glue traps even do the job?
Aside from the obvious issues of unintended victims, there’s the question of whether or not glue traps even help your situation at all. It needs more investigation, but it very well be the case that removing predators like geckos and whiptail lizards from the environment may leave you with even more scorpions and spiders than you could possibly catch in a trap.