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Rattlesnakes a Nevada reality

A Great Basin rattlesnake in a box after it was captured at a Foothill home in Carson Valley.
Katherine Replogle/Special to The R-C

A child’s encounter with a rattlesnake in the hills above Grandview Estates on Tuesday afternoon was a reminder that Western Nevada is home venomous vipers.

Fortunately, Carson Valley Medical Center had anti-venom and the boy was treated in time.

Last week, Foothill resident Katherine Replogle’s daughter-in-law used a makeshift snake stick to capture a big rattler that sought shelter on their patio. The snake was released back into the wild.

“My daughter-in-law (said) that this was done at dinner time as quickly as possible,” Replogle said on Friday. “It would not have been her preferred method. Obviously shoes and long pants should be worn and it is more humane to sweep the snake into a container rather than use a noose.”

The Great Basin or Western rattlesnake is the only one of the species that inhabits Northern Nevada, but it can be found at most elevations, according to Nevada Urban Wildlife Coordinator Jessica Wolff.

“Typically in summer we get quite a few calls when they are active” she said. “We creat great habitat for a lot of animals. If you feed birds, the seed on the ground attracts rodents. What’s a snake’s favorite snack? A little mouse or rodent.”

While rattlesnakes can grow to be quite long, most of their prey tends to be realtively small.

“You don’t have to worry about one eating a dog or a cat,” Wolff said. “But you definitely don’t want them to get bit. They definitely can inject venom.”

Wolff advised keeping a dog on a leash and making sure it’s not sticking its nose in burrows where a rattler might be hiding.

When encountering a rattler, Wolff said the best plan is to give it some space, including an escape route.

“Snakes don’t want to bite us,” she said. “Their venom is for defense and getting food. Biting someone is the last thing they want to do.”

Rattlers prefer hiding from people.

“They don’t want to interact with humans,” she said. “The first thing they want to do is hide. Then they rattle, which is a warning that if you don’t back away you might get bit. Their final response is to bite.”

Wolff said about half of bites are dry, and there is some evidence that a grown rattler can meter its venom.

She said that baby snakes have a reputation for being more dangerous than grown rattlers, but that’s because they haven’t learned to control their venom.

“Baby snakes give it all they’ve got to protect themselves,” she said.

Rattlers give live birth and then their offspring are on their own.

“They can be found anywhere up to 9,000 feet in the mountains and deserts,” she said. “We encourage people to step on top of rocks instead of over them, because you don’t know what’s on the other side.”

Rattlers have great camouflage and can easily hide in rocks and brush.

Rattlers are not the top of their food chain, though. Wolff said king snakes are immune to rattler venom.

Gopher snakes mimic rattlers with a similar pattern, and will even shake a bush to make a rattling noise to chase off anything that’s coming for them.

Rattlers and other snakes help keep the rodent populations down.

“All of them are beneficial, just some of them are more intimidating than others,” she said. “If you can avoid conflict with snakes, they will avoid conflict with us.”