Rattlesnakes and bull snakes look similar. A rattlesnake bite can be venomous; a bull snakes’s bite is not, which makes identifying the snake critical. Fort Collins Coloradoan
Reports on social media of recreationists seeing rattlesnakes on Fort Collins area trails are starting to trickle in. And with this week’s warm weather, sightings could increase.
With that in mind, here are five tips on how to keep you and your pet safe and what to do if a rattlesnake bites you or them.
Where rattlesnakes live
Rattlesnakes are not commonly seen but can be found in many areas around Fort Collins. They are more prevalent on the western fringe of the city and foothills, including on trails on public areas like Cathy Fromme Prairie, Coyote Ridge, Pineridge, Reservoir Ridge, Bobcat Ridge, Greyrock Trail and Horsetooth Mountain Park.
Rattlesnake or bull snake?
The two snakes look somewhat alike, and rattlesnakes are often misidentified as bull snakes.
It’s important to correctly identify the snake because while rattlesnakes are venomous, bull snakes are not.
If the snake has a diamond- or triangular-shaped head that is wider than its neck, it is a rattlesnake. Bull snakes’ heads are slimmer, about the same width as their necks.
Rattlesnakes have chunkier bodies than bull snakes, which are generally longer and slimmer.
Both can make a rattle sound, but rattlesnakes have a blunt tail, and bull snakes have a pointed tail.
Rattlesnakes have a white-stripe pattern on their faces. Bull snakes have a black eye stripe.
Rattlesnakes have vertical eye slits. Bull snakes have round pupils.
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If you see a rattlesnake
Keep your distance. Rattlesnakes can strike between half and two-thirds of their body length. If the snake is rattling or coils, you are too close. Slowly move away from the snake, as quick movement might prompt a strike.
If it isn’t coiled, give the snake some room. Snakes don’t chase people and dogs. They’ll let you know they are there with a rattle and then try and escape.
In Colorado, rattlesnakes can legally be killed only if they pose a threat.
Protect yourself and your dog
Wear high-top hiking boots and long pants. Though these aren’t snake-proof, they will help. If you really want protection, you need to wear snake gaiters that strap to your shin.
Snakes can be seen on the trail, usually absorbing the sun to warm their cold-blooded bodies. If you stay on the trail, you are much more likely to see snakes out ahead of you. Even on the trail, snakes can be in the grass just off the trail, which is why you see grass mowed next to concrete trails. If you go off trail where it is legal, don’t step or reach where you can’t see.
Keep your dogs on leash and don’t let them walk in the grass next to the trail, where snakes can hide.
Look before you get out of your vehicle at the parking lot, as rattlesnakes can be warming on the gravel or concrete surface.
Making loud noises doesn’t help. Rattlesnakes can’t hear but know you are there through the vibrations of your footsteps.
For added pet protection, you can take your dog to snake avoidance training classes.
If you or your pet is bitten by a rattlesnake
The most important thing is to seek medical attention as quickly as possible.
If you have cellphone service, use it to call 911 if you — not your dog — are bitten.
Remain as calm as possible. An accelerated heart rate is a bad thing.
If possible, keep the bite area lower than your heart to avoid venom movement through blood flow. If you are with others, have them call or hike out to get help. If you have to hike out to seek medical attention, walk — don’t run.
If the bite is on the hand or arm, immediately remove rings, watches or anything that is restrictive.
Do not ice, do not use a tourniquet, do not try to suck out the venom and do not try to catch the snake for identification.
If your dog is bitten, call a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Carry your dog to your vehicle, if possible.
Before you go out, consult your veterinarian to ask whether they carry the antivenin, as not all veterinarian offices do. The cost is $300 to $500 per dose, and treatment can include several doses as well as other medical care.
Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
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