Rattlesnake Safety

Rattlesnake Awareness & Snake Bite Prevention

Venomous snakes inhabit every state in the U.S. except Alaska, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. In California, the only venomous snakes we have to worry about are rattlesnakes. Fortunately, rattlesnakes prefer to remain motionless as a first line of defense, but if threatened or provoked, it may rattle, coil in a ready-to-strike posture, and/or strike. Striking is not always preceded by rattling so avoidance is always the best preventative action.

If you see or hear a rattlesnake, keep your distance and let it leave the area unharassed.

If you do find yourself within close proximity to a rattlesnake, it’s best to remain motionless, calmly assess your surroundings, visually locate the snake, and back away slowly and deliberately.

How to Prevent a Bite

Common sense goes a long way in preventing snake bites. Rattlesnake bites are most common on the hands, feet, and ankles. Most snake bites can be avoided by following a few simple principles.

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Remain calm and do not panic.
  • Alert others people in the immediate area of the snake’s location.
  • Wear boots and long pants when hiking. Avoid wearing hiking barefoot or wearing sandals in areas where you cannot clearly see where you are placing your feet.
  • Stay on paths. Avoid tall grass, weeds, and heavy underbrush where snakes may be present.
  • Always look for concealed snakes before picking up rocks, sticks, or firewood.
  • Visually scan the area around rocks, stumps, logs, brush, and dense vegetation before sitting.
  • When climbing, always look before placing your hands in a new location. Rattlesnakes are found at high altitudes and can seek shelter in some seemingly unlikely places including pockets on cliffs, inside tree hollows or burrows, and along streambanks.
  • Never grab what may appear to be a stick or branch while swimming; rattlesnakes are excellent swimmers.
  • Never approach or touch a snake. Baby rattlesnakes and some adults do not have rattles or may have lost their rattle, but they are still venomous and therefore dangerous. Mistaken identity or overconfidence has led to many snake bites.
  • Hike with a companion. Always have a buddy (preferably one you can tolerate) to help in case of an emergency. Learn basic first aid and lifesaving skills.
  • Never handle freshly killed snakes. You may still be bitten.
  • Never tease a snake to see how far it can strike. You can be several feet from the snake and still be within striking distance. Generally, rattlesnakes’ strike range is approximately 1/3 to 1/2 their body length. That doesn’t mean you should put that to the test. A good rule of thumb is to stay at least 6 feet away. Admire from a distance.
  • Don’t keep rattlesnakes as pets. Many rattlesnake bites occur when people tease or play with their “pet” rattlesnake.
  • Always give snakes the right of way! Any sailors out there??? Well, snakes are always on the starboard tack.

What to Teach Children to Prevent Snakebites

Children are curious by nature and may not exhibit a natural fear of snakes. When curiosity leads to wanting to touch a snake, they risk a dangerous bite. Here are three simple rules to teach your children if they see a snake.

  • Stay away!
  • Do not touch!
  • Tell an adult!

Make sure they know to never approach a snake. It’s best to teach them to stay 10 feet away or the length of two bicycles end to end, twice their height, or 70 Oreo cookies laid in a straight line. I’m guessing someone could come up with a better analogy children could understand, but the logic is solid. Whether it’s a rattlesnake or a non-venomous snake, all snakes can bite – from babies to adults – and some do so with little provocation.