Arizona Rattlesnakes: Slithering Around Town

Western Diamondback rattlesnake
Raj Kamal / Stockbyte / Getty

Along with the excitement of Phoenix and the cool vibes of Tucson, people love to visit Arizona for its wide-open spaces, unique desert environment, lush green golf courses and seemingly endless hiking trails. Interestingly enough, these are the same places that you might find some of Arizona's more infamous local inhabitants: rattlesnakes. If you're planning a trip to Arizona, it's smart to learn about these dangerous reptiles before you go.

Rattlesnakes Are Lethal

About 150 people every year are bitten by rattlesnakes in Arizona, and rattlesnakes found in Arizona can be lethal. You are most likely to meet up with a rattlesnake on a summer evening after the sun has gone down or during the warm days of the spring, winter and fall.

Visual Rattlesnake Characteristics

You can look for its trademark flat, triangular-shaped head, but that is not conclusive. Many are colored in patches of tan and brown but not all. The best way to know if you have come across a rattlesnake is if you can see a rattler. Be aware that young rattlesnakes may not have fully developed rattlers, and so they might have only a few segments. If you can't get close enough to see if there's a rattler on the end of the snake, that's good. Don't get any closer.

Different Kinds of Rattlesnakes

There are 17 types of rattlesnakes in Arizona. The most common is the Western Diamondback rattlesnake. (Crotalus atrox). This snake reaches the largest size of any of the Arizona rattlesnakes, and most bites are attributed to this species. They can grow to more than 5 feet long, but it is rare to see one that large that is not in captivity. Not quite as common, but definitely important to avoid, is the Mohave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus). The venom can affect the brain or spinal cord. The Mohave is usually green in color and has wide, light bands at the base of the tail. If you can see the bands at the base of the snake's tail, you are way too close.

How Rattlesnakes Bite

Rattlesnakes have two retractable fangs that quickly spring into action when they are attacking their prey. Typical prey includes birds, rodents, rabbits, lizards, and amphibians. Generally, they will attack humans only when their territory has been encroached upon or when they have been provoked.

Other Snakes in Arizona

There are more than 70 types of snakes that call Arizona home, but most people live their entire lives in Arizona and never see even one, except maybe at the Phoenix Zoo.

What to Do If You Are Bitten 

Don't take out your pocketknife, cut open the wound and try to suck out the venom. That only works in old Western movies and could cause more harm than good. The short answer: go to the hospital immediately.


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