REDDING, Calif. — Virtually no rain for three months here and sunny days are drawing people outdoors to hike on trails, work in the yard or spruce up the garden, but the weather also brings out rattlesnakes.
When it gets really hot outside like it has been recently — Monday’s high was headed to 109 degrees — snakes often hide during the day, said Adrienne John, assistant curator of animal programs at Turtle Bay Exploration Park here.
“Rock crevices are one of the best places to find a rattlesnake. That’s where they seek shelter when it’s 110 degrees out,” John said.
Most people don’t want to find the reptile, one of only four types of poisonous snakes in North America. The others are cottonmouths, copperheads and coral snakes.
Encounters with rattlesnakes usually come as a surprise to people and the snakes. So John recommends being careful when working in areas where snakes could be hiding.
“Keep yourself safe by simply just being aware of your environment and of your surroundings,” she said.
“They don’t want to use their venom to hurt you. They want to use their venom to kill their food.”
Adrienne John, Turtle Bay Exploration Park
In the middle of a hot day, snakes like to hunker down, hiding under bushes, rocks or anywhere else they can get cool in the shade, said Lesa Johnston, who works in education and outreach for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. They can overheat because their body temperature changes along with the weather, and they prefer a range between 55 and 95 degrees.
At this time of year, snakes are more active in the morning and evening when it is cooler, she said.
Heavier rain this past winter and spring has provided more cover and food for snakes, so conditions are more favorable for snakesthis year, Johnston said.
In California, more than 300 snake bites are reported annually, according to the the California Poison Control System. But people can avoid becoming a victim, John said.
If you see a snake, leave it alone, give it plenty of room and don’t try to touch it. Snakes would rather avoid people than bite them, she said.
“They don’t want to use their venom to hurt you. They want to use their venom to kill their food,” John said.
Most bites occur when people try to handle the reptiles, she said. And some people are bitten when they are drunk.
“Do not drink and play with snakes,” she said.
Don’t reach into rock crevices, under bushes or anywhere else you can’t see, she said. Use a stick or some other object to check for snakes first.
Avoid hiking in the wild at night during the summer because snakes are more active and difficult to see, Johnston said.
Don’t hike alone and wear sturdy boots and long, loose-fitting pants rather than shorts and flip-flops. Teach children to avoid snakes and walk the dog on a leash when hiking in snake country.
Sometimes people see a snake in the wild and will call the state wildlife officials to report it, Johnston said. But the agency can’t do much, nor should it. After all, that’s where snakes live.
“Rattlesnakes are misunderstood, to a large degree, so people are mystified by them,” she said.
• Install rattlesnake-proof fencing with a mesh no larger than a quarter of an inch and at least 3 feet high, according to California Fish and Wildlife officials. The fence also should tilt outward at about 30 degrees.
• Keep weeds trimmed and remove piles of boards and rocks around the yard where snakes could hide.
• Encourage and protect natural competitors to rattlesnakes, such as gopher snakes, racer snakes and king snakes that kill rattlers.
If you are bitten, try to stay calm and get medical treatment as quickly as possible. Remove watches, rings and other jewelry that may cause constriction during swelling.
Don’t apply a tourniquet or pack the bite with ice, state wildlife officials say. Don’t cut the wound or use your mouth to suck out the venom and don’t let the victim drink alcohol.