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Warmer weather to bring rattlesnakes out of hibernation

Published: Thursday, April 25 2013 2:31 p.m. MDT

It's that time of year when snakes, especially rattlesnakes, will be coming out of hibernation. Experts say the best thing people can do to stay safe if they encounter a rattlesnake is to stay calm, keep at least 5 feet away from it and don't try to kill it.

Joe DeLuca, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Warmer weather is coming to Utah, which means a lot of us will be getting outside. Of course, we won’t be alone.

Wildlife officials say within the next couple of weeks, snakes will be coming out of hibernation, especially rattlesnakes.

James Dix, also known as "Snake Man," runs Reptile Rescue Service Inc., a company created in 1998 with the goal of saving unwanted, abused, injured, orphaned and legally seized reptiles and amphibians.

Dix and his employees work to save the reptiles by providing public education programs, training sessions for law enforcement officials, and free rattlesnake removal for residents and businesses across the Wasatch Front.

"It's for the love of the animals," Dix said.

As comfortable as he is around the reptiles, Dix knows a lot of people aren't. He also knows most people don't know what to do if they come across one.

The most important thing to do if someone encounters a snake, Dix said, is to steer clear of it — and definitely don't grab a shovel.

"Some people think when you chop the head off, it can't ingest venom. The head can bite for six hours from nerves," he said.

“Most venomous bites happen when untrained people try to kill or harass a snake," said Jason Jones, a native aquatic species biologist with the Division of Wildlife Resources.

"In most cases, the snake is simply moving through the area, sunning itself or attempting to find refuge,” he said on the DWR website.

Rattlesnakes are fully protected by Utah Law, Jones said.

“It’s illegal to harass or kill one,” he said.

Other tips include remaining calm and trying not to panic. Stay at least 5 feet from the snake, and then alert people to the snake’s location so they can use caution and keep away from the snake.

Dix said a lot of people confuse harmless gopher snakes for rattlesnakes. While they look similar, there are differences. A rattlesnake's head is wider than its body, Dix explained, while a gopher snake's head is about the same size as its body.

Also, a rattlesnake has a rattle; a gopher snake, of course, does not.

"All our snakes that have a pointed tail are harmless snakes," Dix said.

If someone gets bit by a gopher snake, they don't necessarily need to go to a hospital. They just need to make sure they're up to date with a tetanus shot. However, for a rattlesnake bite, get help as quickly as possible. Dix said a person has about two hours before things start to get critical.

While snakes may be scary, they are important to control pests, Jones said.

“They’re very important to Utah’s ecosystem,” he said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: acabrero@deseretnews.com

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