As a scorching drought sweeps through Utah, more critters are entering public parks and backyards.
This is nothing new to the Utahns, but an increased frequency of snakes in the Salt Lake Valley and elsewhere for the summer means caution and preparation are needed, according to reptile experts.
“We’re getting calls earlier this year than ever,” said Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension’s wildlife specialist. “All of them occurred in early June, while other instances of snake sightings and bites occurred in late June of previous years. A fatal incident last year was with a person recreating themselves on trails, and these are all sightings in parks. “
Among the calls Messmer received, most of the non-poisonous snakes got lost in the valley. Although most poisonous snakes remain in mountainous areas or in sagebrush, two types of poisonous snakes have been sighted in areas around St. George: the Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave sidewinder.
Other snake sightings are typical of the summer season and during times of high drought, according to Wild Aware Utah, an information website in partnership with the USU Extension, the Salt Lake City Hogle Zoo, and the Department of Resources. natural areas of Utah. Snakes don’t need as much water as humans, but still need a little moisture and often seek it out in areas that are actively watered. Farmers may see more of it in irrigation areas, and homeowners should watch out for snakes in wood and garbage piles, which can act as shelters from the sun.
Food is a major concern for crawling reptiles as well, and they often seek out rodents that scavenge in garbage or compost piles left in backyards.
Drought conditions also exacerbate other problems. As wildfires continue to burn in Utah due to parched grass and high temperatures, snakes are displaced from their natural habitat and may seek refuge elsewhere. According to the Utah Department of Wildlife, all snakes, non-poisonous and poisonous, may move more through backyards and fields this year in search of water.
One of Messmer’s main concerns is that people who have never encountered snakes before now see them crawling on their back porches. When it comes to preparing snakes, knowledge and caution are key to enjoying their presence without encroaching on their space.
Of the 31 snake species found in Utah, seven are poisonous. These are known as pit vipers because of the pit between their nostrils and eyes. Poisonous snakes have shorter nostrils, triangular heads, and slit pupils. Most poisonous snakes are found in sagebrush, juniper pine forests, sand dunes, rocky hills, meadows and mountain forests. Wild Aware Utah advises that if you can’t tell if the snake is poisonous from a distance, leave it alone and treat it as if it were. Even if a snake is not poisonous, it can still react to agitation by biting, which can cause lasting damage to skin and tissue.
Although only about six people die each year from snakebites nationwide, about 6,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by poisonous snakes each year, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control. Many of them are the result of an attempt to illegally handle or kill the snake, according to the Utah Department of Wildlife. Leaving the reptile alone is usually sufficient to avoid a bite and make sure children and pets follow suit.
When hiking, avoid sticking any part of the body in a crevice, as these are areas that snakes tend to frequent. Always travel with a friend or tell someone where you will be and how long you will stay there, and dress in shoes that cover the entire foot, as most unprovoked snakebites are inflicted on the extremities that end wrong. place at the wrong time.
If you are at a sufficient distance, you can pull out your phone to document the snake using the iNaturalist app. This app allows you to submit photos, find data on the location of species and identify species that are crawling in front of you.
“It’s really beneficial for us to collect data on different sightings,” said Faith Heaton Jolley, public information officer for the Utah Department of Wildlife. “We don’t have an exact number of snakes reported recently, but a database like this helps us get a better idea.”
In the event of a bite from a poisonous animal, the Department of Wildlife Resources, Utah’s Division of Wildlife, and Wild Alert Utah all advocate that the bitten person remain calm, avoid running or lifting the bitten area overhead. heart and contact emergency services. as quickly as possible. Attempting an emergency solution, such as tying a tourniquet to the affected area, can actually do more harm than good.
“Emergency services can give you the best up-to-date advice,” Jolley said. “Some information online is out of date, so call your nearest emergency department and get professional help.”