Rattlesnake found in residential neighborhood in Steamboat as snake season peaks

Prairie rattlesnakes are the largest and most common species of rattlesnake, and typically grow to over three feet long with a maximum recorded length of five feet.
Kathy VanBlarcum/Courtesy photo

Around 10 a.m. on Wednesday, August 10, Kathy VanBlarcum, a resident of the Fairview neighborhood in Steamboat Springs ran a prairie rattlesnake over with her truck, just a couple of houses away from the Kid’s Kabin Preschool.

“It was coming into my yard,” VanBlarcum said. “I ran over it, which normally I don’t. Garden snakes, sure, but a rattlesnake, yeah I don’t want that coming into my yard.”

It’s rare to see rattlesnakes in a residential area, but during the hot summer months, they are known to wander miles away from their dens in search for food and water, according to Emily Taylor, Ph.D., a professor of biological sciences at California Polytechnic State University. 

In Colorado, it is legal to kill rattlesnakes when they pose a threat to one’s life or property. Those who possess a valid Colorado small game hunting license may hunt prairie rattlesnakes from June 15 through August 15. 

VanBlarcum said she has never seen a rattlesnake in her neighborhood, nor has anyone else that she knows in the area. She said that after she posted a picture of the snake on the Fairview neighborhood Facebook page, word had gotten around and she’s heard her neighbors talking about it. 

Taylor said rattlesnake sightings in residential neighborhoods are rare, but do happen from time to time, especially when temperatures arehigh and the air is dry.

“They’re attracted to the smell of water from irrigation systems or bird baths or things like that,” Taylor said. “Rattlesnakes don’t like to be where people are, but occasionally they’ll do it, especially if they need water.”

Wednesday reached a high temperature of 92 degrees Fahrenheit and was one of the hottest days of summer so far. 

Taylor has been one of the leaders of a research team that has monitored a hibernation den of over 1,000 prairie rattlesnakes in an outcropping near Sleeping Giant, or Elk Mountain. She said rattlesnakes typically leave their dens from early June to around early October, and during those months, rattlesnakes are known to approach the boundaries of civilization.

Taylor said she and her research team will be returning to Routt County in late August to continue their research of the prairie rattlesnake den. They will work in the area for three weeks, during which they will study a wide range of behaviors such as migration patterns and interactions between mother rattlesnakes and their “pups” as the researchers refer to the babies.

There are three different species of rattlesnakes in Colorado, but only prairie rattlesnakes, like the one VanBlarcum encountered, are known to live in high elevation areas. Prairie rattlesnakes are also the largest of the three species native to Colorado. 

According to the National Wildlife Foundations, rattlesnakes play important roles in ecosystems in ways such as controlling small mammal populations, and warn people against killing snakes that are incorrectly identified as rattlesnakes.  

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Prairie rattlesnakes aren’t known to be aggressive but do hide in tall grass. Across the road from VanBlarcum’s house is an open grassy field that she speculates may have been where the snake came from.  

There was another rattlesnake encounter reported by a Steamboat local near Bob Adams Airport, which was similarly on the outskirts of town. Rattlesnake sightings have also been reported in Hayden. 

Each year there are about 8,000 rattlesnake bites nationally, with only about five deaths, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorado sees an estimated 200 rattlesnake bites on average each year. The most recent death from a rattlesnake bite happened in July, when six-year-old Simon Currat was bitten along a trail in Colorado Springs and went into cardiac arrest. Before that incident, the most recent death in Colorado from a rattlesnake bite happened in 2017. 

VanBlarcum said she called Colorado Parks and Wildlife to report her encounter, but wildlife officers weren’t dispatched because the snake was already dead. VanBlarcum then discarded the rattlesnake carcass into her trash bin and fortunately, it was trash day in her neighborhood, so a truck picked it up later that afternoon. 

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