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Slithering Around Town

What You Need To Know About Rattlesnakes

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Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Raj Kamal / Stockbyte / Getty Slithering Around Town

The nonvenomous gophersnake is often mistaken for the dangerous Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. There's no rattle on this one!

© Dee Kirkhart, used with permission

People love Arizona for the wide open spaces, the unique desert environment, the lush green golf courses and the seemingly endless hiking trails. Interestingly enough, these are the same places that you might find some of our more infamous local inhabitants -- rattlesnakes.

See photos of Arizona snakes.

Are rattlesnakes dangerous?
About 150 people every year are bitten by rattlesnakes in Arizona. Rattlesnakes found in Arizona can be lethal.

When do rattlesnakes come out?
You are most likely to meet up with a rattlesnake on a summer evening after the sun has gone down, or during the warm days of the spring, winter and fall.

How do I tell if a snake is a rattlesnake?
You can look for the flat, triangular-shaped head, but that is not conclusive. Many are colored in patches of tan and brown, but not all. The best way to know if you have come across a rattlesnake is if you can see a rattler. Be aware that young rattlesnakes may not have fully developed rattlers, and so they might have only a few segments. If you can't get close enough to see if there's a rattler on the end of the snake, that's good! Don't get any closer!

Are there different kinds of rattlesnakes?
Yes. There are seventeen types of rattlesnakes in Arizona. The most common is the Western Diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox. This snake attains the largest size of any of the Arizona rattlesnakes, and most bites are attributed to this species. They can grow to over five feet in length, but it is rare to see one that large that is not in captivity. Not quite as common, but definitely important to avoid, is the Mohave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus. The venom can affect the brain or spinal cord. The Mohave is usually very green in color and has wide, light bands at the base of the tail. Again, if you can see the bands at the base of the snake's tail, you are way too close.

How do rattlesnakes bite?
Rattlesnakes have two retractable fangs that quickly spring into action when they are attacking their prey. Typical prey includes birds, rodents, rabbits, lizards and amphibians. Generally, they will attack humans only when their territory has been encroached upon, or when they have been provoked.

Are there other snakes in Arizona besides rattlesnakes?
Yes, of course there are! There are more than 70 types of snakes that call Arizona home. But not to worry, most people live their entire lives in Arizona and never see even one, except maybe at the Phoenix Zoo.

What should I do if I'm bitten by a rattlesnake?
Don't take out your pocketknife, cut open the wound and try to suck out the venom. That only works in old movies and could cause more harm than good. Here's what you should really do.

Snake trivia: Snakes don't have eyelids or ears.

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