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Living With Rattlesnakes

Lethbridge is home to prairie rattlesnakes which means that residents may encounter them when exploring our coulees or occasionally in urban areas. The information that follows is intended to help people co-exist safely with these shy creatures.

It is illegal to kill rattlesnakes, possess rattlesnakes or their parts, or damage denning areas. There are significant charges and fines for killing a rattlesnake in Alberta.

To have a rattlesnake removed from an urban area, please call 403 332 6806
(Phone number is offline during winter months).

To report rattlesnake sightings, please contact the Helen Schuler Nature Centre at 403 320 3064.

Where Do They Live?

Prairie rattlesnakes are more common in southeastern Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan. Here in Lethbridge, they reach the northwestern limit of their range. The majority of rattlesnake sightings are in west Lethbridge although snakes have been observed in the coulee areas on the east side of the Oldman River. The most common areas for sightings are:

  • Paradise Canyon and surrounding area
  • Popson Park and Cottonwood Park Nature Reserve
  • RiverStone
  • SunRidge
  • University of Lethbridge
  • Bridge Drive

Rattlesnakes spend much of their time on dry coulee slopes but will wander into cottonwood forests and wetlands in search of food. The benchland, or top of coulees where housing subdivisions now sit, were once critical summer habitat for these snakes.

How to Avoid Encountering a Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes are masters of camouflage. Make sure you remain alert and aware of your surroundings when hiking in the coulees, especially when you are in the natural areas of west Lethbridge. We recommend staying on established trails.

Your first indication of a nearby rattlesnake may be the rasp of its rattle. This is the snake's way of getting your attention to warn you of its presence. That being said, rattlesnakes will not always alert people of their presence. Their first strategy is to rely on their camouflage. For this reason, residents need to maintain awareness while they're moving in and around the coulees.

Do not step or jump over large rocks and logs without checking to see what is on the other side. Rattlesnakes can feel the vibration of your footsteps through the ground.

Keep your dog on a leash. A snake will likely defend itself by striking a dog that ignores the warning signs.

If You Encounter a Rattlesnake…

Back away slowly. Remain calm. Give the snake space.

Rattlesnakes are not aggressive and given a choice will retreat rather than strike. However, if surprised, stepped on or cornered, they can strike up to a distance about half of their length. People should never run when encountering a snake as there may be more than one in the immediate area.

It is estimated that up to 20% of their bites are dry (no venom is injected). Prairie rattlesnake venom is not particularly lethal and no one has died from a prairie rattlesnake bite in Alberta. Almost every year dogs are bitten by rattlesnakes in Lethbridge. They usually recover after several days of treatment with steroids and antibiotics.

What to Do If Bitten By a Rattlesnake…

Remain calm and get to the hospital as soon as possible. Do not try to suck or cut the venom out – it is very quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Early treatment of rattlesnake bites will normally result in a complete recovery. Contact a veterinarian as soon as possible if your pet has been bitten.

Snake Barrier Fencing

From time to time residents may encounter snakes in their yards. For some this may be a great learning experience, and for others it may be a most unpleasant and dreaded encounter. Some residents may want to snake-proof their entire yard, or perhaps only a vegetable garden or an area where children play. Any of these options can be accomplished with snake barrier fencing.

Click here for more information about snake barrier fencing from the South Okanagan-Similkameen Stewardship Program.

 

Who to Call?

If you require further information about rattlesnakes:
Helen Schuler Nature Centre:
403 320 3064
Alberta Fish and Wildlife:
403 381 5266

To have a rattlesnake removed from an urban or recreation area, please call 403 332 6806 (Phone number is offline during winter months).