very word, “rattlesnake,” seems to strike terror in the hearts
of many of us: our pulses race, our palms grow sweaty.
Our reactions to hearing or seeing a rattlesnake are
generally fear, hatred, and a desire to kill.
Are these reactions justified?
Generally, they are not.
you see a rattlesnake in southern Idaho, it is most likely a Great
Basin rattlesnake. There
are thousands of these rattlesnakes on the Department of
Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, or INL, but it is rare to see one, even for people
who spend their days working outdoors.
The snakes blend in well with their surroundings and try to
stay hidden to avoid predators, including humans.
rattlesnake usually only strikes a human for defense and as a last
resort. A rattler
will generally try to escape to avoid a potentially dangerous
situation. When a
rattlesnake feels the need to defend itself, it often will first
coil and rattle its tail in an attempt to ward off enemies.
rattlesnake bites are potentially deadly, less than one quarter of
one percent of rattlesnake bites are fatal.
Fatal cases occur when there are several bites; when the
snake injects venom directly info a blood vessel (this is
extremely rare); or when the victim is very young, very old,
already in poor health, or has consumed alcohol.
Several circumstances make a rattlesnake bite even less
likely to be fatal. Often
the strike may miss entirely, or the fangs will not fully pierce a
person’s skin, or the snake may simply not inject venom.
full-sized rattler can strike about half the length of its body.
A typical full-grown rattlesnake on the INL is between 3
and 4 feet long. Despite
rumors, a rattler cannot leap into the air and will not chase
are sensitive to even unintentional human disturbance. This sensitivity is greatly compounded by our fear and hatred
of snakes which leads people to intentionally kill rattlesnakes.
Rattlesnake populations are declining over much of their
range, but in comparison to elsewhere in the US, rattlesnake
populations on the INL appear to be relatively healthy.
This is likely due to a lack of human disturbance on the
If you hear a rattler, don’t try to kill, provoke, handle,
or disturb it.
All of Idaho's reptile, including rattlesnakes, have been listed as
protected non-game species with the state. A protected non-game
status means that people can't kill or possess the species unless
state law and commission regulations allow it. Fish and Game notes
Idaho law allows the killing of the non-game species if they
endanger human health, safety or property.