What to Do if You See A Rattlesnake

what to do if you see a rattlesnake

Ready for Rattlesnakes 101?

Whether you're new to Tucson or you need a refresher about rattlesnakes, you'll probably pick up some helpful tips and interesting facts in our Q & A.

Answers have been provided by four highly qualified rattlesnake experts - Tim Snow from the Arizona Game & Fish Department, Bill Savary and Robert Villa of the Tucson Herpetological Society, and Catherine Bartlett in the Department of Herpetology at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Q. How many rattlesnakes are there in Tucson? Are they all venomous?

A. "Although it depends on the taxonomist, there are generally 36 species of rattlesnakes in the Americas, 13 are found in Arizona, more than any other state. Those most often encountered are the Western Diamond-backed Black-Tailed, Mojave, and Sidewinder." - Tim Snow

All rattlesnakes are venomous.

Q. When are rattlesnakes most active?

A. "March-Oct, between 65 and 85F." - Catherine Bartlett

"Rattlesnakes are most active during warm months, especially during the monsoons. At warmer seasonal temperatures their metabolism increases, meaning they are more active and need to hunt more food. But 'active' is a pretty relative term.  Rattlesnakes are primarily ambush hunters, meaning they will lie motionless for long periods of time when they are hunting." - Bill Savary

"Rattlesnakes are potentially active at any point in the year if it’s warm enough. This includes warm winter days. They are especially active from spring to summer/fall when food and mates are around." - Robert Villa

"Snakes are most active when temperatures rise above 65F, which is typically March-Oct. They can occur as early as Feb and as late as Nov if the temperatures are warm." - Tim Snow

Q. When do rattlesnakes hibernate? 

A. "Local rattlesnakes may not actually hibernate. They become much less active during the winter, remaining in or near winter refugia, but may come out and bask in the sun on mild days at almost any time during the winter." - Bill Savary

Q. What should I do if I SEE a rattlesnake?

A. "If you see a rattlesnake, then simply avoid bothering it. If you keep a distance of several feet, you are safe. I've got a western diamondback that's been living under my back porch for maybe 7 years now. We see him all the time and just avoid stepping on him or crowding him." - Bill Savary

"Enjoy the moment, take a picture. Keep your distance." - Catherine Bartlett

"Avoidance is the best thing to do if you see a rattlesnake. The fire department has removed snakes for folks in the past." - Tim Snow

Q. What should I do if there is a rattlesnake near my home or workplace?

A. "...leave them alone. The exception would be if you have children too young to trust around snakes. In such a case, there are individuals and organizations (including the fire department) that can be called for rattlesnake removal." - Bill Savary

"Chances are the snake is passing through, or it’s been a resident for a while and this is the first time you’ve encountered it. Snakes do not want to interact with people and do their best to avoid being seen. If you are concerned about pets or children, you can call a professional (including the fire department) to have it removed." - Robert Villa

"When encountering a rattlesnake, back away from the snake, give it a wide berth, and continue on your way. Leaving a rattlesnake alone can significantly reduce the risk of being bitten. In fact, more than half of all bites are provoked by the person who was bitten." - Tim Snow

Q. What should I do if a rattlesnake bites me? {first aid procedures}

A. "As one doctor who specialized in snakebite treatment once told me, the best first aid is NO first aid. Most of the first aid treatments that popular legend offers are potentially more dangerous than the snakebite itself. Best move is to go to a hospital quickly. Don't panic. Contrary to popular myth, you actually have quite a bit of time to get to a doctor before there is real threat. Bites are far less deadly than Hollywood and pop mythology would have is believe. Human deaths are rare." - Bill Savary

"Bill is correct. However, the sooner you get to the hospital, the better the outcome. If you are hiking, get to your car and have your partner drive you to the hospital. If you are alone, call 911. Most people who are bitten are intentionally interacting with the snake. If you need a snake removed, call a professional animal removal company like Animal Experts: (520) 531-1020." - Robert Villa

"If a bite occurs:
Remain calm and give reassurance to the victim.
Call 911 and seek medical attention without delay.
Remove all jewelry, watches, etc. from the affected area.
Immobilize the extremity and keep at level below the heart.
Decrease total body activity as is feasible.

  • DO NOT apply ice.
  • DO NOT use an incision.
  • DO NOT use a constriction band or tourniquet.
  • DO NOT administer alcohol or drugs.
  • DO NOT use electric shock treatment."

- Tim Snow

Q.  Are rattlesnake bites deadly?

A. "To packrats? Yes. To humans? Probably not." - Catherine Bartlett

“They are rarely deadly to healthy adults. Folks with compromised health and children are at a higher risk of complications. Always get to a hospital as soon as possible if bitten.” – Robert Villa

Q. Do you recommend the rattlesnake vaccine for dogs?

A. "The vaccine is targeted to boost dogs primarily against the most widespread rattlesnake in the Southwest: the Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake. It is USDA approved and is recommended by some veterinarians. The vaccine should be given to dogs that may be especially prone to getting bitten." - Robert Villa

Q. What should I do if a rattlesnake bites my dog?

A. "If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, find an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. As in people, remove any constricting accessories (such as the collar) to avoid the constriction that comes with swelling." - Robert Villa

Q. Are rattlesnakes more active during the day or night?

A. "Activity will depend on temperatures. During the hottest parts of the year, the daytime heat may be too much for a rattlesnake. At that time, they are more likely to be active at night. But in more pleasant weather they will be out during the day." - Bill Savary

Q. When and why do snakes "rattle"?

A. "They rattle when they feel threatened and have given up on being unnoticed. (Camouflage and stillness are their first lines of defense)." - Bill Savary

Q. What does a rattlesnake hole look like in the ground?

A. "Rattlesnakes do not dig holes. They have nothing to dig them with. For as long as I can remember people have pointed out what they thought were 'snake holes' - but snakes cannot and do not dig holes. They often will go down another animal's hole or burrow in search of food, and may retreat into such holes to seek shelter from the sun, heat, or other animals. But there really isn't any such thing as a 'snake hole.'" - Bill Savary

"Those don’t exist. If you find one, it’s a major discovery." - Catherine Bartlett



If you'd like to learn even more about rattlesnakes, attend a Live Animal Theater Program at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The 25-30 minute program take place 7 days a week at 12:30pm, except during other special events.

You can also "get to know" the various species of snakes and see photos of each on the Tucson Herpetological Society website.

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