Keep your hands to yourself

If you're hiking in Nevada, keep these tips in mind to avoid an encounter with a rattlesnake

by Glynis Fediuk
Western diamondback rattlesnake
The western diamondback rattlesnake is one of several species of rattlesnakes that can be found in Nevada. — Gary Stolz/US Fish and Wildlife Service photo

Taking in foreign landscapes on foot is one of the joys of vacationing. But, visitors need to be aware of local wildlife, be it bears, spiders or, in Nevada, rattlesnakes. However, by heeding a few simple tips, backcountry explorers can minimize their chances of a reptilian altercation.

"There are different types of rattlesnakes in different parts of Nevada," said Joe Doucette, a conservation educator with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. "From central Nevada heading north, it’s primarily the great basin rattlesnake that's found. They like rock piles that are somewhat close to riparian zones."

Doucette said the most important tip was to avoid putting hands and feet in places you can't see, such as down a narrow crevice. Dogs should be kept leashed and hikers should stay on trails and paths.

And should you chance upon a snake?

"Give it its distance," said Doucette. "As a general rule, the great basin rattlesnake is not very aggressive—most of the time, they want to get away from you."

Rattlesnakes will not always rattle before striking, and the rattles can be knocked off—another reason hikers may not hear a rattle. A larger snake is not necessarily more poisonous than a smaller snake; Doucette said that the venom of baby rattlesnakes is actually more toxic than that of adults.

Common sense prevails

Should you be bitten, stay calm; keep the punctured body part—generally a hand or foot—above heart level, and get to a hospital quickly. Do not try to suck the poison out. In the United States, fatalities caused by venomous snake bites are extremely rare, and Doucette said most bites happen when a human gets too close for the reptile's comfort.

"The vast majority of rattlesnake bites are caused by people trying to pick up a snake," said Doucette.

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