The Venomous Snakes of Utah
If you travel to Utah, you need to know that there are several venomous snake species endemic to the state; most are dangerous. You'll need to know snake safety and first aid as well.
Great Basin Rattlesnake
The great basin rattlesnake is a subspecies of the western rattlesnake that lives in western Utah, plus parts of Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, and Arizona. It is a subspecies of the western rattlesnake. The markings on the great basin rattlesnake resemble those of the harmless gopher snake, but rattlesnakes can be identified by their rattles, their large triangular heads, and relatively wide, flat bodies. Learn to recognize the appearance and sound of this dangerous snake's rattle. If you hear it, stay calm and stay away; if you don't attack, it may slither away.
Green Prairie Rattlesnake
Green prairie rattlesnakes are large, reaching between three and four feet long. Their diet includes mammals, birds, and lizards. The snakes can be greenish gray, olive green, or greenish brown. Like other rattlesnakes, green prairie rattlesnakes hibernate in winter. Learn some basic facts about the green prairie rattlesnake so that you'll recognize one when you see it.
The Hopi rattlesnake is a subspecies of the prairie rattlesnake that lives in a relatively small area of northern Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Utah. These snakes are not large—usually under two feet long. Rattlesnakes are inactive 90 percent of their lives. They conserve their energy so that they can expend it when they are actively looking for food; they need to be fed only once a year in captivity. Generally, if you see lizard activity outdoors, conditions are right for snake activity as well. Learn some basic facts about the Hopi rattlesnake so that you can recognize one if you see it.
Midget Faded Rattlesnake
The midget-faded rattlesnake is a subspecies of the western rattlesnake that is found in western Colorado, eastern Utah, and southern Wyoming. As their name implies, these snakes are small—under two feet long. Rattlesnakes inject venom into their victims with their hollow fangs. Adults are capable of controlling the amount of venom they inject, although the reason for this is unknown. Sometimes rattlesnakes bite without injecting venom, which is known as a "dry bite"; however, it's important to seek medical attention after any rattlesnake bite. Learn some basic facts about the midget faded rattlesnake so that you can recognize one if you see it.
The Mojave rattlesnake is found throughout the southwestern United States and much of Mexico. In Utah, it is found only in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Mojave rattlesnakes are primarily nocturnal. These snakes are large and can grow to more than 50 inches. The Mojave can inject a lot of venoms and is one of the more dangerous species of rattlesnake. It is very similar in appearance to the Western diamondback. You can see online what one looks like in action and how it sounds.
Night snakes live throughout the western United States, Canada, and Mexico, including Utah's desert regions. The night snake is only mildly venomous, so it is not a danger to humans. The snakes grow to about 2 1/2 feet long, and as their name implies, they are active at night. During the day, they might be found under sheltering formations, such as rocks, wood piles, and leaf litter. They eat mostly lizards. Learn some basic facts about the nightsnake.
The Speckled rattlesnake is found in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. This species prefers rocky desert terrain, and in Utah, it lives only in the Mojave Desert, in the extreme southwestern corner of the state. These snakes can grow to 3 1/2 feet long. Learn some facts about this dangerous snake and how to recognize its distinctive sound and forceful strike.
Snakebite First Aid
University of Utah Health Care offers the following guide to snakebite first aid:
- Wash the bite with soap and water.
- Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart.
- Cover the area with a clean, cool compress or a moist dressing to minimize swelling and discomfort.
- Monitor breathing and heart rate.
- Remove all rings, watches, and constrictive clothing, in case there is swelling.
- Note the time of the bite so that it can be reported to an emergency room physician if needed.
- If possible, try to remember to draw a circle around the affected area and mark the time of the bite and the initial reaction. If you can, redraw the circle around the site of injury marking the progression of time.
- It is helpful to let the emergency room staff know what kind of snake bit you. So try to remember what the snake looks like, its size, and the type of snake, if you know it. Take a picture of the snake if you can do so safely.
- If the snake is dead, bring it to the emergency room. However, be aware that a snake can still bite for up to an hour after it is dead.
- Do not apply a tourniquet.
- Do not attempt to suck the venom out.
Snake Safety Tips
Rattlesnake sightings are rare, and bites are even rarer because generally, rattlesnakes avoid humans. Still, it's important to be aware of these potentially lethal creatures when enjoying Utah's outdoors. Most venomous snakebites occur when people try to catch, kill, pick up, or harass a snake.
Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources has these tips for avoiding a snakebite:
- If you encounter a rattlesnake while hiking, remain calm. Do not panic.
- Stay at least five feet from the snake. Give the rattlesnake respect and space.
- Do not try to kill the snake. Doing so is illegal and greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you.
- Alert people to the snake's location. Advise them to use caution and to respect the snake's space. Keep children and pets away.