With the hours of sunlight increasing and the temperatures starting to climb, the creatures that have hibernated over the winter are starting to stir, and that includes rattlesnakes.

Generally, rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in Wyoming in April or May, or when the average daytime temperatures reach and remain about 60F and higher. The snakes are then most active when the temperatures are between 80-90F. This means that the snakes may be active most of the day during the spring, and during the early mornings and late afternoons throughout the summer. Snake activity picks up again as temperatures begin to fall in late summer and early autumn before they go into hibernation as early as September or as late as December.

During the summertime rattlesnakes will travel anywhere from 2-10 miles away from the dens, but return to the same location in the fall year after year.

A Montana hunter stumbled across this den in the fall and a similar scene could be encountered anywhere in the spring as well.

Some simple precautions should be followed when in snake country, these safety tips come to us courtesy of Steve Johnson from South Dakota.

  • Learn how to identify the venomous snakes found in the area. All snakes with a pointed tail in Wyoming are non-venomous. The Prairie Rattlesnake is born with a rattle segment called a "button" at the end of its tail and the adults will have several rattle segments. You may also notice a flat and broad or triangular shaped head. The pupils of rattlesnakes eyes are cat-like or elliptical, whereas the nonvenomous snakes have round shaped pupils.
  • Be careful where you put your hands or feet and where you sit. Most snakes are inactive animals that depend upon concealment for protection. A rattlesnake in its natural habitat is almost impossible to see, when motionless and silent. Do not depend on a rattlesnake to rattle before it strikes. Most rattlesnakes will not rattle unless they are frightened or endangered.
  • Don't jump or step over logs, rocks, or plant material, walk around these obstacles. Be careful in the outdoors when turning over logs, rocks, or other large objects, a snake may be laying underneath resting or looking for food. When hiking, watch where you step, stay on paths or in clearings if possible. Avoid tall grassy areas with heavy underbrush. DO NOT put your hands or feet into places where you cannot see. Look closely at the ground before crossing over or under fences.
  • If you come across a snake - maintain a safe distance. Stay at least a body length away from the snake. A snake can normally strike one-half their body length, but this could be further if they are facing downhill. Snakes normally aren't aggressive, but be prepared to retreat if a snake comes toward you, it may only be seeking escape cover.
  • Wear suitable clothing and footwear when outdoors. Leather boots provide adequate protection for the feet and ankles; low cut shoes or sandals should not be worn in rattlesnakes country, especially at night. Rattlesnakes fangs can penetrate through clothing, loose-fitting is better than close binding styles.

Snakes play an important environmental role in the food chain, eating a variety of prey, including worms, insects, gophers, mice, birds, frogs, salamanders, and other reptiles. Most snakes are harmless and try to avoid human contact. Take time to observe and study all creatures, and you would more readily accept the role that many of them play in our environment.