A bit of seasonal misinformation has been floating around, as it does each Spring – that rattlesnakes are more aggressive as they emerge from winter dens. Thankfully, this is not true. Rattlesnakes are not more aggressive after hibernation.
As the myth goes, rattlesnakes are hungry and grumpy, so will act more aggressively towards anyone that gets too close. What really happens is more complicated.
When conditions are right for rattlesnakes to start to emerge, usually in mid-February, they stay very close to the den for quite awhile. During this period, called egress, they may be hungry, but their activity is focused elsewhere. This is time for social activity – the complicated process of territory dominance, courtship, mating, and other inter-community interactions take place. They may eat during this time, but prime hunting season may not begin until weeks later, after they’ve left the den entirely to move to spring hunting grounds.
That means that between February and throughout March, rattlesnakes are more or less just hanging out near the entrance to their den. While they’re doing this, they are hiding under partial cover, and the males often go on scouting patrols to find females and defend against rivals. This means that encounters can still happen, and when they do, you may see more than one snake at a time. However, these situations are usually well off-trail and hidden, and the snakes will continue to do all they can to avoid confrontation with predators. Perhaps more than ever, they are easy to walk right by without ever knowing they are there.
I have no doubt at all that many people are surprised by rattlesnakes who reciprocate by enthusiastically rattling, even striking, but this is normal and would not indicate that rattlesnakes are more or less defensive during the springtime.
If this is true, why do people say that rattlesnakes are more aggressive after hibernation?
You can attribute this one to our old friend confirmation bias. If a person believes that rattlesnakes are more aggressive in the springtime, and then has an encounter where one rattles and becomes defensive, the take-away can easily be confirmation of the preconceived idea. What these people don’t see are the other rattlesnakes quietly hiding as they typically do. The experience a person can have may that all rattlesnakes rattle all the time, when this isn’t the case – they see 100% of the rattlesnakes they see.
This myth is most commonly passed around in April, which is generally after egress has ended in the low-desert, and many snakes have already eaten. That means that most people who claim to have first-hand experiences with these hyper-aggressive snakes may not have ever actually experienced a rattlesnake in a true denning situation.
How do you know this?
First, there’s no evidence to suggest that rattlesnakes are more aggressive at any particular time of year. There are stories and anecdotes from hikers and ranchers who encounter rattlesnakes from time to time (see the explanation above), but without further study and comparison, these stories are hardly evidence.
To the contrary, rattlesnake denning behavior is one of the most well-studied subjects of all reptiles. In our own team and experience, many of us spend a large amount of time each year at dens watching and observing what the snakes do. It is quite easy to move through these areas without disturbing the snakes at all. If a snake is disturbed, it may just give a few quick clicks of the rattle before going on its way – busy with its primary task of finding other snakes, or traveling a short distance to the bush it likes to sit under.
So ignore stories from social media and local news outlets that claim this is the case. In fact, throw the entire idea that rattlesnakes are aggressive at all out the window. They are incredibly complex animals with highly-detailed social lives, and busting out of a den to chase after people just isn’t reality.
One of the top questions we get about rattlesnake fencing, is HOW HIGH DOES SNAKE FENCING NEED TO BE?
These questions aren’t only from homeowners, but also in regards to regulations from homeowners associations and planned communities who unfortunately often enforce sub-sufficient standards for snake fence installations.
The quick answer: 3’ high. In this post I’m going to show how we got to that answer, and why it’s so important to do it right, that if it’s done wrong, you probably shouldn’t install snake fencing at all.
If you prefer, here’s the video showing how high a snake fence needs to be, including details of our experiments:
A quick recap on this topic: rattlesnake fencing is a physical barrier that is designed and installed in such a way that it prevents rattlesnakes from getting into an area. The exact specifications of how to do this effectively are what our group has developed over the past decade to create the standard this type of work.
That being said, rattlesnakes are thinking, and unpredictable animals, so these standards need to be based on their behavior and their physical capabilities more than anything else.
And a quick disclaimer: this design is intended to exclude rattlesnake species native to the desert southwest, and while it has a level of varying effectiveness on other types of snakes, there is nothing that will exclude all types of snakes in all places all of the time. If someone promises you that, throw that contact in the trash.
So, back on topic: how high does a snake fence need to be. The question really is: how far up a smooth surface from the nearest foothold can a rattlesnake climb?
Rattlesnakes can and do climb many things: trees, bushes, piles of rocks, anything with sufficient texture and grip opportunity can be used to climb. However, smooth surfaces without protrusions are not climbable by rattlesnakes. Concrete or metal walls are impassable to rattlesnakes as long as they’re high enough to keep them from getting their head over the top. That’s why smooth steel mesh of the right gap size is the perfect material to use when installed at the right height.
From testing and observations, we notice a couple of things about how rattlesnakes attempt to climb smooth surfaces:
First, the structure of their body prohibits them from climbing straight up more than about 1/3 of their body length, unless additional support is offered.
Second, if there is stabilizing support, like a tight corner or a rock to push against, they can climb higher, to about half of their body length.
That means that we need a fence that is as long as half of the body length of the largest rattlesnake in any given area, with some additional buffer to eliminate any variability in height or extraordinarily rare and large individuals.
That means to exclude a 4’ rattlesnake, which is a very large adult, you’d want a minimum height of 30” – or half the length of the snake with an appropriate buffer of 6”.
To exclude a 5’ rattlesnake, which would be an exceptionally rare monster-sized snake in the desert southwest, you’d want 36” – or, again, half the snake length with a 6” buffer.
In almost all cases, 30” high will be just fine, and we have certainly installed quite a few fences where this is appropriate in Phoenix. However, as a regional standard, 36” is our recommendation as of 2020.
In the desert southwest, the largest rattlesnake you will see is a Western Diamondback in the 5’ range. Most are much smaller – around Phoenix and Tucson, where we work, a 4’ rattlesnake is a very big snake, but most top out around 3’. These sizes are based not only our thousands of documented captures and survey work, but all available published data, peer-reviewed literature, and basically anyone that measures them rather than eyeballing it. If you live in parts of Texas or the Southeast where rattlesnakes can get into the 6’ range, just use the same formula stated above and you’ll be covered.
To test all of this, we conducted some simple experiments.
First, we constructed a box with an adjustable floor to create varying heights of mesh to test. The box has two settings: The 24” height that is required by many HOAs, and the 36” height as per our standard. There is black duct tape along the top and sides to remove any sharp edges that could possibly injure the snakes, or deter them if they get up that high.
We put a wifi security camera on it and left the room. The quality is pretty bad, but for recording 24-hour video for days at a time, this is what we had available, and is more than enough to see what happens.
Next, we need some snakes.
The first snake is a huge snake from out of state that’s the largest diamondback we could get our hands on, and represents the largest possible rattlesnake you could encounter in Arizona … measuring at exactly 5’ long, nose to tail, excluding the rattle.
First, he went into the 24” box. It took him a little bit to figure out which direction to go, but when he did, he easily climbed out of the 24” height mesh. We repeated this several times and with each instance, he escaped more quickly than the last time. It’s clear that 24” tall fence will not keep a 5’ rattlesnake out of a yard.
Next, we tried the 36” height. The snake stayed in the box for a period of 5 days, moving often and trying to climb up and out at the corners as had previously worked so well with the 24” high fence, but was unable to escape. Eventually, it curled up in a corner and stopped trying, at which time we ended the test. From this, we can see a 36” tall fence can repel a rattlesnake up to 5’ long.
Next, we repeated the experiment with a more typically-sized rattlesnake that homeowners could encounter, at 4’ long.
We placed her in the 24” high box, and waited.
It took her quite a bit longer, but she was eventually able to just get her nose over the top and pull herself up and over. Had the mesh been another 6” higher, this 4’ rattlesnake would not have been able to climb over.
When tested in the 36” box, she stopped trying quickly and spent most of the 5 day period of the test sleeping in the corner.
As expected, a 36” height effectively repels a 4’ snake as it did the much larger 5’ snake, unholding the standard and underlying mechanics that we explained previously..
So the conclusion? 36″ is the correct height for snake fencing.
The 24” height that is so often required by HOAs and installed by do-it-yourselfers and pest control guys is not sufficient to protect your yard from rattlesnakes. To do the job effectively, you want a minimum of 30”, with a standard, recommended height of 36”.
Very importantly: a rattlesnake fence that lets some rattlesnakes in, is more or less an effective rattlesnake trap. In situations where a property can’t be protected correctly, either using the right materials or correct standard, it’s probably best to just do nothing at all and allow snakes that may find themselves in the yard to be able to leave. In many cases, the reasons why someone is not able to install a fence to the correct standards lie in the HOA regulations of the community.
It’s not at all that HOAs don’t care about their residents’ safety; quite the opposite in-fact, it’s just that exactly how high these snake fences should be isn’t really written down anywhere, or available as more than rough opinion, so decisions are often made that reflect aesthetic preferences over functional ones. But, in our experience, most communities are more than happy to adapt regulations based on solid reason, which is what we are providing here.
And to wrap it up: a few closing notes on the subject of fence-climbing rattlesnake that are important but don’t quite fit into the height question:
Rattlesnakes can’t climb straight up a concrete or block wall like a slug; it’s physiologically impossible, their bodies just don’t work that way, and they can’t belly-crawl up a flat surface anymore than you or I can.
It’s not always a matter of what they can do, but what they will do. Even with fencing installed, it’s a good idea to try and keep food, water, and shelter opportunities for them within the protected area to a minimum. With the right snake fence installed, you’ll have the best protection you possibly can, but I’d still not invite them over to perpetually test it. To illustrate this, what I often say is: when I go to the grocery store, if I really wanted to, I could maybe find a way to climb onto the roof somehow, but I don’t need to, so I don’t. If they went crazy and decided that the roof is where they’re going to store all the food from now on, I’m going to trying a lot harder to do something that I previously didn’t even care about doing. So, even with the fence installed, stick with best practice for rattlesnake prevention, too.
And lastly, keep in mind that everything discussed is for rattlesnakes specifically. There are some very good climbers, like Gophersnakes, Coachwhips, and kingsnakes, that can do fun things like climb straight up rough stucco walls – so seeing one of these snakes in a rattlesnake-fence protected area is not an indicator that the fence has failed in some way. I realize that many people choose to install rattlesnake fencing with the intention of not seeing any snake at all, because let’s face it, most people don’t like snakes, but we want to draw a big distinction between snakes that might look scary, and snakes that pose an actual danger to people and pets.
That’s it for now, be sure to take a look at our other snake-fence videos. In particular, the one that addresses mesh-size and baby rattlesnakes. And as always, if you have questions about rattlesnake fencing, leave them in the comments and get you the best answer we can. If we get enough of a similar question, we’ll work on another video just like this one. Be sure to get on our Facebook page for a lot more information as it happens.
Starting with the Christmas decorations started for some people as early as Halloween (you know who you are) and have been popping up throughout November. Most people hold off until after Thanksgiving, however, and we notice some trends.
This period, where homeowners dig into that pile of stuff in the back of the garage that hasn’t been touched since last year, is when we get calls for rattlesnakes. It happens every year, quite often actually, and this year will be no different. Yes, we are open on Thanksgiving and the day after, because our snake relocation call-records show that we need to be.
It’s not a major concern, but it’s definitely something every homeowner living in places where rattlesnakes can be found should be aware of as you start grabbing dusty boxes. Those places we don’t get to very often, where that plastic Christmas tree is stored next to boxes of decorations and old yearbooks, are ideal spots for a young rattlesnake to spend its first winter.
Rattlesnakes tend to not be found inside the boxes as much as alongside or behind them, usually along the wall or in the corners. If you have storage that takes up an entire side, from back to the corner by the garage door, that is a more preferable location for rattlesnakes to use.
We have found rattlesnakes inside the boxes, too. Usually, this happens when cardboard boxes develop splits in them at the base, or are laid sideways so there is easy access. Rattlesnakes can and do climb up into shelves and places off the ground, but it’s not as common as other situations that are on the ground. The point is – they could be anywhere in that stored stuff, so be aware of hand placement.
Usually, the rattlesnakes we find in garages are small, yearlings or younger. These little guys have not yet worked out a stable home range, and surviving their first winter is a matter of finding a spot that will do the job, often without being a really great spot. Garages, especially in newly-developed areas, are perfect.
We do get congregations of adults as well, but this is usually the result of a multi-year situation. If you’ve moved into a home that was vacant for years, or have that spot where stored items have not been moved for several years, this could be a possibility. It’s rare, however.
To make the annual fake-tree drag out as safe as it can be:
Never reach into areas where you can’t see clearly. Use a flashlight to check before putting hands into any dark area.
Start early in the morning when it’s coldest out – any rattlesnakes that could be present will be less likely to react
Use plastic totes when possible instead of cardboard
If you see a snake, you’ll want to have it relocated properly (so it does not return) and have the rest of the garage searched as well
Change the location of stored items each year if possible
Add shelves to store items up off the ground and create a space greater than 10″ (or so)
Have the garage sealed and make sure it is in good condition
Always keep the garage door closed when not in use during den ingress times (Late September through Mid-November).
One of the biggest questions we get each November, when homeowners are surprised that snakes keep showing up in their social media feed: When do snakes go to sleep?
For snakes, that answer can be complicated. Snakes don’t really hibernate in the winter in the sense most of us are familiar with. Instead, they go into a state called brumation. During brumation, snakes live in their dens, but they’ll come out to bask in the sun on pleasant winter days.
Rattlesnakes in the Phoenix and Tucson areas can generally be found at the dens from October through March. When people see them basking outside of their dens, it sends waves of panic through news outlets, who report that snakes are coming out earlier that year. They say the same thing every year, even though snakes emerge right on time.
Their move towards dens (ingress) and out of dens (egress) is prompted by average temperatures, and other factors. If there are a few warm days in January, rattlesnakes might come out to bask and be spotted by people, but they are not starting their spring activity yet. They know not to leave their dens completely before temperatures have stabilized.
What makes a rattlesnake den?
Rattlesnakes choose very specific dens with steady temperatures during the coldest months. In the wild, these include large rock piles and caves with deep access. They know what’s best, even choosing the direction that the entrance faces.
On certain days, you’ll find rattlesnakes outside of their dens, basking in a mixture of shade and sunlight that brings their bodies to a comfortable temperature. They might be under a bush, between rocks or in the corners of a patio. This can be very surprising for homeowners.
Rain, too, can get snakes moving even on the coolest of days. In our area, rain is rare, and a drink is always welcome. A cloudy, drizzly day in the mid 60’s in January is an excellent day to see rattlesnakes on the surface.
If you see one snake between November and March, there may be a higher possibility that more might be denning in the same area. Rattlesnakes can den communally without many territorial problems. If you see a snake in the area during the winter months, it’s important to be very careful and watch for other snakes. In our warm climate, those dens are usually small, with just a few individuals. You’ve probably seen photos online of holes with hundreds of rattlesnakes pouring out of holes in the ground, but that’s not how it looks in Arizona.
Rattlesnakes may return to the same den year after year. This can be interrupted when construction or landscaping changes the area, destroying the den that the snake is trying to find. In that case, the snake will wander to the next best area. Homeowners frequently see rattlesnakes on their properties after construction begins.
What to do in the winter to keep your home rattlesnake free.
If you live in a desert area, it’s still important to watch for snakes in the winter.
Look where you’re walking.
Make sure to check your yard before letting young children play outside.
If you’re having landscaping changed, or if construction begins in your area, keep a watchful eye out for wandering snakes.
If you see a snake, call us at ——-. One of our removal experts can relocate the snake and check your property. Something you may also want to consider is having a Rattlesnake Fence professionally installed in your yard. No matter what, when the snakes “wake up” in early March, you’ll want to be ready for it.
The latest bit of rattlesnake misinformation is spreading fast, showing up all over the place these last week or so. It claims people living in “rattlesnake country” (i.e., almost anywhere in the U.S.) should keep plenty of Benadryl on-hand, being a miracle cure that works must faster than tried-and-true antivenom.
Before getting into specifics – if you read no further: the quotation below is all highly inaccurate; do not spread false medical advice.If you have shared this post, delete it. There are no folksy home remedies for a rattlesnake bite. There are no essential oils or homeopathic water pills that will work. Venom does not care about how you feel about science, Western medicine, and the healthcare system as it destroys your body.
Here’s the latest iteration, shared today many hundreds of times across Facebook:
“Important info about keeping Benadryl with you – For all of us in Rattlesnake country: I have learned something new that I thought was important enough that I wanted to pass on. Our hired man was bitten by a rattlesnake a few days ago. He was getting ready to bale and turned over a windrow to check the moisture and the snake was in it. It wrapped around his arm and bit him on the underside of the wrist. Luckily it was not a severe bite, the fang marks were clear, but not deep enough to draw blood. He came straight to the house and we got ice on it and had him to the hospital within an hour. I called ahead so the emergency room was ready for him. By the time he got there his arm was starting to swell to the shoulder and his throat was getting tight. The first thing the emergency room did was give him Benadryl. Apparently antivenom must be received within 4 hours of the snakebite, but the immediate threat is swelling and death of tissue, which was treated with the Benadryl. The swelling in his arm and throat started going down right away. The anti-venom medicine had to be prepared and was not ready for a couple of hours. He ended up getting two doses of antivenom and spent the night in the hospital, where they drew blood every three hours, but came home healthy the next day and went back to work. I have always carried liquid Benadryl in all of the pickups because I am allergic to bee stings. After this happened I went out to check my supplies. All three of the bottles I had been carrying behind the seats in my emergency kits had been in there quite a while and had cracked and the liquid was gone. So that wasn’t going to be any help at all if we did need it. My daughter, who is a nurse, told me to go buy the children’s chewable Benadryl instead. It is given according to body weight, so can be used for adults also, just give a larger dose. She said if you chew it and hold it in your mouth it will absorb just as fast or faster through the membranes of the mouth than from the stomach. The box doesn’t take much room and can be thrown into the glove compartment or saddle bags or a back pack if hiking, etc. Makes sense to me, and it might save a life.“
This is not good information. Starting with the tale of the rattlesnake that wraps itself around the person’s arm before biting, and getting worse from there. The rest, seems like a third-party interpretation of a possibly real story that has been distorted and misunderstood until twisted into this last form.
Benadryl is used in the protocol of some paramedics and hospitals as a response to anaphylaxis. This does not mean, however, that it should be expected to delay the effect of the venom, as is suggested in the post.
Hi Everyone, I wanted to address the poor information about the use of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) making the rounds on several snakebite forums. Benadryl is ineffective for treating a venomous snakebite, even as a temporizing measure in the back country for the following reasons. 1) Pit viper envenomations in the US cause local tissue injury from direct venom effect. The cell death causes swelling and pain from the release of intracellular contents as the cell dies. Furthermore, venom causes blood vessels to become “leaky” resulting in further swelling, redness, and pain as fluid leaves our blood vessels and enter the tissues. Benadryl does nothing to negate these effects. 2) Systemic symptoms of envenomation are rare but may include nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, swelling of the throat, bleeding, etc. These are also venom induced and are not reversed with Benadryl either. 3) Allergic reactions can happen from a snakebite but are very rare and if there are systemic signs as discussed above, the acute treatment is epinephrine, not Benadryl (or steroids, etc). Benadryl and other drugs can be used in conjunction with epinephrine at the hospital to keep the allergic reaction from rebounding. 4) Comparing bee venom and snake venom to assume Benadryl will work is not congruent. Bee venom specially targets cells causing release of histamine which results in swelling, pain, redness, and allergic reactions. This is similar to the pathway for non-venom induced allergic reactions. Benadryl is a “antihistamine”, so the mechanism to stop the reaction makes Benadryl a good drug for this scenario. This is not the case for snake venoms. In short, Benadryl is not effective for snake envenomations in humans or other animals. Please stop sharing this information.
“Benadryl offers no benefit in the management of snakes unless the victim is experiencing an allergic response, however the first line medication for treatment is epinephrine. Additionally Benadryl can cause an alteration in the victims mentation masking other neurological signs and symptoms.”
A Facebook comment from Dr. Spencer Green, Toxicologist at Bayou City Medical Toxicology & Emergency Medicine Consultants
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an antihistamine. Histamine does not play a role in snake envenomation. Therefore, diphenhydramine has no role in its management.
The RARE exception to this would be if the patient were to have an allergic reaction, either to the venom or the anti-venom. Diphenhydramine would be SOMEWHAT helpful in that situation, but it’s certainly not the most important medication.
But because those allergic reactions are very rare, I will reiterate that, in general, Benadryl has essentially no role in the management of snakebites.
Here’s an article written by Sheri Monk, paramedic, investigative journalist, and an avid field herper.
Dispelling the Benadryl myth – misinformation can be deadly
When someone is bitten by a rattlesnake, there is nothing that can stop the venom from circulating in the tissue – not a tourniquet or a suction kit.
How each individual reacts to the venom is going to vary, and the only known means to neutralizing the venom is through the use of antivenom. Antivenom needs to be administered quickly, in the care of a physician, and in a professional setting such as a hospital. There are no home remedies.
Rarely, some people may experience an allergic reaction to the venom, much like how some people react to bee stings. When this reaction becomes systemic, meaning it moves from just one organ system (such as swelling in the tissue near the bite) to at least one other organ system such as the respiratory system, it is considered to be an anaphylactic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis.
Patients experiencing anaphylactic shock immediately require epinephrine – the same medication found in an EpiPen, and emergency services should be called without delay. Benadryl, also known as Diphenhydramine, is a useful medication in continuing to manage allergic reactions. Benadryl cannot reverse anaphylaxis as it works too slowly over the course of hours rather than seconds. It can, however, help manage allergy symptoms.
In the same way that Benadryl isn’t an effective treatment for anaphylaxis or a substitute for epinephrine, it also isn’t an effective treatment for snakebite or a substitute for antivenom. The only treatment for tissue damage caused by snake envenomation is antivenom. Benadryl and epinephrine are only used for allergic reactions resulting from envenomation. The same is true for other mammals such as dogs.
To recap: • Of those envenomated, only a few will experience an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
• Anaphylactic shock is a medical emergency that urgently requires epinephrine. • Benadryl is used in managing symptoms of allergic reactions – it does not treat snakebite.
• The only treatment for snakebite is antivenom, which can only be found and administered in hospital under the care of a physician or veterinarian.
The space where snakes, specifically rattlesnakes, occupy in the minds of our culture makes it very easy for misinformation to spread. Fear of snakes and stories that challenge reality are a badge of honor in many communities. The bar for research and fact-checking is very low. This is a known issue and usually just an annoyance, but this is different and can get someone hurt. The average person who has rattlesnakes on the mind from time to time has very little chance of having access to an accurate set of information. If you’ve shared this post, don’t be part of a chain of misinformation. Delete the post. It happens – these are difficult times to know what’s real and what isn’t.
For further reading to answer questions about what does work, and provide context for any of the above refuting statements: here are publications detailing actual, modern treatment of venomous snake bites.
No. From all available data and evidence, snake repellents don’t work at all. Don’t buy them; it’s a waste of money and can be dangerous.
If you’re someone that’s already typing out a “well it worked for me for X years!”, please stop now and read the rest of this before doing so. You may be a victim of shady marketing practices, and you should direct anger towards those that would lie to you to make a buck instead of this article.
Rattlesnake Solutions has many thousands of records of rattlesnakes found in yards all across Arizona. Yet, we have not seen any perceivable difference between yards treated with snake repellent products (any of them) and yards that have not. We literally find rattlesnakes hiding in and under bags of the stuff, sleeping on top of mothballs, and any combination of these scenarios. Every day, we are called to homes with the tell-tale smell of a cat litter box that tells us one thing: this person was tricked into spending money on snake repellents, and the fact that we are there proves it does not work.
What is a snake repellent?
There are a variety of products that market themselves as capable of keeping rattlesnakes out of your yard. Most are just various forms of the chemicals found in mothballs, but there are some herbal varieties as well. There are some that also claim to mimic the smell of Kingsnake musk (Kingsnakes are natural predators of rattlesnakes). There are other forms as well of the more home-grown variety, such as actual mothballs, coffee grounds, rope (not kidding), lyme, and others. There are other forms, like sonic emitters and various electric fire-hazards, but they’re mostly sold in other countries. We won’t go into any specific products here, because none tend to work better than any others. It’s a great way to make money for a the person selling it, but not an effective way to keep snakes out of your yard.
The proof? Rattlesnakes.
The best measure of the ineffectiveness of snake repellents are the rattlesnakes themselves. If snake repellents worked, we’d not keep finding rattlesnakes in these yards, but we do. The featured image in this post is from a property in 2015 that was completely covered with the stuff. So much, in fact, that the homeowner stored the remaining bags (along with some empties) against the side of the house – inadvertently creating a shaded area. the result? A Western Diamondback Rattlesnake moved in overnight. This un-posed photo was taken by a Rattlesnake Solutions field agent prior to capture and relocation of the snake. Situations that make for such a great photo are rare, but the case of snake-repellent failing to even prevent direct contact with a snake is unfortunately common.
If you think snake repellents work, blame our brains.
If you have used these products and have not seen snakes, it has nothing to do with them. If you’re the type that is actively trying to prevent these situations in your yard, you’re almost certainly doing other things as well that actually do help. Things like: rodent control, good landscaping practice, keeping a clean yard, barriers and physical prevention, etc. If you have experienced this, to the point even where you’ll defend it despite all objective evidence and data, you may be a victim of a logical fallacy called confirmation bias. It’s something we all experience, perhaps some more than others. If a pest control guy has convinced you to give him money for it (or the marketing on the bag at Home Depot, etc), you are invested in having confidence in that decision. There is no such thing as “it works for me” if it doesn’t work for everyone; it works or it doesn’t, and reality is the latter.
Here’s a video that explains how confirmation bias works.
This type of misinformation is dangerous. These products create a false sense of security where none exists, and homeowners, believing their yard to now be immune to snakes, let their guard down and stop the basic safety actions that actually do keep people safe. If it were any other topic but rattlesnakes (the thing people seem to love to not know much about), it would be yanked off the shelves and outlawed.
Another scary and unfortunate fact: when I’ve talked to dealers privately about it, the sentiment seems to be “ya we know it doesn’t work, but customers ask for it”. That level of unethical practice being the norm is frustrating at best. There are of course many pest-control companies that fully believe it to work, so just having it on the list of services doesn’t mean your people are trying to intentionally deceive you … but some do know it doesn’t work but sell it anyway.
What works to keep snakes away?
Keep food, water, and shelter opportunities to a minimum. View your property as habitat to be exploited by local wildlife. The fewer resources exist for animals, the lower the chances are of having a surprise rattlesnake encounter.
A few of the big ones:
Rodent control – rattlesnakes eat rodents, so having rodents coming and going from your property will bring them in.
Eliminate cool and moist areas, like the leaky hose or patch of lawn that nobody really uses.
Clean up dog poop. This can attract rodents and the rattlesnakes that look for them.
Why should we trust you over our snake repellent dealer?
A simple fact: if it worked, we would sell it. If it did work, it would be a great thing for everyone and would be a huge financial benefit to me, personally. But, snake repellents don’t work. Don’t fall for it.
And, if you’re a company that sells it without even considering the facts here: do better for the people that trust you to protect them.
Going out to photograph Arizona’s spectacular wildflower display is irresistable! The entire desert is beginning to bloom. As more people travel into the desert to see flowers, more people will have rattlesnake encounters.
The weather is perfect for hiking. It’s also perfect for snakes to move. Wildflower photographers may cross paths with rattlesnakes that are trying to complete their springtime tasks. Is this something to worry about? Not really.
More People + Same Number of Snakes = More Snake Encounters
If you’re seeing an increase in snake photographs on Facebook and Instagram, it doesn’t mean that there are more snakes than usual. It just means that there are more people outside. Snakes don’t want to see people, but they need to use this valuable time before temperatures rise. Rattlesnakes will seem more active because more people are accidentally encountering them during the snakes’ normal springtime behavior.
Rattlesnakes don’t have a passion for photographing flowers, but they do love springtime. It’s the time of the year when they begin taking short trips away from their dens to hunt, mate, thermoregulate, and more. Basically, the more Instagram-addicted people are out there taking yoga pose pics with the flowers, the more snake encounters there will be, even if the number of snakes is exactly the same.
Hikers and photographers may interrupt rattlesnakes travelling across trails. In these situations, the snake might choose to freeze and blend into their surroundings. Snakes don’t realize that their camouflage doesn’t work on open paths.
Snakes see people as predators and don’t want to be eaten, so they might coil or “stand up” in a defensive pose. Rattlesnakes (and several species of nonvenomous snakes) may rattle their tail to scare you away. In most cases, the rattlesnake will retreat when it feels safe enough to do so.
Rattlesnakes may also be encountered while they’re basking. They can use vegetation as partial cover. The combination of shade and sunlight helps them achieve the perfect temperature. They generally bask at the edge of rocks, bushes, dried brush and other plants.
They may be hunting in those areas as well. An increase in flowers can encourage rodents to run around gathering food. Rattlesnakes are hungry after winter brumation and would love a tasty rodent snack.
Does this mean that you should stay inside? Not at all. Go out and enjoy the flowers!
How to stay rattlesnake safe during the flower bloom:
Rattlesnakes do not want to encounter people. We look like giant predators to them. This is why they act defensively towards us. They will not chase you and they cannot jump.
Here are several rattlesnake safety tips for wildflower photographers:
Stay on the trails.
Don’t put your feet anywhere that you can’t clearly see.
Don’t reach where you can’t see.
Wear real shoes, not flip flops.
Don’t let small children run ahead where you can’t see the trail.
Keep your dogs on a leash so you can control them if a rattlesnake is seen.
Look ahead of you when walking.
Do not wear headphones or listen to loud music.
If you encounter a rattlesnake during your adventures:
Move quickly away from the snake. You do not need to move slowly.
Do not attempt to hold, touch or harm the snake.
Let people around you know that the snake is on the trail. As soon as the snake feels safe (usually when there aren’t people in sight), it will generally run away.
That’s it! Keep the same rattlesnake safety habits you would any time of year, and remember to take all those stories and photos of rattlesnakes you’re sure to see with a grain of salt. If you are in one of the Phoenix Mountain Parks, please report your rattlesnake sighting to Rattlesnake Solutions. Your sightings are very important part of our study of rattlesnakes living in urban areas.
If you’re scared of rattlesnakes, you probably have much more control over that fear than you realize. Before reading this article, ask yourself a question and be completely honest (why wouldn’t you?). Why are you scared of rattlesnakes? When did it start? What specific event or fact? Got it? Good, even if the answer is “I don’t know”, you’re ready to challenge a life-long cause of anxiety.
Here we go …
As temperatures stabilize into warm days and relatively warm evenings for consecutive days, mean that rattlesnakes are going to become quite active over the next few weeks. I thought it would be good to get out ahead of it and have some discussion out of the way to avoid a lot of the daily alarm that occurs each year.
Obviously this shouldn’t be a surprise to any Arizona resident, hopefully by now anyway. It’s not a cause for concern, or to stop hiking or riding. It’s not time to stop enjoying your backyard, or visiting our amazing parks. It is, however, time to remember basic snake safety.
If the whole topic of rattlesnakes is scary for you (this includes you, mr cant-hike-without-snakeshot) taking some time to learn about the local snakes and what they really do and don’t do, can and can’t do, and how your activity fits into the mix works absolute wonders.
Rattlesnake safety is a topic we’ve covered rattlesnake safety quite well at this point, so no need to rehash again. Rather, I’d like to get to the heart of the issue: fear. Specifically, fear that we experience as a culture due to the general lack of information and low level of qualified experience most of us have. Yes, I realize that you may have grown up in Arizona (or Texas, as Texans like to open most statements with), and seen your share of rattlesnakes, but that doesn’t mean you know much about them.
“I grew up in Arizona and know all I need about rattlesnakes”
But how? The same way that I drive a car every day of my life but can barely change the oil by myself without having to have the entire oil pan replaced (ya, that happened). Experience without context, especially when only having a relatively thin slice of experience, gives an incomplete picture of what’s really happening. If you are a mechanic, a little change in the performance of your vehicle or a mystery sound is a very different experience than it is to car-dummies like myself.
So imagine if I used my experience driving a car to inform others about how to solve car troubles. It might look something like “just hit it with a hammer”, which is the equivalent to the inevitable “shotgun” comments that show up on any image of a rattlesnake. I have decades of experience spending a lot of time in cars, but I’m still oblivious to much of the interior.
With rattlesnakes, most people, even the most outdoorsy types, tend to have an experience where the rattlesnake sees them first, and alerts you to its presence by rattling. If this is what most of your rattlesnake experiences look like, the perception that rattlesnakes are overly-touchy, aggressive animals. If those same people had a broader experience, perhaps with rattlesnakes being social, hunting, moving around, and the other >99.99% of their lives where they’re not rattling and being defensive, that picture looks very different. Most importantly, the expectation is different, and then so is the perception of an encounter, as is the memory, and ultimately the very feeling of it.
The best way to be mentally cool when a rattlesnake shows up: learn about them.
Can you tell the difference between a Nightsnake and a Diamondback? Do you know what a Longnosed Snake is? How many rattlesnake species live in your neighborhood? How far can a rattlesnake strike, and will they chase you? If you don’t know, spend a lunch break online with our friend Google and equip yourself for the upcoming year, or ask someone qualified to give an accurate answer (ahem).
As with many things, fear of snakes is often just because we don’t know much about them. In the place of reality are all of the behaviors and possibilities that the mind tends to fill in, regardless of how unlikely or impossible they actually are. It may not be an ideal activity for the snake-phobic, but spend some time learning about the snakes in your area.
If you see a snake in your garage in the middle of the night, knowing the difference between a Nightsnake and a rattlesnake could mean the difference between going back to sleep or not. Though possibly uncomfortable, educating yourself is the single best way to lower your fear and help make life in the desert as easy as it actually is.
For many of us, fear is a choice.
The more you learn, the less space snakes will occupy in your mind. Keep in mind that someone can grow up here and see many rattlesnakes and still not know a thing about them, and just because something has been for a long time doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it.
The good news is that much of the danger is very overblown, especially when some simple preventative measures and appropriate reactions are the go-to, over the sensational and useless that often dominate in disguise as common sense. Rattlesnakes do pose a certain danger which can be overcome, for both people and pets, with preparation, knowledge, and thinking it through beyond just doing things the same way as they’ve always been done.
The amount that we know about rattlesnake behavior has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. I challenge anyone exceptionally concerned with rattlesnakes to honestly self-evaluate the fear, its origin, and go-to solutions. Are they truly useful, or just part of identity, culture, and tradition? If you had a scary experience with a rattlesnake, how much of that is because of how you expected to react, not what the animal actually did? People are very often surprised when they possess the ability to be introspective. Many are not, and will defend misinformation at any cost, but if you’ve read this far, I don’t think you’re one of those types, and are quite capable of challenging your world view.
Remember that no matter how you feel about rattlesnakes, what actually happens isn’t influenced by it. If you’re someone that claims each year, as soon as a rattlesnake shows up on your Facebook feed, to stop hiking: stop. Make this the year you stop being afraid of snakes.
Here are some resources that can help you be prepared, mentally and otherwise, for the inevitable.
First, here is a website I put together specifically for the area around north Phoenix, but works pretty well anywhere in Maricopa county. It includes photos and identification material for the snakes found here. You can also send in photos for identification:
It’s December, it’s cold (for Arizona), and the Rattlesnake Solutions relocation team is still busy. Instead of picking up rattlesnakes from patios and porches, we’re pulling Western Diamondbacks from garages and sheds. Whenever this happens, a common comment pops up – “why are there still rattlesnakes out there? It’s Winter, I thought they were hibernating?” What is going on?
The answer is easy enough – why aren’t rattlesnakes hibernating? (or brumating, as is more accurate, with a note on that later) They are, and the places we catch them are where they’re doing it. As we have covered in previous articles about just how and why rattlesnakes choose garages as prime den real estate, rattlesnakes in the warmer parts of Arizona tend to have quite a few options for a survivable winter refuge. When a rattlesnake is found in a garage on a cold December day, it’s likely been there since October, and where it is found is where it was brumating. This is not the same as being active, being “awake”, or any situation where an imagined extension of rattlesnake activity has been extended because of a few warm days or any other reason.
“If it’s cold why are rattlesnakes still out?”
They’re not, they’re in, and that’s where you found them.
These cold-weather sleepy rattlesnakes are often discoveries by people using the holiday downtime to get to long-neglected projects, like cleaning out the garage or tearing down the old shed in the yard. Another common one throughout December are rattlesnakes found under boxes of Christmas trees and other holiday decorations that have remained untouched in the deepest corner of the garage for 11 months. These discoveries are small rattlesnake dens, of only one or a handful of individuals,
Here is a trio of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes that I captured in a storage closet at an apartment complex in Cave Creek:
“But I saw a rattlesnake outside! Why isn’t it hibernating?”
As mentioned earlier, rattlesnakes don’t truly hibernate. Rather, they do something similar called brumation. This means they’re sleeping a lot and avoiding the cold, but if conditions are good for them, they may come sit at the entrance of their den and hang out or move around a bit. What conditions cause this to happen vary by species and location. Here in the Sonoran Desert, temperates can get chilly but not often dangerously cold, and moisture loss is a concern. They don’t necessarily choose sites that have a lot of sun exposure, or even avoid it altogether (Hamilton et al 2008). On some warm days, especially just before or after rain, or a bit of sun after a some winter sprinkles, rattlesnakes will often come to the surface to take advantage of it. That means that if you see a rattlesnake coiled in the backyard, it’s likely been in the area for quite awhile already, and is just coming out a short distance.
“I heard on the local news that rattlesnakes are coming out early, or are active longer this year because of the weather!”
There is no evidence to suggest this is happening, but somehow it’s still a news story each year. According to our call logs over the past decade, our observations, and other research, rattlesnakes are going into brumation (ingress) and coming out of it (egress) in about the same times as normal. That is, generally, in by the first of November, and out by the 15th of March. That means that the shoulder times around those dates are full of rattlesnakes moving around and traveling, so sightings may increase, even as general activity is considerably less than other times of year. This is when you should be keeping garages and gates closed.
How can I be rattlesnake-safe this Winter?
Refer to some earlier articles we’ve provided about rattlesnakes during the cooler months:
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:
Everyone have a flashlight! Rattlesnakes are not aggressive, but may defend themselves if stepped on.
Don’t cut through yards, use the path to the front door.
Make sure you can see the ground clearly through any mask that may be worn.
Don’t pick up or play with toys or Halloween decorations that resemble snakes!
Stay on sidewalks and avoid brushy or debris-filled areas.
Be especially cautious in areas within 1/4 mile of new development.
Halloween rattlesnake safety tips for home-owners:
When cleaning up decorations, be aware that rattlesnakes could be using them for cover. Look before you reach.
If you have pumpkins out, place them outside of the entryway overhang, and avoid creating a protected space in corners.
Clean up pumpkin remnants immediately, the next morning, to avoid attracting rodents.
Make sure any debris is cleaned up and landscaping is taken care of several days before Halloween.
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:
Keep an eye on the snake from a safe distance.
Prevent anyone from going near it, attempting to capture, or kill it.