Rattlesnakes in Tahoe Basin more active as weather warms

Cheyanne Neuffer
Rattlesnakes inhabit the Tahoe Basin and surrounding areas. This snake is consuming a chipmunk.
Provided / Jim Beres

As the weather warms up and more people venture outdoors for hikes and mountain bike rides, they need to be aware of their surroundings.

There are rattlesnakes in the Lake Tahoe Basin and springtime is when they come out of hibernation.

Rattlesnakes can be dangerous, but they usually stick to themselves. People who choose to enjoy the outdoors need to be prepared to encounter native wildlife during adventures.

Henry Bzezinski, chief of El Dorado County Animal Services, said that we do have rattlesnakes in the Tahoe Basin, but they are fairly uncommon, and more frequently seen on the “West Slope of El Dorado County where temperatures are warmer.”

If you encounter a snake Bzezinski said it’s best to just avoid it.

“Be aware of your surroundings. Use a walking stick for safety. Keep your dog on a leash. Rattlesnakes always pose a risk. In general, rattlesnakes stay to themselves, but can be out in sunny areas,” said Bzezinski. “Keep your eyes open and, again, keep your dog on a leash. Keep children close by and use caution when climbing.”

According to the California Poison Control System, “A rattlesnake bite can produce painful swelling, bruising, tissue destruction, bleeding problems and, in rare cases, can be fatal. Most bites occur between the months of April and October.”

Sarah Hockensmith, outreach director at Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, agrees that there are definitely rattlesnakes in the Tahoe Basin. As overall temperatures increase, there will continue to be more rattlesnakes moving into the area.

She said she has seen several rattlesnakes at Echo Lakes and Lovers Leap areas. Rattlesnakes have also been recorded around Bijou in South Lake Tahoe and there are several that have been reported on the West Shore.

While sightings of snakes sunbathing in the middle of the day are common, Hockensmith said snakes surprisingly spend much of their time out and about at night, especially in the middle of summer.

More dangerous than rattlesnakes, tick and rodent populations are increasing. Ticks can carry Lyme disease and rodents in the basin have been documented carrying hantavirus and even the plague. Lyme disease, hantavirus and plague can potentially be transferred to humans.

Rattlesnakes eat rodents, reptiles and insects. They are essential at keeping rodent populations in check. Hockensmith said that rattlesnakes should be appreciated for what they do for rodent population and disease control.

“Rattlesnakes are part of our natural history,” said Hockensmith. “They belong here just as much as we do.”

While rattlesnakes can be dangerous and potentially harmful if provoked, they can be avoided.

Hockensmith says to be aware when you are hiking and recommends if you are wearing headphones to take at least one earphone out and “pay attention to your surroundings.”

Adult rattlesnakes usually give a courtesy warning before they strike. If you hear their infamous, unmistakable rattle, make sure to move away from the area.

The biggest risk with rattlesnakes are dogs. Hockensmith said that if you take your dog in the backcountry keep them leashed or make sure they are good with commands. Dogs can go right up to the snake ignoring the snake’s warning.

If you or your dog are bitten by a rattlesnake, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

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