- Reptile Conservation Resources, Inc


Snake Eating Mouse - Photo by Garren Evans

How many species of snakes live in Idaho?
Twelve. Idaho has fewer species than our neighboring Pacific Northwest states because of our high elevation and colder winter temperatures.

How does climate affect the behavior of reptiles?
Reptiles are ectothermic or “cold blooded”. This means they cannot generate heat within their bodies and must seek heat from outside sources to perform normal functions like digesting food. Different species of snakes have different tolerances for differing temperatures, but all must function within a range, acceptable to each species, of heat and cold.

When am I most likely to encounter snakes in the wild when I’m hiking, hunting, fishing or doing other outdoor activities?
When the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold for the snakes. In spring and fall snakes may be encountered more often during the warmest times of days. In summer snakes may be encountered more often during the earlier and later hours when the temperature is cooler. Snakes will be warming in the early morning in summer and resting during the heat.

What should I do when I encounter a snake?
Move slowly; don’t make any quick movements in front of it; basically leave it alone. Snakes are shy. If we leave them alone, they are likely to leave us alone.

How do I know if a snake is dangerous?
In Idaho we only have two species of rattlesnakes. They are the only species of the twelve in Idaho which are potentially harmful to humans. You can recognize a rattlesnake by a rather large (in proportion to its body) head and by the presence of a rattle! Even a newborn rattlesnake will have a single button on the end of its tail. Every time a rattlesnake sheds its skin it grows a new rattle. All other Idaho snakes will have a pointed tail and no rattle.

What should I do if I encounter a rattlesnake?
Leave it alone. “Accidents” occur with all wildlife, not merely snakes, when humans do not leave them alone.

What should I do if I see a snake in my yard?
Nothing. Within a period of time it most likely will go away. Snakes range out from denning places each spring and return in the fall. During the summer they forage for food. When the food supply is gone from a specific location, they will move to another where food may be plentiful.

What do snakes eat?
All snakes are carnivores. In Idaho the majority of species eat rodents, birds, frogs, and small fish.

Are any Idaho lizards harmful or venomous?
No. None of the species of Idaho lizards are harmful to humans. There are only two species of lizards out of over 3000 in the world which are venomous: The gila monster and beaded lizard of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

How can I get more information about reptiles and amphibians?
Consult the links listed on Reptile Conservation Resource’s home page. The “non-game” “watchable wildlife” professionals in the Idaho Fish and Game headquarters and regional offices can provide information concerning description and natural history of Idaho’s amphibians and reptiles.

How can I avoid trouble with venomous snakes?
The best way to avoid trouble with venomous snakes (in Idaho, the western rattlesnake) is to be aware of your surroundings and observe some common sense safety precautions.

  • Avoid disturbing, moving or killing snakes. Most bites result from harassing reptiles.
  • Learn to identify the snakes in the area you are visiting.
  • Observe the area from a distance before placing your hands in crevices etc.
  • Lift rocks, wood or other covered sites so they are between you and the possible snake underneath.
  • Check under your car on hot days in case a reptile is seeking shade.
  • Choose open campsites and always carry flashlight when walking at night.
  • Supervise your children’s and pets’ activities. Teach children not to play with snakes.
  • Keep pets on leash.

What if I encounter a rattlesnake?
Don’t let your fear keep you from enjoying the outdoors. Rattlesnakes are actually quite docile and shy when left undisturbed and will only strike in self defense when harassed or startled. Wear sturdy shoes or boots and loose fitting pants. Stay on established trails and keep pets on a leash, even if they are well behaved. Scan the area in front of you and be aware of where you are placing your feet. Use caution when placing your hands or feet atop or among rocks and crevices. Avoid running or allowing children to run, especially in dense vegetation, as you may startle a snake or you may not see it until it is too late. If you do encounter a rattlesnake, keep a safe distance from it and leave it alone. Most rattlesnake bites result from the snake being harassed or picked up!

Will I alert a rattlesnake on a trail if I make a lot of noise?
No. Snakes do not have external ears and are essentially deaf to surface noises; however, they are very sensitive to vibrations. Therefore, although they may not hear you approaching, they will probably “feel” your footsteps as you get closer to them.

What should I do if I get bitten by a rattlesnake? What if my pet gets bitten?
In the unlikely event you should get a rattlesnake bite, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Remain calm and immobilize the would, keeping it below heart level. Do not apply a tourniquet, cut or suction the would, and do not apply ice. If it is necessary to walk, do so slowly and rest frequently. Go immediately to the nearest emergency room or call 911. Follow the same procedure for a pet, only take them to the nearest veterinarian.

Can I die from a rattlesnake bite?
With advancements in antivenin research and today’s medical technology, it is rare for a person to die from a rattlesnake bite provided they seek immediate medical attention. Although extremely painful and possibly life threatening without medical intervention, most people make a full recovery without lasting effects from the bite.

Can I tell how old a rattlesnake is by counting its rattles?
No. The rattlesnake’s rattle is composed of individual segments of keratin, the same material as your fingernails, and each time the snake sheds its skin (usually between 1 and 4 or 5 times a year) a new segment of the rattles is added. Baby rattlesnakes are born with one segment called a button and cannot make any sound until they shed and add new segments. Additionally, over time segments of the rattle may be lost due to wear and tear.

Why do rattlesnakes rattle?
Rattlesnakes use their rattle to warn others. They may rattle to indicate they are present so they won’t be stepped on, or they may rattle if cornered or harassed to warn that they may be about to strike.

Do rattlesnakes always rattle before they strike?
No, and they don’t always strike every time they rattle.

How far can a rattlesnake strike?
As a rule, rattlesnakes can, at best strike a distance of two-thirds their total body length. For example, a three foot long snake may be able to strike a distance of two feet. Always keep a safe distance from any snake. Move slowly away from it. Do not make sudden moves in front of it.

Do rattlesnakes always inject venom?
No. Some rattlesnake strikes are “dry bites” meaning no venom is injected. In fact, rattlesnakes can discharge from either fang, both fangs, or neither one. If you are bitten, do not assume it was a dry bite. Always seek medical attention for any rattlesnake bite.

What happens if a rattlesnake breaks a fang?
Rattlesnake fangs are continuously lost and replaced every six to ten weeks, much the same way shark teeth are replaced with new ones. If a rattlesnake breaks a fang as a result of a strike or other injury, it is simply replaced with the next available fang.

I heard a rattling sound in my bushes. Should I assume there is a rattlesnake in my yard?
Not necessarily. There are several sounds that are often mistaken for the rattle of a rattlesnake. Cicadas are insects that can produce a loud buzzing noise that is often mistaken for the rattling of a snake. Wind rustling dry leaves also sometimes sounds like a rattlesnake. Most snakes, when disturbed or threatened, will rapidly shake their tails, making a rattling sound. Always look at the tail. Look for the rattle. No rattle. No rattlesnake.

Can rattlesnakes swim or climb walls?
Rattlesnakes are capable of climbing trees and shrubs but rarely do so. It’s unlikely that they climb block walls, however, many harmless non-venomous snakes can and do climb walls and shrubs. On the other had rattlesnakes are adept at swimming and will take to water readily in order to pursue food, mates and refuge, and to escape harassment.

Are rattlesnakes territorial? If I see one near my house, is it going to stick around?
Rattlesnakes are not territorial, but do occupy home ranges. The home range is an area used by the snake that contains food resources and possible mates. They do not defend home ranges nor will they fight other snakes for access to a particular area. A snake may reuse a hiding place to rest, such as a hole or pile of debris, but once the prey has been depleted in that area, the snake will move on to a new area with more food. Rattlesnakes primarily feed on mice and other small rodents. By keeping your property free of this food source and eliminating hiding places by removing wood piles and other clutter, you can reduce your chances of encountering a rattlesnake on your property.

If I kill a rattlesnake will its mate hang around? I heard they travel in pairs.
Rattlesnakes are usually found together during the mating season (in spring and early summer) but are rarely observed traveling in pairs during other times of the year. It is not true that if a rattlesnake is killed its mate will remain behind to seek vengeance on the killer.

What should I do if I see a rattlesnake on my property?
If you find a snake on your property, try to get a good look at it from a safe distance and determine if it is a rattlesnake or more likely a harmless non-venomous snake. Pay close attention to the shape of the head and tail and whether it has any distinctive markings or colors. Learn to identify the snakes in your area. A snake in your yard will move on quite soon.

What time of year and time of day are rattlesnakes most active?
Generally, rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in March or April, or when the average daytime temperatures reach and remain about 60F and higher. The snakes are then most active when the temperatures are between 70-85F. This means that the snakes may be active most of the day during the spring, and during the early mornings and late afternoons throughout the summer. Exposure to temperatures above 90F for more than a few minutes can kill a rattlesnake, therefore during the hottest part of summer, snakes are seldom observed, except occasionally at night. Snake activity picks up again as temperatures begin to fall in late summer and early autumn before they go into hibernation as early as September or as late as November, depending on seasonal conditions.

Idaho Fish and Game Rules - Collecting and Possessing Native Amphibians and Reptiles Next > acknowledges the Nevada Department of Wildlife and Laurence M. Klauber’s two volume treatise Rattlesnakes, Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind, as sources for these questions and answers concerning rattlesnake awareness and safety.

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