There are a lot of factors that can affect the decision to protect a property with a snake fence. Perhaps the least-considered of the bunch is the time of year when it’s done. Here’s a little secret that we’ve uncovered after leading the charge rattlesnake protection this last decade: February is the sweet spot for getting a snake fence installed.
Rattlesnakes aren’t very active in February.
Prime rattlesnake activity starts in early March (or so). That means that if last year’s backyard rattlesnake encounters were the last straw, your window of having pre-snake season rattlesnake fencing installed is getting narrow.
While it is true that rattlesnakes are somewhat surface-active every month of the year, they aren’t yet traveling far from their winter dens in February. After winter ends, they’re hungry, looking for mates, and have a relatively short time to get a lot of life requirements taken care of before the brutal Arizona fore-summer puts them down for estivation. March and April are the busiest time of year for our snake removal hotline, which means you can opt out of all of that rattlesnake-in-the-yard nonsense before things get busy.
Rattlesnake Solutions isn’t very active in February, either. Wait times to get on the installation schedule are at their lowest in February.
Out of sight, out of mind, or so the story of rattlesnakes in the minds of Phoenix residents seems to be. When the rattlesnakes largely disappear from view in the desert, the focus of Rattlesnake Solutions is in a lot of behind the scenes work – managing and refining our snake prevention services, improving how we do it, evaluating data and snake activity trends throughout the year, and most of all education.
As things warm up at the end of January, however, some important things happen. The first rattlesnakes of the year start showing up, and, now that the holidays are over, everyone’s “things to do next year” list comes off the fridge and into the forefront. Based on years of data and market trends: most people, even homeowners who are 100% on getting a snake fence, wait until they have another encounter before pulling the trigger.
Right now, the odds of finding open spaces on a rattlesnake fence installation calendar the highest all year. Cool daytime temperatures, too, mean that it can be installed faster than in those 110F days.
Supply and demand: slower times mean the best prices on snake proofing.
Everyone knows that to get the best prices on plane tickets, you book 6 weeks before, on a Wednesday … or is it 5 weeks? Something like that … getting the best price on products and services is often all about timing. In the case of rattlesnake fencing, January and February are often the best, fastest, and cheapest time to do it.
The reason? Availability of the primary material used in effective snake fencing: steel. (off topic, but if you’re looking at a snake fence estimate using plastic, throw it in the trash and keep shopping). As things heat up and rattlesnakes start showing up in backyards across Arizona, our demands on local steel suppliers goes up, and costs do accordingly. If any increases in price have ever happened, they’ve been in the summer during peak snake activity. In January and February, prices are at their lowest, and there are often some really great specials and discounts available (just ask).
By taking care of rattlesnake protection before rattlesnakes become a problem, you’re not only prepared for the upcoming rattlesnake season, but it can get done faster than any other time of year.
For more information about snake fencing in Arizona, or just any questions you have about rattlesnakes and protecting your home, we’re here to help.
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?
Make sure the garage door is in good shape and tightly sealed, especially at the edges and corners.
Fix any cracks in concrete and vents that lead to outside areas.
Keep the garage door closed as much as possible, even during the day, especially during the ingress period of October-November.
Keep the garage clean and move long-term storage to other areas.
Close access to any built-in closets, water heater areas, equipment rooms, etc.
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?
Control the rodent population and make sure that any tunnels or digging is addressed immediately.
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.
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?
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.
Make sure that decorative rock piles do not have deep spaces and are as shallow as possible.
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.
Seal spaces and crevices between larger rocks with concrete (or similar) so that access to the interior, protected area is eliminated.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Watch for any rodent activity and do what you can to eliminate it.
Put the shed on a foundation or support structure of some sort that does not allow gaps and easy access.
Use heavy materials and avoid things like particle-board, cheap plywood, and things that a rodent can easily get through.
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.
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).
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?
Keep the access door closed at all times and make sure that it latches tightly.
Cover vents with 1/4″ steel hardware cloth mesh.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you let your dogs out to use the bathroom, go with them. A dog on a leash is seldom bitten by a rattlesnake.
Talk to your children and remind them of basic rattlesnake safety, and accompany them when playing in the backyard.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What should you do to keep safe from displaced rattlesnakes?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No. Use your pool noodles to noodle as much as you can noodle. Though some recent news may make it seem as if rattlesnakes and pool noodles have something to do with one another, it’s really a another mix of slow-news-day meets non-issue.
Pool toys stacked in the corner, or in this case, against a block wall, can create a shaded, damp area that is much cooler than the surrounding exposed yard. This can be very attractive to rattlesnakes trying to escape the summer heat, especially when the pool toys are routinely stored in the same spot, and not often used. While a snake being actually inside of a pool noodle isn’t most likely a very common scenario, rattlesnakes using pool toys and being found under them is very common and one of our go-to spots whenever we do a property inspection, looking for the kinds of places that rattlesnakes are found in the yard.
What you can do to avoid rattlesnakes showing up near your noodles:
Keep your pool toys up off the ground, or in a box
Store them in a place that can get hot, and avoid areas alongside the home that receive more shade than other areas
If you don’t have a box or can’t keep them up off the ground, change the location of where you store them each time you use them.
Make sure to never store pool toys in an area where rodents are digging holes, or access to other cover exists
Keep pool toys away from other pool equipment, like the pump area, and especially from decorative rock features and plants
Mostly, though, take the story with a grain of salt, and don’t let it stop you from enjoying the pool. There are some aspects of the story that seem a little bit fishy, like a “very large” rattlesnake being in a space only a little larger than an inch in diameter, and the report of other snakes being in there, too. If it were mid-July, I can see how a rattlesnake could possibly be giving birth to other rattlesnakes in something like a pool noodle, but this early in the year, it’s very unlikely. I have personally found a mother Western Diamondback Rattlesnake with her newborn babies in pool toys several times, but if you do as the items above suggest, it shouldn’t be something to worry about at your house. Store this one in your mental list of things to worry about somewhere between “wiggly wheel on a shopping cart” and “I asked for no mayo and this has mayo on it”.
Rattlesnake peak-activity is just around the corner, and we’re all about to see a lot of reports of snake sightings on Arizona trails. Almost as common are declarations like “that’s it for hiking for me this year!”. That’s unfortunate, since seeing rattlesnakes in Arizona’s natural areas is one of the most amazing things about this state. I can imagine that not everyone feels this way, but not to worry … even for people who are deathly afraid of snakes, there’s really not much to worry about. Having had about every type of rattlesnake encounter a person can over years of working professionally with rattlesnakes in wild settings, here’s what you need to know to stay safe, fang-free, and enjoy Arizona’s amazing trails. Stay safe and keep hiking!
If I miss anything or you have a specific question that should be answered, post it in comments and I’ll edit/answer in the blog.
1. Understand what “aggressive” means.
This is a perspective shift that can help hikers stay safe by just having reasonable expectations about what actually happens when you run into a rattlesnake out there. A common question we are asked is “which rattlesnake is most aggressive?”, and the answer, is no rattlesnake is aggressive!When they’re threatened, however, they can quickly become defensive. That might sound like word games, but they mean completely different things when describing how a snake behaves. An aggressive animal is the instigator, it attacks without provocation and seeks interaction. A defensive animal avoids confrontation, but will defend itself and try its best to prevent its early demise.
The latter more accurately describes rattlesnakes, and how they respond to hikers. When a hiker sees a rattlesnake on a trail (or hears it!) buzzing away and standing tall, this is not a sign that it’s about to attack. A rattle is not a battle cry! It’s just a warning, saying “hey, just letting you know I’m here, so let’s not meet!” It’s actually quite considerate if you think about it.
Rattlesnakes can’t eat us, have no reason to attack us, and really, they have no idea what we are. If rattlesnakes were actually aggressive, not one of us would survive a hike in any natural area in Arizona, and I’d certainly be dead several times over. Fortunately, they’re not, and you can breathe a sigh of relief that personal stories about rattlesnakes attacking unprovoked are very overblown.
Here’s a video I took in early 2018 at a rattlesnake den in Cave Creek, Arizona, that shows their behavior when they’re being scared. Even though I was pretty close to them, I was never in any danger. This is the side of rattlesnakes most people never hear about, and doesn’t make for dramatic stories at the watercooler.
How does this keep a hiker safe from rattlesnakes? This is the perspective that makes all other steps for rattlesnake safety possible. Having reasonable, realistic context for what is actually happening when you see a rattlesnake can completely change how you perceive and remember it. It will also help you make decisions based on logic, rather than fear, and the adrenaline that may be blasting through you veins.
And … I know what you may be thinking. You may have had an experience with a rattlesnake that seemed aggressive. A strike out of nowhere, no rattling, or even a memory of one coming after you. This is a complicated topic, but to make it as short as possible: our brains do strange things, especially when confronted with something we fear. I’ll address some aspects of this in other parts of this article … but this is another topic altogether.
2. Get to know the snakes in your area.
This could be a painful truth for the most snake-phobic of us, but learning and exposure can help ease even the greatest fears. As stated in the previous item, the context that exists in our minds can greatly influence how we handle a situation, and how we remember it. If you just roll with the cultural bias and loads of misinformation out there about rattlesnakes, you may have a much worse mental perspective and lesser ability to do the right thing when a snake appears.
This doesn’t mean you have to become a snake handler to conquer your fear. Rather, a bit of online exposure can do wonders. From our experience working with many thousands of people who really would rather not have met a snake in their garage, knowing the difference between a Gophersnake and a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is what makes the difference between getting any sleep that night. There are many online resources for identification and some basic learning. This list of commonly seen snakes in Arizona covers most of the ones people run into. There are also area-specific resources, like this website we put together that shows which snakes can be found in Cave Creek, Arizona, and information about them. Don’t forget, too, that you can always send us a photograph of any snake and we’ll identify it and answer any questions you have (this doesn’t cost anything of course).
Another thing you can do is to visit your local County park or zoo and see a rattlesnake in person. Of course this feels different when it’s behind glass, but getting an up-close look can really change how your brain handles these situations. Better yet, attend a rattlesnake safety or rattlesnake education class near you.
3. Keep your hands and feet where you can see them.
This one can be a little bit tough, depending on where you are hiking. Rattlesnakes spend a lot of their time hiding, and most of the other time they have is spent sitting in ambush, waiting for a rodent, lizard, or bird to come along. That means that you can avoid many of the situations where rattlesnakes could come into contact with your feet and hands by simply making sure that you see where you are putting them. A rattlesnake sleeping away the day behind a log has no idea what a trail is, and when your foot and full weight come crashing down suddenly, what’s a snake to do but defend itself?
When setting up camp, or even grabbing your pack after a break in the shade, be sure to look where you put your hands. I’ve had a rattlesnake crawl onto my camera bag while it was on the ground (while I was photographing another rattlesnake a short distance away), and may have been bitten if I hadn’t had it so built-in at this point to look where I put my hands.
On most trails, this is pretty easy. But what about scrambling up flatiron, or wading through grass and rock around Paria canyon? That can be more difficult, but in general, do what you can to avoid these situations. There are trails for a reason, which leads to our next section:
4. Stay on designated trails
There are many reasons why you should stay on the trail. Aside from the more often-discussed reasoning of keeping the area pristine and avoiding degradation of the natural habitat we’re out there to enjoy, staying on-trail is the easiest and surest way to avoid rattlesnakes.
Just like most of us, rattlesnakes avoid stressful situations. In places where there is heavy human activity, they’ll modify their behavior to stay hidden and avoid potentially dangerous situations. From what many of us who have been watching rattlesnakes hunt right alongside trails for years know very well, they’re pretty good at it. While there are some often great hunting opportunities near trails, sitting right in the middle of a trail that has feet, bikes, and dogs on it every day isn’t a great success strategy, so they don’t do it. When a rattlesnake is seen on a trail, it’s most often just crawling across it, or just off-trail buzzing away because it’s scared of the sudden appearance of a backpack-wearing primate. Rattlesnake bites to the legs of people who are hiking on trails are very rare.
This brings up another common question: what do you do if you see a rattlesnake on a trail and it won’t leave? This one is easier than you’d think … you go around it. There really are very few situations where a person can’t just go around a rattlesnake on a trail. Yes, this seems to contradict what I’d just said by asking you to perhaps go a few feet off-trail for a very short distance, but it’s not a big deal and very different than the over-land trail blazing that produces rattlesnake encounters.
If you can’t go around, then back off and get out of sight for a few minutes. When a rattlesnake is standing up in a defensive posture, it’s doing it because it is scared of you and does not want to give up a defensive position that seems to be working. When the “predator” (aka: YOU) gets out of sight, the snake will quickly take the opportunity to get out of there! In fact, a lot of the snakes that I see pictures of that are “sunning” on a trail actually look to be snakes that were just crawling across the trail, and stop when they see you coming, hoping their camouflage will do the trick. Drop out of view for a little bit and it will continue on its way … or just walk around the thing and continue on. If it’s really in a place that you can’t get around and it just won’t go away … maybe it’s time to try another trail.
Here’s a video of a rattlesnake we saw eating what it thought was a bird right alongside a trail in a popular hiking area.
5. Don’t wear headphones when you hike.
Rattlesnakes have a really great feature that does a great job keeping us from stepping on them – the rattle. When you get too close to a wary rattlesnake, it sounds off to let you know that you’re getting too close. As scary as it might seem when this happens, the result of you going one way and the snake going the other is how that’s supposed to work; that’s the system working.
How do you ruin a good thing? Replace the sounds of birds and wind winding through desert canyons with the same sounds you listen to while stuck in traffic. When you have headphones on, you’re opting out of the built-in safety features generously maintained by rattlesnakes. Even worse, if you’re blasting music for all to hear, you’re not only facing the danger of “silent” rattlesnakes, but from me throwing rocks at you.
6. Don’t touch, catch, pick up, or kill rattlesnakes.
You’d think this is an easy one, but hundreds of men each year must have skipped that day of Obvious 101. Though it is not correct to say that most bites happen because of intentional interaction, these actions are the single greatest cause of rattlesnake bites. There is no better way to be bitten by a rattlesnake than to purposefully touch the thing, so don’t do it.
There’s something about rattlesnakes that makes men want to pick them up. That might mean behind the head like they saw someone do on TV, or by the tail, or after they’ve crushed it with a rock. There is absolutely no reason to do this, and trust me, your Instagram post isn’t worth a potential multi-hundred thousand dollar helicopter ride to the hospital. While you might be confirming to your circle of friends that you’re the dumb one of the group, there are probably better ways to do it. Parkour? Cinnamon challenge? Paperclip eating contest? Who knows, but picking up rattlesnakes isn’t bright.
This can be extended to throwing pebbles, poking with sticks, and any of the actions that are seemingly irresistible to certain personalities. Really, take a breath, take a photograph, and keep hiking.
7. Killing a rattlesnake isn’t helping anyone. Don’t do it.
While we certainly don’t agree with people killing snakes found at home, due to the many alternatives and general ineffectiveness of it all, this is not that situation. There is absolutely no reason to kill a wild animal while out in a natural setting. You are not saving the life of the next hiker on the trail. You are not eliminating a threat and saving the day. If you can’t be outside without taking your rightful place as a respectful visitor, it’s probably time to hike somewhere more your style, like a treadmill.
In many places, it’s also illegal or against park rules. In many of the popular areas like city and county parks around Phoenix and Tucson, visitors are not allowed to destroy native wildlife and natural resources. Killing wildlife in these areas is right up there on the d-bag-o-meter with spray painting rocks and chiseling your name into petroglyph sites.
8. Keep your dog on a leash.
Based on a survey we’ve been sending to veterinarians and sharing with dog-owners to discover why and where dogs are bitten by rattlesnakes, we’ve learned that off-leash dogs are often bitten by rattlesnakes. In fact, an off-leash dog is the second most common way for dogs to be bitten (first is while going out to use the bathroom). We’ve always suspected this, but we were surprised to learn that dogs that are kept on-leash, as the law requires anyway, are almost never bitten by rattlesnakes! How can this be?
Most bites to dogs happen on the nose. That means that the dog didn’t just step on or surprise the snake, but is itself the aggressor. Dog’s don’t know what rattlesnakes are, and rattlesnakes certainly don’t know what a labradoodle is, so when a snake starts its warning buzz, dogs go to investigate. If your dog is on a leash, this isn’t a problem at all, because you have control of the situation. Off-leash dogs, on the other hand, walk up and are bitten right in front of their helpless owners. Yes, your dog may be very obedient and the best boy in the world, but don’t gamble his life to avoid a simple leash.
While on the subject of dogs:
9. Pick up your dog poop.
If you’re reading this while eating a sandwich, it might be good to put it down for a minute while we have real-talk about your dog’s poop.
On trails where dogs allowed (and common) how to maintain their poops is surprisingly controversial. The best and most simple answer is to just pick it up as you go. There are many products available to quickly pick up their little treasures and take them with you. Easy!
You’d think so, but that’s a lot of work for some of us. Some people just leave it where it falls. Others go as far as to put it in one of those little blue poop baggies, then leave it there to pick up on the way back. Aside from being illegal and inconsiderate to other hikes, what could go wrong? A lot. These bags often don’t actually make their way out off the trail. They are picked up by coyotes and other animals, blow off trails, are forgotten or left, or whatever other reason would cause someone to leave a plastic bag of dog crap in alongside a trail.
One group of animals that loves these little wrapped up treats are rodents. Rodents get into these bags like its the morning after halloween and munch away. Woodrats carry them off and stick the bags in their middens, and even rabbits will graze on trail tootsies when they find them.
What does this have to do with rattlesnakes? Simple: your dogs poop is attracting rattlesnakes to the edges of trails. Though rattlesnakes near trails aren’t really a threat to people (as you’ve been reading so far), it’s not necessarily a great thing to encourage them to set up ambush right along the path. Anything that attracts rodents will attract snakes, too. This goes for apple cores and orange peels, too. Just pick it up.
10. Have a plan.
Despite all of this, accidental rattlesnake bites do happen in Arizona. On trails and while hiking, it’s not something that happens often enough to say things like “done hiking for the year!” at the first snake sighting, but it’s something to be aware of. The best thing you can do is just make sure that you have a plan.
While it doesn’t really sit well with most of us, there isn’t much that you can do first-aid-wise if you are bitten by a rattlesnake. As is posted by now on countless hiking safety blog posts, here are the basic do’s and don’ts:
DO call 911 immediately and do what they say.
DO remain calm, remember that you’ll survive, and try and rest until help arrives.
DO remove any jewelry, tight clothing, or anything that could be a problem with swelling.
Don’t kill or capture the snake – it’s irrelevant.
Don’t use a suction device, snake bite kit, or whatever grandma potion you think works.
Don’t drive yourself to the hospital. Call 911. Seriously.
Don’t wait around to see if it’s a dry bite. Treat all rattlesnake bites as an emergency until a doctor tells you otherwise.
I’m often asked about what to do if you’re bitten by a rattlesnake when you’re really far off trail, out of cell range for days, and nobody knows where you are or when to expect you. The answer is to plan ahead! In that situation, if you’ve really put yourself in a place where you have no chance of emergency assistance if something goes wrong, then a rattlesnake bite isn’t any more deadly to you than a broken leg. If you do this sort of hiking, get a satellite phone and think it through.
If you have one of those useless snake bite kit in your backpack, here’s a short instructional video I made about its proper use:
The short version:
How do you stay safe from rattlesnakes while hiking?
Understand that they are defensive, not aggressive.
Know what you’re looking at: educate yourself.
Keep your hands and feet where you can see them.
Stay on designated trails at all times
Don’t wear headphones. The warning doesn’t work if you can’t hear it.
Don’t touch them, pick them up, kill them, etc.
Killing a rattlesnake on a trail isn’t helping anyone, and may be illegal.
Each year, rattlesnakes emerge from Winter dens and start making an appearance. While the weather each day or week does influence what the snakes do when they are ready to come out, it doesn’t have as much of an impact as most people think.
Take this year, for example. We got hot, early. February saw temperatures in the low 80’s for days, and the calls of “rattlesnakes are coming out early!” were all over Facebook. A few people saw them while hiking or sitting outside a garage, and that seems enough to make the declaration.
Were they really coming out early, though? Not at all. Along with those 80F highs were overnight lows in the high 30’s … that’s a temperature swing of almost 50 degrees in a matter of hours. For snakes, this means that at around 11am, when they would otherwise be sitting out on a reasonable February day, they face a situation where the rocks are lethally hot on top, and too cold to move underneath. To associate rattlesnake behavior with warm temperatures simply because they are cold-blooded is an extreme oversimplification of their behavior, and “warm weather = snakes!” is just not true.
What does happen, and certainly did this February: warm weather brings out more people. More hikers on the trails means more chances for an encounter.
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake dens that I monitor each year to see how activity is progressing tell the tale. This year, rattlesnakes came out right on time in January, but spent less time overall active on the surface throughout February. Even now, their social activity at the dens seems sluggish and limited to only a short amount of time, compared to this time in previous years. Our rattlesnake removal hotline is deader than dead as rattlesnakes are just not liking something with this weather.
But … the weather this week looks like everything is about to change. Instead of focusing on how hot each day will get, I look at how cold it gets at night, and how much it changes … and how quickly. It looks like we’re about to start hitting temperatures in the 60’s each night, and do so consistently for several days. That is the signal I look for, and I would bet that after the little bit of moisture coming in later in the week, rattlesnakes are going to be making an appearance on social media pages all over the place. About time!
It’s finally cooling off out there and rattlesnakes have mostly ended their surface activity for the year. They’ve gone to their Winter dens to wait out the cooler temperatures – but those dens can often be places close to (or in, under, or next to) home. If you live in a place where rattlesnakes do, especially if you have had rattlesnake encounters near the property, it’s good to have a little bit of information for visiting friends and family who aren’t as savvy as you are. This isn’t meant to scare anybody away (or may be it is! [insert mother-in-law-joke here]), but create just enough awareness to make sure everyone has a good, safe time and there’s nothing to worry about for those grand-babies from cooler climates.
Do a pre-visit check of the yard for rattlesnake activity. This one is a no-brainer. A couple of days before they arrive, spend a half hour looking around the yard to see if there’s anything suspicious. Shed snake skins, odd holes that weren’t there before, and weird-looking poop could mean there’s a rattlesnake that’s decided to spend Winter in your yard. Places to be especially aware of are pool-filter areas, near and under sheds, and in the garage. If you live in a manufactured home, or a home with easy access to the foundation, that’s another area to look. If you’re not sure, this is something that we can help with.
Just a simple awareness statement. When everyone arrives, just give a quick statement about being aware. A quick “Just so you know, rattlesnakes do live around here, so always keep an eye out” will do, and may give you something to talk about on the way home from the airport. You might want to go over some of the basic rules of living in the desert that you do every day. Things like “don’t reach anywhere you can’t see” and “don’t go outside at night without shoes and a flashlight“. Different relatives may have different tolerances for all the snake talk, so feel it out and give the appropriate amount of information to keep everyone safe without ruining turkey day.
Keep the kids out of the garage. After Thanksgiving is a common time for people to get into the storage to dig out Holiday decorations. Rattlesnakes commonly use garages as den sites (this is something we handle all Winter long), so be aware that stuff that you haven’t touched all year, i.e. dusty decorations, are great places for these sleepy snakes to hang out. While the actual hanging of decorations might be fun for the family, actually retrieving them from storage is a better solo job for you.
If you are within a quarter mile of any construction project, be especially aware. Many rattlesnakes that we are called to capture during the Winter have been disturbed at their chosen Winter refuge, and end up wandering into nearby neighborhoods trying to survive. If there is any construction project nearby, including road expansion, or and minor residential construction like digging a pool or removing an old shed, be especially aware. When native desert is torn up, the animals that have lived there have no choice but to find a new place to go, regardless of how cold it is outside. If you are in this situation, you may want to give an extra note of caution to your visitors.
Keep our 24/7 hotline number available. In the event that a rattlesnake does show up while family is there, be ready to handle it in the safest and most effective way possible: call an expert to help (nobody wants to spend the holiday in the hospital ICU). If a rattlesnake does show up, call 480-237-9975 any time for immediate removal.
To help, we have a seasonal discount on Property Inspection Services for the rest of November. If you want to have a rattlesnake expert come to your property and check things out before friends and family arrive, call 480-237-9975 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Same-day service is available in most cases upon request.