Snakes and stock in the summer
After a cool, wet spring, increased sightings of snakes are the subject of many social media posts and café table talks. Marvin Reynolds, area director and Extension agent in the San Luis Valley area office of the Colorado State University Extension service, has been studying and identifying snakes across the state as part of his job and to satisfy his own interest in the animals.
Reynolds said the concentration of snakes in southern Colorado is around Pueblo and in the southeast region, as well as the northeast part of the state.
“I’ve had more requests this year for information about snakes, not just rattlesnakes, but lots of different snakes,” he said. “I’ve been asked to identify several different species.”
Western terrestrial garter snakes, red racers or coachwhip, bull snakes, prairie rattle snakes, and massasauga rattlesnakes are among the species Reynolds has identified thus far.
Reynolds said snakes were a bit slower to appear this spring due to the cold weather but said they seem to be more active once they began moving. He said people seem to be seeing more snakes and the snakes being reported are larger, measuring, in some cases, 4 or 4 1/2 feet rather than the typical 3 feet.
For some cattlemen, snakes are a factor when grazing summer grass. Reynolds said curious calves hear rattlesnakes rattle and stick their nose, literally, where it shouldn’t be. A snake bite on the nose can cause swelling, sometimes severe enough to asphyxiate the animal.
Dr. Lora Bledsoe, a large animal practitioner in eastern Colorado said she hasn’t necessarily noticed an increased number of snakes but instead the normally high number for her area. She said there is a rattlesnake vaccine available for both dogs and horses that is significantly less expensive than antivenom, something she’s never had a client use due to the cost.
Bledsoe said she recently treated a horse in the Kit Carson area that had been bitten on the nose that made a full recovery. She said she treated symptomatically with dexamethasone and antibiotics.
Reynolds said juvenile rattlesnakes, being more nervous and easier to surprise and scare, often eject more venom than more mature snakes.
He suggests that, if possible, cattlemen keep cattle out of pastures or areas where snakes traditionally are present, though he admits this isn’t easy. Snakes hide wherever it is cool during the day, using burrows of other animals, down brush and under rocks.
“Sometimes you’ll see more around water sources,” he said. “If water is limited in a pasture and you have a tank with a leak, you might have rattlesnakes there. If you’re going to have an overflow, try to run a pipe 20 or 30 feet away and that can help keep snakes away from where cattle are watering.”
Reynolds said in southeastern Colorado, it’s common for red racer snakes to winter in hay stacks, disrupted when people move bales. Red racers, he said, are known for lifting their head about 2 feet in the air and chasing the person who surprised them. A rattlesnake, conversely, will only chase a person until it appears the snake’s target is retreating. It’s best practice, he said, to roll hay bales toward your legs, exposing the opposite side and allowing a snake to go the other direction. He said if a snake hears humans, it will typically leave so not being silent when working in their environment is best.
“If you’re careful in their environment, then your chances of getting bitten are small,” Raynolds said.
If a human is bitten, Reynolds recommends remaining as calm as possible, calling for help, and keeping the bite lower than the victim’s heart. Tourniquets and cutting the bite to suck out the toxin are no longer recommended. Pain and swelling in the area of the bite are common, as well as dizziness and difficulty breathing.
According to Colorado State University Extension, the best first aid kit for a rattlesnake bite is car keys and a phone to call the hospital. Antivenom, stocked by most rural hospitals, takes time to prepare so calling en route can help medical staff prepare. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 392-4410.