The Pueblo Chieftan

Rattle & shake

Snake sightings, and questions about them, are some of the most common the staff here gets. We have a new ranger whom shall remain nameless (Dan), who is from Michigan.

He thought we were pulling a new hire prank on him when we told him we have pink snakes at Lake Pueblo.

However, the truth is in fact we have pink snakes in our area.

Locals refer to them as red racers, but they are actually coachwhips.

Coachwhips can be tan, brownish, pink or reddish. They have the appearance of a ribbon flapping in the wind when they are moving. They are long, with five-feet not being uncommon, and some reported at six-feet or more in length. They are fast and we often see glimpses of them moving in the brush or across the road.

AS THE CHIEF snake mover at Lake Pueblo, I will tell you, I dread the call to move a pink snake from a campsite. Fortunately, this is a very rare occurrence as they move quickly and usually are gone when I get there. However, these snakes have an attitude, when cornered they will come right at you and do it fast, and I swear they look you right in the eye when they do it. Most snakes will go away from a threat, but these guys will stand their ground. They are non-venomous and harmless to humans and actually eat mice, lizards, frogs and other snakes. We have seen one eat a dead rattlesnake in our parking lot.

Park Rangers are asked about and told stories about rattlesnakes every day.

Colorado has 28 snake species, but only three are venomous: the massasauga, found on the southeast plains below 5,500 feet elevation; the midget faded rattlesnake, found in western-central Colorado; and the prairie rattlesnake, found throughout the state at elevations below 9,500 feet.

The Massuaga is a small, secretive snake. It is probably misidentified as a baby Prairie Rattlesnake by the layperson. They are less than a foot long, and eat lizards, other snakes, and small rodents. They live in the dry short grass prairie habitats.

Prairie Rattlesnakes live in every habitat we have in our area. You can find them in the middle of the prairie, along the river and in farmlands and backyards. They can be over two-feet long, and are heavier than the coachwhips and bullsnakes. They eat almost anything they can catch, from lizards and mice to rabbits and prairie dogs.

I move rattlesnakes more than any other species of snake from campgrounds at Lake Pueblo. Obviously, no one wants a venomous snake sharing their campsite but I think the rattlesnake’s behavior lends to them having to be moved.

While the coachwhips move fast and leave an area quickly, rattlesnakes use their coloration and try to hide and do not move as quickly. The rattlesnake’s coloration makes them blend in very well with their surroundings. There is a saying that you will hear a rattlesnake long before you see one.

THE RATTLE OF the tail is intended as a warning, not a challenge. They do not want to bite us; it is a waste of venom and energy that they need to use on food items. It is their way of saying leave me alone, I can hurt you.

Most rattlesnake bites in our area occur when we inadvertently come into contact with the snake. Gardeners and landscapers who are pulling weeds or moving rocks may put their hand on or near a snake without ever realizing it is there, and get bitten. Remember the rattlesnake is trying to hide and hope you go away when you reach for or touch them and they bite.

Rock climbers and hikers reaching up to a ledge may also encounter a rattlesnake. It is uncommon to be bitten by a rattlesnake in Colorado, and very rare that it causes death to a human. One thing is for sure, it will hurt….a lot.

Not all rattlesnake bites inject venom. Those are called dry bites. Dry bites still hurt and an infection is a strong possibility.

A BITE WITH venom can cause tissue destruction and other health problems and seeking medical attention is a must for any rattlesnake bite. There is a lot of folk lore and myths associated with rattlesnakes. If you are bitten please do not cut the bite and suck out the venom, you are not in a western movie and that actually causes more serious injury than the bite itself. Call 911 and do what the dispatcher tells you to do.

Never try to catch the snake, if you can look at it and describe it to the doctor that is enough. The truth is, there is only one rattlesnake anti-venom, and it works on all of them, from our prairie rattlers to diamondbacks. Try to remain calm, and wait for medical help to come to you or do as the dispatcher says if you are in a more rural setting. If you have one in your yard or house and have not been bitten, watch it from a safe distance and call 911. Many of the local fire departments will remove a rattlesnake that is a current hazard.

Dogs often encounter rattlesnakes and are bitten, one more good reason to keep them on a leash at Lake Pueblo. Check with your local veterinarian about the availability of rattlesnake vaccines.

There is a hunting season for rattlesnakes and a small game license is required.

Everything in nature has a job; a snake’s job is to keep the rodent population in check. It has been said that in certain parts of the world, if snakes were eliminated, within 6 months the rodent population would be so large, that they may be knee deep.

The media often portrays snakes in a negative light, from the Jungle Book to Snakes on a Plane. We all have things we are afraid of, I am afraid of heights, but we can still respect the place the things we are afraid of hold in our environment. I can appreciate the view from a cliff while avoiding standing on the ledge, and we can appreciate the role a snake plays without chopping its head off.

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