If you have even a small yard, it can be exposed to rattlesnakes who may live nearby and slither onto it in search of food or cover. Finding one could mean accidentally stepping on it and risking being bitten. However, there are ways to remove it safely from your yard.
Is It a Rattlesnake?
You may have a snake on your property, but it may not be a rattlesnake. Here is how you can tell:
A Tail Rattle
A rattlesnake’s tail does more than just warn off prey with a rattling sound. It also signifies that it’s a rattlesnake and any animal or rodent that gets near it could receive a large amount of venom that could result in death. This is why some snake species mimic the tail rattle of rattlesnakes so they get the same survival benefit.
One example is the bull snake, or gopher snake. In fact, many people mistake a bull snake for a rattlesnake because it has perfected its mimicry of rattlesnakes so well.
Rattlesnakes have functional rattles you can easily spot. These are at the end of the tail and have a different aesthetic to the rest of the snake’s body. After the rattlesnakes shed their skin, a new tail grows to replace it.
When a rattlesnake is threatened by any animal, it will coil up and rattle its tail. This is a warning and if you proceed towards the snake, it could strike. When the rattlesnake rattles its tail, the tail will usually be lifted off the ground and pointed upwards to the sky.
A bull snake that mimics a rattler will be able to make similar sounds with its body on leaves and twigs, but the tail will be lying flat on the ground.
Rattlesnakes have a large head that is triangular in shape. This is because they are of the category of pit vipers, which all share a similar shaped head. The neck will be very narrow when it connects to the head which is a detail you can spot.
Other snakes that mimic rattlers, will not have such a neck, but may have a head that is shaped the same. However, just using the head as an identifier may not be enough to tell its a rattlesnake or not.
Rattlesnakes average 4-6 feet in length. This means that if the snake is much smaller, it is either a different type of snake or it is a baby rattler. Bullsnakes also average in this length, which adds to the confusion of which snake it is.
If you get bit by a rattlesnake, you will likely receive a dose of venom, which WILL MAKE YOU SICK. You must seek medical treatment immediately which will likely include administering antivenom. Other types of snakes that look like rattlers but do not have venom can still give you a painful bite. However, these will be relatively harmless besides leaving some bite marks.
Colors and Markings
Rattlesnakes have a mix of light and dark brown colors with some possible grey mixed in. They will also have some dark diamond or circular patterns running across the width of their bodies. Their rattle will appear more ribbed in shape and have light coloring on the top side of it. In short, you should be able to spot the rattle against the rest of its body.
Bull snakes have almost identical markings, but are darker in color and have square shapes running towards the end of its tail. If the tail tapers off to a point without a clear rattle attached, then it is likely not a rattlesnake.
Getting close enough to spot the eye shape may not be possible, but can give you an idea of whether it is a rattler or not. The eyes of rattlesnakes have vertical slips for pupils and heat-sensing pits above their nostrils (hence “pit viper”). Other snakes will have round pupils and no pits near their nostrils. If you spot these, this is an important detail that could help you determine if it is a rattlesnake or not.
Rattlesnakes share similar habitats with other snakes, so if come across one, it could just as easily be another type of snake. This includes warm weather and tall grasses, logs, boulders, and any other object they can hide and take shelter in. Rattlesnakes also need to eat, so they look for areas that have plenty of rodents and large insects, which will likely include some sort of water source.
Rattlesnakes like to hunt at night and prefer if their prey comes to them which is easiest after dark. So, if you are walking at night and come across an active snake, it is more likely a rattlesnake than another type, such as a gopher snake that hunts during the day. However, if the snake is relaxing in the sun on a log or open rocky area, this is likely to be a rattlesnake as they do like to come out during warm days.
What Not To Do If You See a Rattlesnake In Your Yard
If you have a rattlesnake in your yard, you must be careful how you remove it. What you should NOT do is try to handle the snake yourself without using a long tool.
Definitely do not let your children try to touch the snake. Keep your pets away as well.
If you get bitten, call 911 immediately.
The Secret To Safely Removing A Rattlesnake
You can use a shovel to skirt the snake off if it is not too far to the edge of your property.
Calling a professional snake removal service may be a better idea if there is one in your area. Unfortunately, most city and county animal services will not remove snakes from your property.
The secret to removing snakes is actually prevention. Keeping openings for snakes to get into your property to a minimum, such as on the fence line, rock walls, and sheds.
Setting snake traps can help get rid of snakes, and if you find one you can use a shovel or broom to skirt the snake off if it is not too far to the edge of your property. Glue snake traps can be placed inside buildings on your property.
Sheds harbor snakes of all kinds because they offer shade and safety from predators. If have one, make sure to cover any holes or openings at ground level and be cautious each time you enter it.
If you do find a rattlesnake on your property, you can try waiting a few days to let it go away on its own. If you find a snake in a spot that allows them to be cornered and sealed off, such as in a shed, barn, or garage, you can trap it by closing off any escape routes.
Remember, if you find a rattlesnake on your property, do not try to “handle” it unless you really know what you are doing. They can strike at a distance longer than your arm can reach. Even a rattlesnake caught in a snake trap can still bite you and inflict you with dangerous venom.
Additional Tips For Rattlesnake Removal
For more information, see our post How To Keep Rattlesnakes Out Of Your Yard.
Always try to remain calm when you discover a rattlesnake on your property. Send all pets and children away from the area so they do not get too curious or excited and risk being bitten. Allow the snake to escape if it wants to which means getting out of the area that leads off your land. If there is no place for the rattlesnake to hide when threatened, it will probably just move on.
Remember, that even trained herpetologists use snake hooks to pick up venomous snakes and or bitten from time to time. So, keep safety in mind if you decide to try and remove a rattlesnake from your property.
Finding a rattlesnake on your yard can be a startling and even scary event. But, if you take the right precautions and do not panic, you can safely remove one (or have one removed ) without being bitten.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.