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Spring Snake Safety in New Mexico

Spring has sprung, and with warmer weather comes an influx of life. Our high desert landscapes come alive not only with fresh vegetation but a resurgence of animals that have been in hiding for the winter—migrating birds, butterflies, rodents, lizards, and snakes.

New Mexico landscapes coming alive in the spring.

Snakes have a reputation that causes fear for many who encounter them, but they are a part of life in the desert. While some snakes are dangerous, much of this fear stems from misunderstanding.

In fact, of the 46 snake species found in New Mexico, only 8 are venomous and have the potential to be dangerous to people and pets. In the state, there are 7 rattlesnake species and a coral snake that are venomous.

In this post, we will learn some interesting snake facts and go over some tips that can keep you and your beloved pets safe from snake encounters in the warmer months when they are active.

How Snakes Help People and the Environment

Snakes are an important part of our natural ecosystem and the animal food chain. While a healthy fear of some snakes is warranted, it's also important to celebrate all they do for us!

  • Snakes eat other pests, many of whom we don’t want around, like rodents, insects, and other snakes.

  • By eating rodents, snakes keep tick and flea populations in check. This helps keep people and our pets safe from the diseases they carry. 

  • Snakes are also a food source for larger wildlife populations, like foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey. 

  • By burrowing underground and moving through grassy areas, Snakes help distribute seeds and strengthen plant populations. 

  • Snake venom is actually used in life-saving medicines for humans!

  • When encountered at a safe distance, snakes can be an exciting view of the wild world and can instill us with a sense of awe, beauty, and wonder.  

Respecting Snakes and Staying Safe

Encountering a snake in the wild can be exciting, but it's important to stay safe—especially if you are dealing with one of New Mexico's 8 venomous snake species. Like any wild animals, they don't want to harm you but could attack if they are startled or feel threatened.

Here are some safety tips so you can avoid injury for you, your children, and pets this summer.

  • Be mindful of snake hiding places: Snakes can often be found hiding in dark, cool places during the daytime. This includes under rocks, in stacks of firewood, in junk piles, under porches, in crawl spaces, in gardens with heavy mulch, and in thick brush or unmowed lawns. Be mindful when walking through tall grasses or picking up rocks and debris off the ground. 

  • Remove hiding places around your home: To prevent a surprise encounter, keep your home clear of hiding places like piles of debris and unruly lawns. 

  • Keep snakes out of your home: Keep rodent populations in check as much as possible and check the foundation for cracks and openings 1/4 inch or larger. Plug any large holes in concrete and brick foundations with mortar.

  • Remove snakes safely: If a snake is spotted near or in your home, exercise extreme caution when removing it. Use a broom or a long snake pole to usher snakes into a bucket with a lid. Release snakes at least 2 miles from human dwellings. You can also use a glue board to catch snakes, but make sure the board is out of reach of pets and children. 

  • Learn to recognize snakes: It’s important to be aware of the types of snakes in your area and learn to recognize dangerous species. For a description of the 7 rattlesnake species and venomous coral snake species that live in NM, check out this information from New Mexico State University. To identify a coral snake, remember the rhyme, "red bordered by yellow can kill a fellow." Non-venomous snakes like the milk snake have red bands bordered by black.

  • Keep a safe distance: If you encounter any snake in the wild, please be respectful and keep a safe distance. Even non-venomous snakes can bite if they feel threatened. A snake is just as afraid to encounter a human as we are to encounter them! Remain at least its full body length away from the snake. 

  • Don’t handle a snake for fun: Unless you are removing a dangerous snake from your home or yard, please leave the snakes where you found them. Handling a snake is a surefire way to get bitten by one. 

  • Supervise your pets outdoors: A curious dog or cat is likely to be bitten by a snake if it gets too close. Keep an eye on your pets as much as possible when they are outside in snake territory. Keep dogs on a leash when walking in snake-infested environments for their safety and the safety of wildlife.

  • Listen for rattles: Rattlesnakes are known for their signature rattle, which serves as a warning to let us know they are there and feeling threatened by your close distance. Hearing a rattle and backing away can save your life. 

  • Dress to protect yourself: It’s always a good idea to wear long pants and boots (or other close-toed shoes) when walking in the forest, even in warm weather. 

  • If a bite occurs: Remain calm, distance yourself from the snake, remove any jewelry or watches from the area near a bite, immobilize the limb, and seek immediate medical attention. If possible, safely take a photo of the snake so that medical professionals can help to identify it. 

By being aware and prepared, we can co-exist in harmony with snakes, giving them the respect and admiration they deserve!

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