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Snakes are found throughout North America and are most active during the summer. The North American “snake season” extends from April to October and the warm temperatures in the summer are ideal for these reptiles. Just because there are more snakes out, however, doesn’t mean you need to change your summer plans. If you do your research, know how to avoid them, and know what to do if you come across a snake, you should have no problems safely sharing the trails.
These three tips will help you stay safe with any snake you may encounter on hikes this summer.
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Wear Suitable Clothing and Footwear
Though it might not be the best option for staying cool, wearing long pants and footwear that covers the ankles are ideal for avoiding a snake bite. Long, loose pants provide plenty of fabric that makes it less likely for a snake’s fangs to pierce your skin. This comes in handy especially in areas where venomous snakes may be present. Another precaution you can take is wearing hiking boots that cover the ankle. When a snake attempts to bite you, it will go for the nearest body part, and this is usually the feet, ankles, or calves. Sturdy boots are perfect for deflecting the teeth of snakes.
If you wear the proper clothing and footwear to ensure these areas are protected, your likelihood of a snake bite breaking the skin is greatly reduced.
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Stick to the Trails
One of the best ways to avoid an unwanted encounter with a snake while hiking is to stay on the designated trails. Snakes prefer quiet areas away from people, so populated hiking trails are not an ideal spot to be. If you do see a snake on a hiking trail, it is likely just crossing the path on its way to a different location. In these cases, it is best to give the snakes their space and let them cross the trail uninterrupted.
People most often encounter snakes if they stray from hiking trails into more wild areas. If you need to go off trail, make sure to keep an eye on the ground and pay attention to where you are putting your feet. Look for movement and listen for any rustling nearby. If there is long grass or low visibility, you can use a hiking stick or branch to part the grass and search for any snakes.
You should also avoid hot sandy areas or large rocks that can serve as basking spots. During the cooler times of the day, snakes will find these warm areas that retain the sun’s heat and use them to warm their bodies. During summer, many species in the southwestern United States will only be active during the night. The summer heat in these areas is often too hot for many snakes, like rattlesnakes, to be out during the day. So, if you happen to be taking a nighttime hike in the summer, you may see more snakes than you would during the day!
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Know What Snakes Are in Your Area
The best way to avoid a dangerous encounter with a snake is to do some research beforehand and know what snakes you can expect to see in your area. Being able to identify the snakes you see makes it much easier to know which ones may be dangerous.
What snakes you will encounter while hiking will depend a lot on where you live. In Texas, there are over 105 different subspecies of snakes and four kinds of snakes that have venom dangerous to humans: rattlesnakes, coral snakes, copperheads and cottonmouths. Washington state, on the other hand, only has around 12 species of native snakes and of those, only the Western rattlesnake poses a threat to humans.
Rattlesnakes are the most widespread venomous snakes in North America, and therefore the most likely venomous snake you will come across while hiking. The best indicator that a rattlesnake is nearby is its telltale rattle. If you hear a loud rattling, the best thing to do is freeze, identify where the rattling is coming from, and then slowly back away until there is at least 4–15 feet between you and the snake. Biting is often a last resort for snakes, but rattlesnakes should always be respected and left alone if seen in the wild. Most bites occur when trying to move or provoke the snake. Other common species in North America are the North American racers, common garter snakes and bullsnakes.
If you are an avid hiker, one of the best ways for quick and easy snake identification is a pocket field guide! There are field guides for every state and region in North America that are usually illustrated with pictures, descriptions, and identifying characteristics of the snakes in your area. If you know what snakes are in your area and how to identify them, you will have a much safer time hiking this summer. If you are ever unsure of a snake’s identification, it is always best to back away and leave it alone.
If you have plans to hit the trails this summer, you will likely see a snake at some point. However, these encounters don’t have to be scary! These are just a few simple steps you can take to make the trails safer for you and for the snakes.
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Nigel Robert is the Editor-in-Chief of More Reptiles, a resource for any and all information about reptiles.