BIOLOGY AND BEHAVIOR
Snakes are reptiles. They have scales, are exothermic and must rely on external source to control their body and temperature, and like most reptiles they lay eggs. Snakes often shed their skin more than once each year to accommodate their growing bodies. Snakes must avoid extremes in temperatures and they prefer to hunt during mild conditions. Their forked tongues and heat sensitive facial pits are used to determine what exists in their environment and to acquire prey. Most snakes prey predominantly on rodents, although some will also eat bird eggs, nestlings, and insects. Snakes such as garter and gopher snakes and racers may occasionally be pests, but they are nonvenomous.
Of the 32 species of snakes inhabiting Utah, the western rattlesnake the southwestern speckled rattlesnakes, the Mojave rattlesnakes, and the Mojave Desert sidewinders are the only venomous species. The western rattlesnake appears in most habitats throughout the state. The other three venomous species are in Washington County in southwestern Utah. There are four subspecies of western rattlesnake, with the great basin rattlesnake being most common. Rattlesnakes give birth in the autumn to hatches of 5 to 12 young, approximately 8 inches in length.
Snakes may take up residence under and possibly inside buildings. This behavior may become more noticeable in the fall when snakes begin seeking areas to hibernate for the winter. Nonvenomous snakes do not post major problems for humans.
A dead rattlesnake cannot strike, but the head, even decapitated, is still capable of biting and injecting poison. The snake's heat sensory pits are active unit rigor mortis sets in and they trigger a biting response if a warm object, such as a hand, is placed near the snake's mouth. If bitten by a rattlesnake, remain as calm as possible because panic may actually trigger adverse physical reactions. Since there is a single antivenin available for use against all rattlesnakes in the United States there is no need to deliver the snake for identification prior to medical treatment.
If it is a venomous snakebite, there may be one or two visible fang marks in addition to teeth marks. Evidence of a bite does not necessarily mean venom has been injected. The common and fairly quick reactions to envenomation are swelling and pain in the bite area, followed by a black and blue discoloration of he tissue and possibly nausea.
If bitten get to a hospital as soon as possible. Remove items that may cause restrictions such as rings, shoes, and watches before swelling begins. Physicians do no recommend the use of a tourniquet, bite incisions, or suction. Antivenin may cause severe allergic reactions and it should be administered in a hospital where the patient can be closely monitored.