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 two highly qualified rattlesnake experts - 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. There are 15 species of rattlesnakes in Arizona. Those most often encountered are the Western Diamond-backed, Western, Mojave, Black-tailed, and Sidewinder.

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." - Robert Villa

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

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." - Robert Villa

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. 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

Q.  Are rattlesnake bites deadly?

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

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 & On the Loose" live animal presentation at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The 1-hour programs take place on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 12:15pm, except during other special events. ***Currently closed due to COVID-19.

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