Rattlers in the Dog Days of Summer
Prairie Dogs trying to keep a rattlesnake away from their underground burrows in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. (Big Stock)
Local lore has it that rattlesnakes are more prevalent and dangerous during the “dog days of summer.” What exactly does that mean?
According to the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” the dog days, a roughly 40-day period that ends mid-August, actually refers to the rise of the dog star Sirius. It’s a mere coincidence that the dog days fall during the hottest days of summer.
The adage could be derived from the fact that snakes are most active when temperatures are between 80 and 90 degrees.
Wyoming Game and Fish Herpetological Coordinator Wendy Estes-Zumpf said that rattlesnakes see humans as potential predators. So, their typical defense is to hide or try to scare people away with their familiar rattle.
Estes-Zumpf added that the likelihood of being bitten is greatly increased when people try to move or kill a rattlesnake.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for rattlesnake encounters, courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish, which are bound to happen in the high desert.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Rattlesnakes like rocky areas, areas with lots of small mammals, and rock, wood, or other debris that provides cover during the heat of the day.
- Dress appropriately. Wear sturdy boots and loose-fitting, long pants when working or recreating in rattlesnake country. Do not wear sandals or flip-flops in such terrain.
- Stick to trails when hiking and avoid tall grass, weeds, heavy underbrush, woodpiles, and rocky areas where snakes might be seeking shade.
- Do not put your feet or hands where you cannot see. Step on logs and rocks, never over them, in case a snake is on the other side.
- Keep pets on a leash in rattlesnake country. Snakes see dogs as predators and will defend themselves as needed.
- Have a reliable form of communication, so you can call 911 immediately if you or someone you are with does get bitten by a rattlesnake.