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Be cautious, but do not fear rattlesnakes

Well, spring has sprung. The time has come to bask in the sunshine of warmer days, smell all those nice green things coming to life after their winter slumber, enjoy the tulips and daffodils peeking up through the soil, look at the buds coming out on the trees, and think about rattlesnakes.

I sure blew that mood, didn’t I? Heh heh heh.

We didn’t have to be concerned about these critters over the winter because they hibernate. They generally hibernate in large groups, so remember when you see one in early spring, many more may be nearby. When they first come out of hibernation, they may be especially nervous and frightened — so use caution.

Caution is the word, not fear. Humans are much more dangerous to rattlesnakes than they are to us. In confrontations with humans, they want to escape, not fight. And they are not going after humans because we are too big to eat. So let them get away. Nobody needs to kill them or be afraid of them.

Learning about them is the most advisable action to take. Check out the museum in Roosevelt Hall at Eastern New Mexico University.

A lot of information is available about the rattlesnakes of this area. As with beginning the study of any wildlife, a great place to start is “Nature’s Way” by Tony Gennaro. The American International Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque may be a good place to visit (505-242-6569). It has an informative Web site at

Another web site

has some information about the animals from the New Mexico Fish and Game Department.

Of the 46 snake species in New Mexico, eight are poisonous; this includes seven species of rattlesnakes. Although the largest rattlesnake on record is a bit over eight feet long, they are usually two-to-four feet. The most commonly seen species in this area is the western diamondback, which gets up to around six feet in length. A rattlesnake can strike about a third to half its length, and it does not have to be coiled to strike. The bite is rarely fatal, but it is far from pleasant.

Remember, the snake does not want to bite. It needs to save its venom for prey (food). Gennaro advises us to stop when we hear the rattle or see the snake and wait it for it to leave. If it does not leave in a reasonable time, slowly back away from it.

We do not have to kill it to protect ourselves. Killing the snake actually increases risk because this involves physical interaction with it. We don’t need to kill it anyway. Simply leave it alone so nobody gets hurt, human or snake.

Also, do not handle a dead rattlesnake. The venom can remain potent for decades after the animal dies, so touching the fangs of a long dead rattler can put its hemotoxic calling card in our bodies.

People shouldn’t try to make pets of them either. A wild animal by definition is undomesticated. This means free.

Also, removing the fangs does not remove the danger. The venom is still there, and the fangs will grow back. The wisest course of action is simply leaving them alone and enjoying the benefits of their eating mice, rats, and other pests.

Let spring welcome the snakes from hibernation as it brings leaves back to the trees. All we need to do is enjoy the season. We don’t have to fear the snakes. We do need to be alert and respectful. And we certainly don’t need to kill them.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail:

[email protected]

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