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This heat is bringing rattlesnakes out to bask. Here's how to avoid them

Jessica Skropanic
Rattlesnakes come out in warmer weather.

This week’s hot temperatures sent some people and wildlife looking for cool spots, but it also brought out sun-worshipping rattlesnakes.

Native to much of Siskiyou County, the Northern Pacific rattlesnake comes out from under rocks, logs and other hidden spots to bask openly in the summer heat. While they use their poisonous bite in self-defense, there are ways humans can avoid them.

Rattlesnakes are part of urban wildlife like skunk, opossum and raccoon, said LeeAnne Smith of Redding, retired captain and 30-year veteran with Haven Humane Society and Animal Regulation. Once displaced by human development, they may still try to survive in the area.

At cooler times, people usually only see rattlesnakes when they move objects in their yard or disturb them off-trail on hikes.

But the heat-loving snakes come out into the open when temperatures rise, Smith said. “They’ll lay out in the sunlight in what we consider pretty hot weather. They are going to lay out more often (now the heat has arrived).”

They have time to do it between meals.

Rattlesnakes eat live rodents and smaller snakes – which keeps the latter populations in check, but “they don’t have to eat every day, or even every week,” Smith said. Even a good-size rattlesnake can go for up to a couple of weeks after eating one or two large rodents, like gophers or rabbits. That gives them plenty of time to sunbathe.

Misconceptions abound about rattlesnakes, including the belief they "go after" people, Smith said. When they bite, they’re motivated by fear and self-defense.

They don’t always rattle before they strike. While they grow about a rattle per year as they age, the babies are poisonous as soon as they hatch.

Rattlesnake bites are uncommon, according to the California Poison Control System website. Statewide, about 300 bites are reported to poison control each year.

If you get bitten, get immediate medical attention, according to health officials at poison control. Keep calm and don’t run. Keep the bite area elevated while going to a medical facility. Don’t ice, cut into, or constrict the bite area, or try to suck out the venom.

There are things people can do to avoid rattlesnakes, Smith said:

• Keep an eye out for them in your yard and when hiking or biking outdoors.

• Be careful if you plan to move logs or other stationary yard items. Look over any area of your property where you plan to dig or turn soil over.

• Keep an eye on children and dogs, who are naturally curious.

• Avoid rattlesnakes during outdoor recreation

The California Poison Control System and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife offers these rattlesnake bite prevention tips for people recreating outdoors:

Look carefully. Rattlesnakes are camouflaged, so you can glance at them without really seeing them.

• Wear boots and long pants.

• Stay on trails and away from underbrush and tall weeds.

• Don’t touch or disturb a snake, even if it appears dead.

• Inspect logs, rocks and other surfaces before sitting on them.

• Never hike alone in remote areas.

• Teach children to respect snakes and leave them alone.

Some veterinarians offer rattlesnake antivenom and rattlesnake vaccines for dogs and other outdoor pets and livestock. Call your veterinarian for information.

Call California Poison Control at 800-222-1222 for more information. 

Jessica Skropanic is features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers lifestyle and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook.