Rattlesnakes in Arizona

Spring in the desert southwest is always enjoyable. The weather is near perfect and the wildflowers are blooming. It’s so pretty and a great time of year to visit Phoenix, Arizona but as we get further into the month of April, the Phoenix desert starts heating up. We’ve already had some days exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Listening to the local weather report can be quite entertaining, especially when they talk about cold fronts. We have family members who live in northern Wisconsin. While our Wisconsin family remain bundled up in winter attire shoveling out from a recent snowstorm, we too suffered a cold front; gusty winds and a temperature high of only 75 degrees F. We almost couldn’t wear shorts. I guess, a cold front is a cold front, it’s all relative ๐Ÿ˜„

I assume that you aren’t exactly feeling sorry for me and my weather woes, but when I tell you who I’m likely to share the trail with while out hiking, you might feel differently. ๐Ÿ

What to do when you encounter a rattlesnake, diamondback, hiking in Phoenix, Arizona snakes

It’s snake season but also baby season

As much as I’m loving the warm sunny weather, so do the snakes. I’m not sure I’ll ever get comfortable coming face to face with a Diamondback rattlesnake, and each snake encounter causes me to stay off the trails for a while … and may be the cause of a few more grey hairs!

Being startled by a rattlesnake sure gets my heart pounding, and I feel quite rattled as I’m sure does the rattlesnake.

an horned owl nesting in a saguaro cactus in Phoenix Arizona
An owl’s nest in a saguaro cactus

Eventually, my apprehension to hike subsides, and I’m back out hiking but choosing trails that are wide and popular with plenty of other hikers out on the trail. I’ve also learned to keep my eyes down while scanning the trail.

By choosing a popular hiking trail, it’s my hope that the activity keeps the snakes away or that someone else spots her first, which was the case in my recent diamondback rattlesnake meet up.

Two weeks ago, Al and I decided to start our hike at the Desert Vista Trailhead which is part of the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. I’ve hiked here before and knew about a Great Horned Owl’s nest. Her nest is huge and constructed between the arms of a large saguaro cactus. Really interesting to see.

I figured by early April, momma owl most likely would be caring for her offspring, and I wanted to see if I could photograph her, or at the very least, see a little owlet.

Great horned owl nesting in a saguaro cactus with an owlet
Great Horned Owl with an owlet.

Score! Ms. Owl was pretty far away and I had to zoom in as much as possible (600mm). I wish I could’ve captured a better image of her and her owlet, but it was still fun seeing mom and baby through my zoom lens.

After a few camera clicks, we continued on our hike.ย  As we rounded a corner, another couple hiking stopped us to warn us of a rattlesnake along the trail. Cool! I had fair warning, and therefore, wasn’t startled … this is the best scenario if you’re going to meet a rattlesnake on the trail.

What to do when you see a rattlesnake?

The first thing you do is grab your camera … okay, no you don’t. The first thing you do is step away slowly to not alarm the snake. The snake will strike if it feels threatened. If you are a safe distance away from the rattlesnake, then maybe you can take a photo or two. But keep in mind, a rattlesnake can strike about half its length and is fast. So, if you see a six-foot snake know that it can possibly strike a subject three-feet away. And when they’re coiled up, it’s hard to tell exactly how long that snake is. Always veer on the side of caution!

taking a photograph of a rattlesnake along the trail
We stopped these gals from walking past the rattlesnake. The snake is hidden in the shadow of the little bush-like cactus and coiled in strike position. Photo-op! Those Cholla cactus are also a danger.
diamondback rattlesnake in Phoenix, Arizona seen while hiking
Here she is up close. You can see her rattle and the beautiful diamond-shaped pattern on her skin. She blends in easily with the landscape.

Arizona is home to thirteen different species of rattlesnakes. Some may rattle before striking, but not always. So, they are definitely unpredictable. Each hiker, Al and I included, walked past her quickly … giving her a wide berth, but she did rattle with each passerby. As hikers, we not only had to worry about the snake striking but also not walking too close to the Teddy Bear Cholla cactus aka jumping cholla. If you get too close to one of these cactus, a needled segment will break off and fly at your body. Crazy, huh! And the thorns are like little fishhooks … ouch!

After our diamondback rattlesnake encounter, the rest of our hike was pleasant and uneventful. And these days, I’m sticking to trails that are wide and popular. This gal doesn’t like surprises!

A close up a diamondback rattlesnake with tongue hanging out

How to make your desert visit safe?

  • Watch your step and be on the lookout for snakes. Rattlesnakes are known to blend in with their environments. When traveling at night, carry a flashlight to make sure every step is the right one.
  • Think twice before walking through vegetation and never put your hands where you can’t see them. You could be reaching blindly into a shrub, bush, or rock where a snake may be hanging out.
  • Donโ€™t approach or provoke a snake. More than half of all rattlesnake bites are caused by provoking or approaching a snake. Keep a close eye on children and pets.
  • Never make a snake feel threatened. It doesn’t want to strike you any more than you want to be bitten.

Phoenix diamondback rattlesnake coiled in grass

Tips if you’re bitten

DO:

  • Keep the bitten area still and stay calm.
  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Remove any jewelry near the affected area in case of swelling.
  • Elevate the wound area if possible.
  • If you’re hiking, call 911 and if possible slowly walk to a trailhead or the nearest trail marker. Do not run. Keep body activity to a minimum to avoid the spread of venom.

DON’T:

  • Don’t drive yourself to the hospital.
  • Don’t use ice to cool the bite.
  • Don’t cut open the wound and try to suck out the venom.
  • Don’t use a tourniquet. This will cut off blood flow and the limb may be lost.
  • Don’t attempt to administer your own first aid.

Most popular snakes found in the Phoenix area

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (venomous). This is the most commonly encountered rattlesnake in the Phoenix valley and can be found anywhere where neighborhoods are near native desert habitat. They are large, aggressive, and venomous, so keep your distance and let it move on. They can be identified by the rattle, white and black striped tail, and white-lined diamond pattern on the back. Coloration is usually drab shades of brown or grey.

Diamondback rattlesnake sunning itself on a rock

Sonoran Sidewinder (venomous). Sidewinders are small rattlesnakes that live in sandy desert areas. Most are 2 feet long or less and move with a distinctive side-winding motion. These are common in the outskirts of the Phoenix West Valley in washes or flat, open areas. They avoid rocky areas. They are easily identified by the horns that protrude over each eye, and the white and brown ribbon going down the back.

Speckled Rattlesnake (venomous). Speckled rattlesnakes live in rocky areas near mountains or hillsides. They vary in color, from a white/grey in the South Mountain and White Tanks areas, brown in North Phoenix, and orange and red going North into Cave Creek and the Anthem areas. They have a loosely banded pattern that is highly flecked to resemble granite. Theyโ€™re most common in the South Mountain area.

Sonoran Gophersnake (harmless). The Sonoran Gophersnake is a large snake that can be found everywhere in the Phoenix area, even in alleyways and backyards in urban areas. These are very commonly mistaken for rattlesnakes due to a very good impersonation, which includes flattening the head, loud hissing, striking, and even a rattling tail. While they can become quite large and give a painful bite, they are otherwise completely harmless and great to have around for rodent control.

what to do if bitten by a rattlesnake, do's and don'ts of rattlesnake bite, rattlesnakes in Phoenix tips for staying safe in the Arizona desert, what to do when you see a rattlesnake in Phoenix

 

 

 

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87 thoughts on “Rattlesnakes in Arizona

  1. Yikes! The rattlesnake looks massive. I’ve seen a few while hiking in inner British Columbia but they certainly weren’t that big. Good to know your tips and probably most importantly don’t provoke the snake.

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    1. I’m less afraid of the bigger ones … they’re smarter and don’t want to waste their venom on something too big to swallow ๐Ÿ˜ Always best to just stay out of their way!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I myself wasn’t too sure what to do if I encountered a rattlesnake on the trail which is what lead me to doing some research. I feel a little more confident in my knowledge, but still don’t like seeing them so close to the trail.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It sounds like the rattlesnakes possibly hold their ground more than the snakes in Australia. We have plenty, but they usually sliver off into the bush as soon as they sense the vibration of human footfall. We always stick to the tracks, and have only ever seen around five in the wild.

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    1. They do seem to hold their ground and let you know when you’re bothering them. I don’t mind seeming them stretched out crossing the trail, but when they are coiled, I know they are preparing to strike ๐Ÿ˜ฒ Your country has some of the most deadly creatures on earth. My daughter learned that as she was preparing for her semester in Sydney.

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  3. I like the part about staying calm. ha ha! I’m not creeped out by snakes, just afraid of them. A rattler strike can mess up your life for a LONG time. I called a snake removal company in Cave Creek when I found one on our back porch. Cost me $100 bucks! Did I care? Heck no!

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  4. One of the biggest rattlers we’ve ever seen in all of our years of hiking was in Sabino Canyon in the visitor parking lot. It drew quite a crowd!
    Your tips are excellent. I might look into those shin guards, too!

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    1. I think this RV life has changed me, and now I find myself more fascinated with snakes and tarantulas than freaked out. Learning about these less than popular creatures has been an interesting part of my journey.

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  5. They sure have a mean look about them, so unlike non-poisonous snakes. We have timber rattlers here in our Shenandoah Valley, as well as copperheads and cottonmouths! In all my years of being out in the mountains either on horseback or on foot, I’ve not seen too many. Thank goodness! ๐Ÿ™‚ Blue Rock Horses Frederick County, Virginia

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    1. I think most snakes have a mean look about them, and as much as I have no interest in seeing them on my hikes, when I do it’s always and experience ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

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    1. I don’t mind most black bear, but I sure wouldn’t want to come face to face with a grizzly. I’ll take a rattlesnake encounter any day over a grizzly ๐Ÿป๐Ÿ

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  6. Great information on rattlesnakes but I was more impressed by the Great Horned Owl photo as well as your shots of the snake itself. Incredible. We got both our dogs “rattlesnake” shots last year when one was found on our neighbors property. Better safe than sorry!

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    1. Thank you Jim. Yes, definitely better safe than sorry. Letting our dog run off leash in CO we were always concerned about a snake bite even though we took our dog to one of the snake bite classes.

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  7. Great info!! It amazes me how many folks hike or run with earbuds, they’ll never hear the warning. I have a healthy appreciation and respect for the Rattlers after living with them in AZ.

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  8. Incredibly awesome photos, Ingrid! If I were to choose a caption for your pic of mama and baby owl, it would have to be, “Awwww” – they are just so sweet! The camouflage that Mother Nature grants her critters to protect them makes the dangerous ones even more so to those of us who are color blind. I can tell you that I never would have seen that snake. (Thank heaven my hearing is still good!) In fact, I had to go back to the photo a second time to study it before I was able to spot the rattle. Luckily, Alan is very patient whenever he sees something I don’t – like the barred owl in the woods next to our house. “See that clump of three tree trunks? Follow the first big branch that goes off to the right . . .” This post is an excellent reminder for those of us who enjoy being out in nature as the price for carelessness can be a high one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Mary. I am an extremely observant person and I’m sure my love of photography has enlightened me. I’ve learned that whether I’m in the boonies or in a big city, being aware of my surroundings is crucial to avoiding a dangerous situation. Perhaps that’s the Chicago gal in me talking ๐Ÿ˜

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    1. I’m staying off the trails right now and using the treadmill in the RV park, which is not nearly as much fun…. okay, it’s not fun at all ๐Ÿ˜ I’m thinking of looking into those shin guards. We saw a young couple wearing them when we hiked the Peralta trail in AJ. I have no doubt that I would’ve been bitten during all three of my rattlesnake encounters on the trail had I not stopped. Snake bites are happening all over the valley right now.

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  9. I Googled Cholla Cactus and it claimed it is a myth the Cholla Cactus needles can jump. Not that i have had any experiences with the cactus..Just saying!

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    1. All you have to do is put your hand a few inches away and you’ll have a bundled of thorns drawn to your hand. Been there, done that with gloves on … acts like a magnet getting close to something metal. The magnet pulls the metal. Quite interesting AND speaking from experience!

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  10. What an informative post!!! I am totally scared of snakes and I doubt I would be able to photograph one…too much shake lol!!! I suspect you never get used to seeing them on the trail though!!

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    1. No, I never get used to seeing them. I’m totally fine when they are stretched out, but when they are coiled … well, let’s just say, the hand does get a little shaky.

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  11. Great information – I hate snakes. Even the non- poisonous kind garner just as much hatred. Any information on encountering bears? Iโ€™m headed to Montana in July and Iโ€™m a Midwest native so Iโ€™m kind of worried about bear.

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    1. I too used to hate snakes, but when we built our house in southern Colorado, I learned all about Bull Snakes. We had one on our property that would like to hang out on our tiered window well and look into a basement window. So funny! Bull snakes trump rattlesnakes. So, having this guy hang around meant we didn’t have any rattlesnakes or field mice problems.
      Definitely buy Bear spray for your Montana trip. The bear there aren’t the silly black bear kind found in WI or MN.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Beautiful shots of the snakes and owls, Ingrid! An informative post about the dangers of rattlesnakes and how to be careful on the trails. About this time last year, I spied two rattlers on the American River Bike Trail near our neighborhood on the asphalt of the trail. As you say, they blend in well, especially with morning shadows. A runner almost stumbled over it! Although I was careful and on my bike, I tried for a pic with my phone and got a blurry tail as it slithered into the bushes. They are fast!

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  13. Ingrid, your images certainly brought that snake alive! Great information if walking about in their territory. I have never seen a live snake apart from behind glass!!

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  14. Good information. One can’t be too careful. Here in the Denver area I’ve seen bull snakes (‘currently considered a subspecies of the gopher snake’ -Wiki) as often as rattlers. Thankfully not often for either.

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    1. Haha … not a fan of snakes, huh! They’ve grown on me since we went full-time and I even like tarantulas now … not that I’ll touch one though ๐Ÿ˜„

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    1. Rattlesnakes are much like alligators, they don’t move well when it’s cold. And they know size. A rattlesnake does not want to waste it’s venom on something too large for it to consume (like people), but if it feels threatened, well then it will strike. Hope you enjoy your visit to AZ.

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        1. Let me know if I can offer any suggestions for your trip. And an FYI, keep elevation in mind for temperatures. It might me 95 degrees in Phoenix and barely 60 at the Grand Canyon.

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  15. OMG! Now Iโ€™m going to have nightmares. I canโ€™t stand snakes, venom or not. They freak me out and cause me to physically panic! I mustโ€™ve been killed by a snake in a different lifetime… I may never go to Arizona now!!! Ok, Iโ€™m getting a bit dramatic. Letโ€™s just say, I do not care for snakes. The owl and owlet was cool! ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜ณ

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    1. Yes, I much preferred photographing the owl over the snake and I do have a fear of being bitten by a rattlesnake … I’ve had one too many close calls. But I’ll be back out hiking next winter when it’s too cold for them to slither around much ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh that girl in shorts in the desert made me cringe! I guess when I go into the desert Iโ€™ve been poked and prodded by too many of the cacti.

    Snakes make me nervous for sure. We have not seen any yet… but I know they are out there.

    Pretty Momma Owl and those snake pics… well, letโ€™s just say they are cool. I hate snakes!

    We had a couple come talk at one of our club meetings about Arizona snakes. Since we are out in the desert and not on trails, when rockhounding, it was great advice.

    Great post! Keep your eyes on the trail my friend.

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    1. I’m staying off the trails these days. The treadmill at the RV park will have to do for now. Learning about any animals habits is great knowledge.

      Al and I rarely hike in shorts … 1. sun protection and 2. cactus/elements protection. So, I hear ya about that gal in the shorts. I know you guys always play it safe when rockhounding. ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Great post! Your pictures are beautiful – I loved the rattle showing in the one shot. I think snakes rare fascinating, though I don’t like surprises! Have you ever actually seen a sidewinder? If you get to Albuquerque, check out the American International Rattlesnake Museum.

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    1. Thanks Pam. That same day we saw the rattler, we saw a sidewinder. They are super fast and move in an interesting motion. I’m still not a fan of snakes but they are interesting creatures.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Man, weโ€™ve been complaining nonstop about the cold weather weโ€™ve been experiencing, but this post just made me kindof appreciate it. We donโ€™t generally fear snakes all that much, but having a puppy certainly makes us a bit more watchful these days. These guys are no joke. Your photos are just awesome. Thanks for the helpful tips!

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    1. Thank you Laura. When we lived in southern Colorado, we took our dog to a snake class since we had snakes on our property (fortunately, non-venomous bull snakes). I’m not sure I’d recommended that as much as the preventative shot (which I know nothing about). Keeping the dog on a leash is always the best thing to do. I’m sure the weather will warm up soon enough for you.

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  19. Hi, Ingrid,
    Once again, you have a bird picture to envy. Loved the owl. We’ve seen one rattlesnake in Arizona so far. He was napping on the road so, we let him nap. I’m old enough to remember when the snake bite treatment was to “cut and suck”. Glad to know we’ve moved away from that one. Great post and pictures.

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  20. Hi Ingrid What a great update on your adventures! The photo of the owl and owlet is adorable. The rattle ๐Ÿ snakes definitely are serious problems while hiking. When Lewis and I were in the East and West Saguaro National Forests, thank goodness we didn’t see any snakes!. Happy Spring Nancy

    Sent from MailDroid

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    1. Thank you Nancy. Snakes aren’t a problem during the cooler months and I hike with a lot less concern. It’s when temps start exceeding 80 degrees that I begin to get concerned and keep my eyes on the trail. Happy Spring to you too ๐ŸŒป

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  21. Dogs can be trained to not go after snakes. Training consists of having a professional put an electric dog collar on your pet and then letting the pet see a rattlesnake that is owned by the professional has been defanged. If the pet approaches the snake it gets shocked. Most dogs only need one session of training and the cost last time I checked was about $80. It seems cruel but it is one of those cruel to be kind situations. I had a dog bit by a large rattler (on the face) and the snake chose not to envenomate so my dog did not die immediately but he did get a very nasty infection with gram negative bacteria from the snake’s mouth. In only a few hours he developed a huge plus filled lump on his face the size of a volleyball. He recovered with antibiotics and TLC but he was one sick puppy for four days. After that experience I think it is a good idea to put the dog through training to rattlesnake proof the dog even if it means the poor dog gets shocked.

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  22. Great post, Ingrid. Very informative. Although I have yet to see a cholla needle jump. ๐Ÿ™‚ Your photos are amazing. I just love the one of the owl. Incredible! Plus, the snake pics are fascinating as well. You made a joke about getting the camera as the first thing to do when encountering one and I had to laugh, as that would probably be my plan of action. ๐Ÿ™‚ While stepping away to be at a safe distance.

    I canโ€™t believe the temps have hit the nineties already. We have been happy whenever it hit 70! We should finally have some decent weather in ABQ the coming week. Canโ€™t wait to sit outside and have lunch!

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    1. With all our warm temps, the saguaro cactus are starting to bud. I’m hoping to get back out to Spur Cross to visit those old saguaros and see if they have flowers. But the thought of snakes is making me a little hesitant. Ah, what a gal won’t do for blog material ๐Ÿ˜„

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Great advice on hiking amongst snakes, Ingrid. We learned quite a bit about them when working with our interpretive ranger Mariah in Oregon. Really have to watch out for the babies, as they lack the control of how much venom they inject. As you say, they really would rather not bite you, so just give them a wide berth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was trying to explain to someone here in the RV park, that I’d rather see a large rattlesnake than a little one for the very reason you mentioned. The old snake is wiser and less likely to strike. They don’t want to waste venom on something they can’t swallow ๐Ÿ™„

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Everything in the desert either pokes you, or bites you. LOL. Snake boots are great idea, or the shields that cover just the bottom half of the leg.

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      1. Hi Ingrid. I have never seen a rattlesnake in the valley. We get bull snakes, garter snakes, coachwhip snakes and hognose snakes on our property and in the bosque. We have diamondback and prairie rattlesnakes on the east and west mesas and in the foothills.

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