Don't be rattled by snakes


Last updated 7/11/2023 at 11:20am

Photo by Mark Leppin

They're scary - but they'll leave you alone if you leave them alone.

Your odds of seeing a rattlesnake inside the city limits of Sisters are too low to calculate. Nobody seems to remember seeing one in town. Just east and north of town, it's a different story - although sightings are low, bites lower, and there is no record of death by bite in Deschutes County, although some bites have resulted in emergency care.

Your dog is more at risk than you, vets say, as they are naturally prone to get off trail and flush out movement. Curiosity can kill our four-legged friends, so the best advice is to avoid known rattler areas.

Rattlers do not respond to sound. They react to vibration. They rarely, if ever, bite except in a defensive posture. They will go to great lengths to avoid humans, biologists tell us. Still, many humans are afraid of snakes - some extremely so - especially the much maligned rattler.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, ophidiophobia is an extreme, overwhelming fear of snakes. The condition is called a specific phobia (fear), which is a type of anxiety disorder. Ophidiophobia may be associated with herpetophobia, which is fear of all reptiles.

Many people are somewhat fearful of snakes. But ophidiophobia is so extreme that it interferes with a person's life, well-being, or sense of safety.

Sufferers may act strangely in social, educational, or professional activities because of the phobia and are known to avoid friends' homes, pet stores, zoos, and other places where snakes may be. Or they may have a panic attack when they see or hear something that might be a snake (like a rope or a hiss).

They may have intense anxiety at the mere mention of a snake and take extreme action to avoid snakes, such as choosing where to live or refusing to go outdoors. A person with ophidiophobia may understand that the fear is excessive but can't control it.

A generalized fear of snakes is quite common. One in 10 American adults and one in five teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives, and ophidiophobia is one of the most common specific phobias.

Ophidiophobia can affect people of any age, starting in childhood or adulthood.

Get to know your rattler

We have no diamondback or timber rattlers. If we did, this story would be different. In Central Oregon we have only the relatively small Northern Pacific Rattlesnake that averages about 30 to 36 inches, much less than their notorious cousins.

Yes, they can strike about half their length, meaning 12 to 18 inches. No, they cannot lunge mid-air or stand on the tip of their tail and strike. Bites from our species of rattler are rarely fatal and would most likely be with children or when multiple bites are rendered.

Where they hide

As mentioned above, rattlers have no interest in us until we disrupt them. Around Sisters, most incidents occur when climbing or bouldering, when reaching onto a rock ledge or using a crevice for footing.

There are larger numbers of rattlesnakes in the Oregon Badlands just east of Bend, on highways, and of course Smith Rock, where at least once a year bites are reported. They are closer than that. You can find them easily in Cloverdale, Cline Falls, McKenzie Canyon, Dry Canyon, Lake Billy Chinook, and most anywhere you find juniper.

If anybody tells you they saw a rattler on the Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) paths, particularly the Peterson Ridge system, you should ask for evidence, although STA trails nearer Camp Sherman may produce a sighting. If you want to avoid them with certainty, get above 6,000 feet for your outings.

When hiking on Deschutes Land Trust protected lands, it's possible to occasionally see a rattlesnake at Alder Springs, Camp Polk Meadow Preserve, Coffer Ranch, Rimrock Ranch, and Whychus Canyon Preserve, according to nature writer and reptile specialist Alan St. John.

April is when rattlers emerge from their winter dens and that is when to be most vigilant. Come May or June they are well dispersed and pretty much out of sight.

If you get bit

Try not to panic. And don't do that John Wayne thing and cut the bite wound and suck out the venom. Using a tourniquet is riskier than the bite itself. Nor should you ice it or wrap it. Keep the victim calm and get to the hospital emergency room. Keep the bite area, usually an appendage, immobilized and if possible raised above the heart.

Snake bite antivenom serum is very fragile and not carried on ambulances or by search and rescue crews. It's highly volatile and temperature sensitive.

Pray you have insurance that covers the treatment. One vial (two or more may be needed) can cost over $3,000 per vial depending on who is administering it.

Rattlers are around in Sisters Country. If we mind our own business, they'll mind theirs. Don't let snake myths keep you from enjoying our amazing surroundings.


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