Guest Blog by Bryan Hughes, Owner/Operator of Rattlesnake Solutions, a rattlesnake-focused conservation and education business in Arizona.
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. Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are the most commonly encountered at homes and yards, with the Mojave Rattlesnake and Speckled Rattlesnakes a distant second and third, respectively. The others, the Tiger Rattlesnake, Blacktailed Rattlesnake, and Sidewinder, are common and numerous, but rarely seen away from their native habitat.
Does this make the area unsafe? Not at all! In fact, rattlesnake bites in the area are rare. Many rattlesnake bites that happen are the result of intentional interaction. That is, they are optional; a rational approach to living with native wildlife can ensure safety, even in communities where these interactions are common.
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.
The single best tip to stay safe around snakes: leave them alone.
What is a homeowner 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 one of the largest bite statistics. A bite to the hand of a home hero can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, cause incredible pain, and result in disfigurement and occasional death. Don’t risk it–working with rattlesnakes is not a D.Y.I. situation.
Next: 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 fencing 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. Dogs are most often bitten either in the morning or evening when let out to use the bathroom, or are hiking off-leash. In fact, most hiking-related bites to dogs happen after the snake has been seen, and the dog moves in to investigate. Using a leash at all times can prevent these situations.
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.
Snakes that are most commonly found in Phoenix:
- 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.
- Mojave Rattlesnake
- VENOMOUS – The mojave, or “mojave green”; as people like to say, is often confused for the similar-looking western diamondback. The mojave is very commonly seen in flat, sandy desertscrub areas. This snake has a reputation of being an overly dangerous snake, as it is quick to become defensive (though not “aggressive”) and has a powerful neurotoxin.
- Tiger Rattlesnake
- VENOMOUS – Usually small, grey or tan, with bands running down the body. It is small, between 1’ and 3’ in length. If seen, do not approach this snake for any reason.
- Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake
- VENOMOUS – Speckled Rattlesnakes live in rocky areas near mountains or hillsides. The Speckled Rattlesnakes is highly variable in color, from a white/grey in the South Mountain and White Tanks areas, brown in North Phoenix, and orange and red going North into Cave Creek and the Anthem areas.
- Northern Blacktailed Rattlesnake
- VENOMOUS – The Blacktailed Rattlesnake lives in mountainous areas and surrounding foothills, and are more rarely found in flat desert areas in between. The Blacktailed Rattlesnake found near Phoenix is mostly brown, tinted with yellow, orange, or green. They are usually calm, but will stand their ground when threatened.
- Sonoran Sidewinder
- VENOMOUS – Sidewinders have a famous name and are extremely common where they are found, yet are quite uncommon to see for most. They live in flat, sandy scrubland desert, and avoid rocky areas and hills. They’re very small snakes, reaching an adult size of only around 2 feet.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Bryan Hughes Owner, Rattlesnake Solutions LLC
Bryan Hughes is a herpetologist and photographer, field researcher, and a regular speaker at regional parks and reptile-related events in Arizona. His work can be seen on, fieldherper.com, a photography-focused journal of snakes. He is also the owner/operator of a Rattlesnake Solutions, a rattlesnake-focused conservation and education business in Arizona. 24/7 Removal Hotline: 480-237- 9975 www.rattlesnakesolutions.com | facebook.com/snakeremoval Snake Identification and Information: email photos to email@example.com To book an educational event or safety demonstration, contact Bryan Hughes, 480-694- 3020.[/author_info] [/author]