I’ll admit it: like so many others, my stupidity almost landed me a rattlesnake bite!
It was dark, the snake was crossing the road. I hopped out of the car and took a couple pictures, but I made one bad assumption: I thought he had been hit. In a split second, the snake I was leaning over flipped himself in the opposite direction and was poised to strike. He could have hit me if I were a few inches closer. That is one story a ranger would never want to share!
The one that almost got me!
Rattlesnakes are unique due to their capability to actually warn and alert creatures when they are too close. They most likely developed this adaptation in response to living with large creatures like bison and crafty predators such as coyotes. If they have this built-in warning system then why do bites on humans occur?
Lots of reasons!!!
Sometimes snakes, just like us, make mistakes. Since they are reptiles, they may be too cold to react fast enough to rattle before the shoe comes down. They might confuse your hand, or even leg, for prey.
With the prairie rattlesnake, younger snakes are often more aggressive and less predictable. Something that wouldn’t even make an older rattlesnake flinch could possibly cause a rapid, fang-filled response in a young snake. Quite often, too, the youngsters will strike multiple times.
Unfortunately, there are often more factors involved on the human side of a snake-human encounter and two primary factors are blood-alcohol levels and gender. In fact, if you are a male that is between the ages of 20 and 40 and you’ve had anything to drink, STAY AWAY from any snakes. These fellows fall into the category of ‘most often bitten’.
In my case, I assumed the snake was dead. I’ve picked up dead snakes, pushed snakes off the road with snow poles, picked them up with long sticks, but if there isn’t blood and the skin isn’t hanging loose, it’s not a safe snake to handle with your hands! I thought the snake was dead because he was flat-ish and in the dark I imagined tire marks.
So what happens when you encounter a rattlesnake? What should you do?
When a rattlesnake notices your presence, he’s going to do one of three things: Freeze, flee, or coil. [**DISCLAIMER BELOW!]
If he freezes, don’t assume he’s sleeping. He’s just hoping his camoflauge is working. If he is flattened, he knows you are there, and he’s trying to look bigger. Keep your distance. Rattlesnakes can strike half the distance of their body in general. Slowly walk away from the snake. That’s that!
If the snake flees, do not persue him. But you need to keep in mind that rattlesnakes have tiny brains. If his place of refuge is behind you, he’s going to come your way! Get out of the way!!! And never approach a coiled snake!
If the snake coils, slowly and as quietly as possible back away. He will most likely be flattened out as well. He’s trying to not escalate to any contact by looking big and putting on a terrifying display. The ‘experts’ recommend not to run, due to the fact that, if this encounter is happening during the spring, you may be near a den and another snake could be near by! If you are dangerously close to the snake, within half the length of his body, hold still. Most snakes do not want to waste their vemon on something they can’t eat and they know we aren’t dinner. Just a note, snakes HATE dust kicked in their eyes, since they can’t blink it out–no eyelids!
**Alright, now that I’ve said all this, nothing is 100% fool-proof. It really all depends on the snake’s personality. The best prevention is to be aware of where you place your feet and hands and to respect the snake–don’t approach him and he’ll leave you alone! They are very neat and interesting creatures to observe and they give us a unique nature experience and thrill, so respect their place and they’ll gladly leave you alone! They are just big chickens with venom and fangs!
He wasn’t happy I picked him up with a stick, but it was better than becoming a tire pancake! He probably wasn’t happy I was still there taking a picture, either!