Wildflower Bloom Means More Rattlesnake Encounters, But Not For the Reasons You’d Think

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.

Sidewinder rattlesnake in flowers
Sidewinder in the flowers.

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.

Speckled rattlesnake under a plant.
Speckled rattlesnake underneath a plant.

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!

Western diamondback rattlesnake hiding in grass
Western diamondback rattlesnake hiding in the grass.

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.

Rattlesnake research in the Phoenix parks.
Rattlesnake research is ongoing in the Phoenix Parks.

Scared of Rattlesnakes? Mental Preparation for Rattlesnake Season

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:

https://cavecreeksnakes.com

Arizona Snake Identification Facebook Group (post photos here for ID):

https://www.facebook.com/groups/azsnakeid/

Here are some articles to address topics that come up each Spring. If you don’t have time to read them, help your neighbors out when they make a statement that could use some clarification.

Arizona Hiker’s Guide to Rattlesnake Safety:
https://rattlesnakesolutions.com/…/arizona-hikers-guide-to…/

Living With Snakes Basics for New Arizona Residents
https://rattlesnakesolutions.com/…/living-with-snakes-basi…/

https://rattlesnakesolutions.com/…/rattlesnakes-coming-hib…/

https://rattlesnakesolutions.com/…/are-these-rattlesnake-e…/

https://rattlesnakesolutions.com/…/spring-is-here-bring-on…/

And lastly, a video I put together in October with 50 venomous snakes to address the question: will rattlesnakes chase a person?

“I thought the rattlesnakes were hibernating!”

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:

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

Holiday Rattlesnake Awareness Guide for Visiting Family

Spring is Here … Bring on the Rattlesnakes

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

 

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

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

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

Trick-or-treater rattlesnake safety tips:

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

Halloween rattlesnake safety tips for home-owners:

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

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

If you see a rattlesnake on Halloween night:

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

Approaching 50 Wild Rattlesnakes to See If They Attack

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

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

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

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

Here’s the video:

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

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

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

Do rattlesnakes chase people?

No, sorry.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Do rattlesnakes den at homes?

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

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

1. Rattlesnake Den in the Garage

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

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

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

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

2. Rattlesnake Den in the Pool Pump Area

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

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

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

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

3. Rattlesnake den in decorative rocks

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

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

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

4. Rattlesnake den under the home

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

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

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

5. Rattlesnake den under the shed

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

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

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

6. Rattlesnake den in the grill island

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rattlesnake Caution After a Big Storm

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

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

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

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

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

How to keep safe from rattlesnakes after a big storm:

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

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

After the storm: rattlesnake encounters will be on the rise

Every monsoon season, a handful of big storms that sweep through the valley and rearrange our yards and shingles. The next day, an chainsaws and leafblowers join the sound of cicadas as the aftermath is handled.

Along with the downed trees and trash-scattered streets are rattlesnakes that have been displaced by the water and wind. After a massive storm, places where rattlesnakes may have been hiding from the heat can be flooded or destroyed. That means that these snakes have just a few hours to find new places to hide before the daytime heat kills them. That often puts them into conflict with people.

One of the places where rattlesnakes frequently live during the hottest times of year are in small caves along the edges of normally-dry washes. When these washes fill with water, rattlesnakes need to move. For home owners at the edges of these washes, that means that the rattlesnakes could be moving to the nearest dry area – your patio. Covered patios and entryways make up the majority of rattlesnake relocation situations after rainouts. They’ll also be hiding in the debris caused by the wind and flooding. Fallen trees and collections of yard debris are going to provide cool cover for these displaced snakes, and should be treated with caution when they are cleaned up.

The extra humidity also causes rattlesnakes to be more active, so they are already more likely to be hiding in temporary hiding spots, and may be more easily displaced by the big rain. Rattlesnakes are shedding their skin and heading out to hunt and drink after a long period of inactivity during the hottest and driest time of year, and that makes post-storm movement even more of a factor for home owners bordering desert areas.

Aside from the normal rattlesnake safety measures, extra caution is recommended during the cleanup process.

What should you do to keep safe from displaced rattlesnakes?

  1. Be alert around covered entryways and patios, especially in the corners. Rattlesnakes often use these covered areas to hide after extra-wet weather forces them to leave more preferable areas. If you have any decorations in the corners, like pots or plants, it may be good to move them out or at least create extra space between the corner and these features. Especially in the early morning, be mindful of the spots right around the front door.
  2. If you have downed trees or yard debris that has collected after the heavy wind and rain, give it a day before cleaning it up. Be mindful while you do so of the potential for rattlesnakes to be using it as temporary shelter. Rattlesnakes may be “stuck” in situations where they need to quickly choose places to hide from the daytime heat that are not preferable, and may end up hiding in piles of branches and fallen leaves. By waiting 24 hours, you give the snakes a chance to leave if they are there during the next suitable time to do so (at night).
  3. If you live near a wash or drainage, be especially cautious. Rattlesnakes are very common in drainages and the rain can force them to move erratically, often taking cover at the nearest available shade – your house.
  4. Accompany dogs outside during their bathroom breaks and give the yard a quick check before allowing children to play in unprotected yards. If possible to let them out earlier in the day while it’s still hot, that may further decrease the chance of an unwanted rattlesnake encounter.
  5. If you do not already have a rattlesnake-protected property, consider having a rattlesnake fence professionally installed to keep rattlesnakes out even during periods of irregular behavior.
  6. If any rattlesnakes are seen on the property, do not approach them and call a professional to help.

More than the monsoon – rattlesnakes may be surface active in any temperatures, any time of year.

Something that surprises many home owners each year are sightings of rattlesnakes after Winter rainfall. While it is true that rattlesnakes are largely inactive during the cooler months of the year (roughly November through February in the Phoenix area), some conditions will make them show up at any time. Heavy rain can cause similar displacement issues for rattlesnakes if it gets into places they’ve selected to spend the winter … especially if these are temporary, artificial, or new sites.

Other than displacement, rattlesnakes still need to drink in the winter time. Even in relative low temperatures for rattlesnake activity, they may come to the surface to collect rain in their coils or drink it directly from the rocks.

Here’s a video I took years ago at a small Timber Rattlesnake den, showing one of the several present rattlesnakes coming out to drink from the rocks.

If you have a rattlesnake denning on your property, you have a decent chance of seeing it sitting on the surface as the rain starts, or just after if the storm breaks to sun. What most people don’t like to learn about these situations is that the rattlesnake has almost certainly been in the area since about October, just hidden until having a reason to come out.

All in all, rain is just one of the many factors that make rattlesnakes move and be visible to people.

The monsoon is here. Are rattlesnakes more active?

After months of brutally hot and dry conditions, the valley was absolutely hammered with rain and wind last night. The longer a person lives in Arizona, the more they learn to love such events. This is certainly true for native Arizonans, including rattlesnakes.

As humidity increases, rattlesnakes that have been hiding deep under cover have been emerging in small groups at the entrance of these safe areas, hoping for some rain. When the first sprinkles do come falling down, the rattlesnakes coil and gather rain on their scales, then drink it from any surface they can. While most of us were swearing in traffic or huddled at the office window watching palm leaves fly through the air, rattlesnakes all across the valley were sitting out in the open waiting for their first drink in awhile. The long wait is finally over – another foresummer survived.

To quickly address what you may be hearing out there: yes, monsoon weather does increase rattlesnake activity.

So what is next in the life of a rattlesnake? Does the monsoon make them more active?

In short, yes. Though rattlesnakes are active all year to varying degrees, the monsoon moisture brings the greatest period of activity of all. In just a few short months, they need to shed their skin (at least once), eat, mate, have babies, eat again, mate, establish dominance over new areas, travel to birthing, shedding, and hunting areas, and more. They are very active and this means that they can show up in surprising places more than other times in the year.

It’s not just the moisture and a chance to drink that brings them out – temperature is a primary driving force that dictates most rattlesnake activity. When the rain finally comes, the temperature stabilizes into a much more survivable, and predicable, range of temperatures. Daytime temperatures drop, nighttime temperatures stay put, and overcast skies can mean a longer, slower climb into lethal temperatures each day. This makes heading out into the world in search of mates or food a much less dangerous activity, and rattlesnakes begin to cover ground much more than in previous weeks. Under the darkness of a new moon in the monsoon humidity, rattlesnakes can be found moving in great numbers everywhere in Arizona.

This may not mean that people are more likely to run into them. Unlike the active period in the Spring, much of their activity takes place at night. That means that while they may be more active than any other time during the year, much of the contact time that can overlap with human behavior takes place right at sunup and shortly after. That means that we will get a few relocation calls each day from people surprised by a rattlesnake sleeping by the front door as they leave for work, but much of the rest of the day is pretty quiet. that is, until the babies start to move.

What happens when baby rattlesnakes are born?

Starting in mid July (now), some rattlesnakes begin to give birth. Rattlesnakes give live birth and do not lay eggs, and will stay with their babies for a period of time afterward. Once the baby rattlesnakes have shed their skin, they head out into the big scary world to eat and figure out how to be a rattlesnake.

As they wander, they often get into a lot of trouble. We find baby rattlesnakes in all kinds of terrible situations – stuck in glue traps, squished all over roadways, and crawling around in conditions that no self-respecting adult rattlesnake would ever be caught out in. This is bad news for home owners near areas where rattlesnakes live, since the likelihood of random encounters may be higher. However, unlike what is often the case with larger and older rattlesnakes, a visit from a newborn rattlesnake may not be for any particular reason but close proximity to desert areas, and may not actually indicate a rattlesnake “problem”.

What can be done to avoid rattlesnakes during monsoon season?

Even when rattlesnake activity is at its peak, the usual rules apply: stay aware, avoid putting hands and feet into places you can’t see, and keep the yard clean. If your backyard looks anything like mine does right now after last night’s massive storm, debris and leaf litter can be all over and be used as cover for rattlesnakes. Do what you can to keep debris to a minimum, rodent populations in check, and assume that any dark place has a rattlesnake in it until proven otherwise. If you live near an area where you may have random rattlesnake traffic, now would be a good time to pull the trigger on getting a rattlesnake fence installed, before the babies come. If you do have a rattlesnake fence already, use the pen test to see if your fence is good enough to really do the job.

Even though rattlesnakes are pretty much having a party right now, it doesn’t mean you need to worry too much. Just stay aware, and enjoy the rain!

Living with Snakes Basics for New Arizona Residents

Photo by Brandon Harmon, Rattlesnake Solutions

Many people move to Arizona for our near-constant sunshine, and mild winters. These also make for perfect conditions for reptiles, which to the dismay of many homeowners, live in great numbers throughout the state. Where our neighborhoods meet the desert, an encounter with a snake every so often is just part of life.

The valley is home to 6 unique species of rattlesnake, all of which pack a harmful, venomous bite. A bite, which if logic prevails, is almost always optional. Rattlesnakes are on the menu for many desert predators. They’re nervous, shy, and like most animals, will try to prevent their own death when it is threatened. Rattlesnakes do not chase, jump at, or come after perceived predators, regardless of the numerous, fictional tales we as Arizonans are sure to hear. The fact is; rattlesnakes encounters are almost always harmless if in nature, and optional in our yards.

So what is the home owner to do, when a venomous visitor suddenly drops by one morning, coiled on the porch and going nowhere? The first thing to consider: nobody is in danger. The snake has been seen, and the only way anyone will be within range of a bite is if they put themselves there. Statistically, this is what many shovel-wielding husbands will do, becoming the single largest bite statistic, by far. A bite to the hand of a home hero can cost well over $100,000, cause incredible pain, and result in disfigurement and occasional death. Contacting a professional to remove the animal costs around $100, and is absolutely safe and humane.

Taking one step back – why is the snake there? Isn’t there some way to keep them from being there in the first place? Fortunately there is. Here are a few tips to keep your yard as rattlesnake-free as possible:

  • The desert is a hard place to live; make sure your yard isn’t an oasis. Rattlesnakes want food, water, and shelter. Deny those, and the yard is nothing interesting. Fix leaky hoses, keep the yard clean, and make sure all of the bushes are trimmed and free of dead plant material underneath.
  • If you have a view fence or wall surrounding the property, complete the barricade. Door sweeps and wire fencing can be installed to keep animals out. It’s a relatively inexpensive Saturday project for the handy, or contact a snake removal company to install it for you.
  • Forget the store-bought snake repellents and mothballs; they simply do not work. Many pest control companies will swear they do, but all research points to repellants being a smelly waste-of-money.

Dogs can be trained to avoid rattlesnakes by a number of businesses around the valley, and an inexpensive vaccine can be requested by most veterinarians. Keep dogs on a leash in desert areas, and have emergency information on-hand if you live near open, native desert.

Despite the very high number of snakes that are found here, bites still make the front page when they occur. It is a relatively rare event with an extremely low fatality rate, which somehow still occupies a place in our culture as a major threat to be feared by every desert home owner. As citizens in this amazing Sonoran habitat, it is the responsibility of all of us to be peaceful, well-informed co-inhabitants with the desert wildlife. Rattlesnakes may be the thing of nightmares to many, but that is an optional fear that, like most fears, fades to nothing with a willingness to learn and a touch of understanding.

In the valley, the most common places to run into a rattlesnake in your own yard are Cave Cree, Scottsdale, and other areas where there is a lot of development and contact with native areas.

Most Commonly Encountered Snakes in the Phoenix Area

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

VENOMOUS – Grey to tan in color, between 1’ and 4’ long. Easily identified by the distinct white and black banded tail, and rattle. Defensive in nature but easily avoided if encountered. Do not attempt to capture, kill, or otherwise interact with this snake.


Sonoran Gophersnake

BENEFICIAL – Also commonly misidentified as a “bullsnake”. Tan, yellow, or orange in color, with dark brown blotches, between 1.5’ and 5’in length. Defensive if attacked, but non-venomous and will not bite unless attacked. A gophersnake is great free pest control.


Desert Nightsnake

BENEFICIAL – Grey or dark brown with double rows of spots on the back, between 8” and 14” in length. Often confused with a baby rattlesnake due to elliptical eyes and triangular head. Absolutely harmless, this snake feeds on spiders and scorpions in the yard.


Speckled Rattlesnake

VENOMOUS – Highly variable, this snake takes the coloration of rock where it is found; orange, brown, white, or light grey. It is small, between 1’ and 3’  in length. If seen, do not approach this snake for any reason.


Longnosed Snake

BENEFICIAL – Often confused with the kingsnake, this snake is between 8” and 3’ long. It eats lizards and their eggs. They are absolutely harmless, and can reduce rattlesnake-attracting prey in a yard.


Kingsnake

BENEFICIAL – Black and white banding from head to tail, and between 1’ and 4’ in length. Kingsnakes consider rattlesnakes a primary food source, and are great to have on a property. They may bite if picked up, but are otherwise completely harmless.


Coachwhip

BENEFICIAL – Fast, slender, and between 1’ and 5’ in length. May be black, olive, or red in color. This snake eats rattlesnakes and other prey items and should be kept as-is if seen. They will bite if picked up, but move away quickly if seen and are difficult to capture.

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