What you might discover slithering along a Prescott trail

By Maria Johnson
Staff Writer

After the winter snow melts away and the weather begins to warm, the urge to get out on the trails strikes many hikers around Prescott. Naturalists, photographers, runners, and explorers alike are bound to come across this startling sight at one time or another: a snake slithering across the trail.

If you come face-to-face with one of these tricky desert dwellers, back away slowly.  You do not want to seem a threat. Knowing what species you are dealing with can help ease your mind (or not); it can also help with treatment, in the unlikely event that your skin comes in contact with fangs.

Rattlesnakes can be recognized by their triangle-shaped heads, slit-like pupils and, of course, the rattles at the end of their tails. In Yavapai County, there are seven species of rattlesnake, all of which are dangerously venomous and should never be disturbed. They can be easily confused with the harmless Gopher Snake, a large species that looks very similar to a rattlesnake, but has a slender head, round pupils, and no rattle.

The Arizona Coral Snake is a brightly-colored, venomous species, and can be recognized by the red, yellow, and black bands that encircle its body (the red bands always touch the yellow). Snake expert Gary Sleater explains that, although this species has very toxic venom, it is very reluctant to bite. “There have been no recorded human fatalities from the bite of the Arizona Coral Snake,” he says. A non-venomous look-alike is the Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake, but it has white bands bordered by black bands.

Non-venomous Garter Snakes are commonly encountered near creeks in Arizona. Another species you can breathe a sigh of relief around is the blue-yellow Sonoran Whipsnake, an elegant creature often found in canyons and tree canopies.

The rattlesnake and coral snake are the primary species to look out for in Yavapai County. If you are bitten by any snake, remain calm, keep the bite below your heart and seek medical attention as soon as possible. The old saying is true: snakes are just as scared of you as you are of them. Look out for them, as you enjoy a hike around Prescott, and keep your distance.  They are just as eager to keep their distance from you.

This article appeared in the March 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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