Adaptation Environmental staff was contacted by our local Fox-affiliate to answer questions about rattlesnake safety on trails. Jefferson County Open Space rangers assisted with this interview as part of our ongoing efforts to help everyone be safe while hiking in rattlesnake habitats.
It’s very sad to hear of this man’s passing, and as a result of a wildlife species we work with to understand better. Our thoughts are with his friends and family. Losing anyone is tough, but so much more when happening suddenly. While our project at North Table Mountain encompasses a biological study, our focus is on sharing information with everyone so they can be safe around this species which provides an important ecosystem service.
A reminder about to do if you’re bitten by a rattlesnake:
- Attempt to remain calm and avoid activities that may increase your heartrate.
- Call 911
- Remove jewelry and/ or any other potentially constricting item.
- Find more information here: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/snakebite.html
We’ve heard from multiple people about their surprise that Prairie Rattlesnakes continue to be active this time of year. Well, we expect to be tracking into November. This is based on studies near the Denver-metro in Aurora, Boulder, and Lyons where we directly observed rattlesnake activity late into the season. In fact, on warm winter days it’s not impossible to observe a Prairie Rattlesnake basking to take in some warmth. (Rattlesnake hibernation is more of a dormancy, or period of inactivity, rather than a deep sleep like some other species of wildlife.)
So, here we are following a beautiful weekend of sun in the 70’s with snow on Monday…we must live in Colorado, huh?
What does this mean for snakes? Prairie Rattlesnakes and other snakes will continue to be active this fall. Inclement weather may keep them in a burrow, but some snakes may still be trying to eat and digest before winter settles in. Eating and digesting require warmth for our snake species. Think about our metabolism for a minute. We eat to keep our internal “fire” going by burning calories. Burning calories result in energy for us to go about our lives, including finding our next meal. However, snakes do NOT have an internal fire like us and their activity (e.g. eating and digesting) depends on the temperature around them. If the surrounding temperatures drop, only essential functions continue to operate for snakes, such as heartbeat and respiration. (Yes, snakes have a heart…but only have one functioning lung: http://www.visualdictionaryonline.com/animal-kingdom/reptiles/snake/anatomy-venomous-snake.php.)
When the temperature rises, other functions like digesting become active. This time of year as it cools snakes that choose to feed take a risk. Eating on a warmer day is fine unless temperatures are too cool to digest the following days…in snakes it’s often the case that they need several warm days to digest a meal. If temperatures are not adequate for digestion, then the meal could rot inside of the snake and kill it! As it warms back up this week, many snakes will be soaking up whatever warmth they can get to prepare their bodies for a winter slow-down.
Not too many weeks left for rattlesnake season…stay safe out there!