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Be "snake smart" if headed outdoors

Rattlesnake warning sign at Buffalo Jump State Park
Posted at 9:55 AM, Jul 01, 2022

As temperatures climb in central Montana, rattlesnake sightings are also climbing. According to the Fort Benton Police Department, several rattlesnake sightings were reported during the summer celebration event last weekend. There was also a dog bitten in the community.

The prairie rattlesnake, Montana’s only venomous snake, is found throughout the state, including in and around Great Falls. The prairie rattler likes tall grass, river banks, and rocky outcrops that face the sun.

According to the US Food & Drug Administration, between 7,000 and 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year. On average, fewer than 10 of the bites end up being fatal. Up to 150,000 pets are also reported to be bitten each year. In Montana, the only venomous snake is the prairie rattlesnake. It is commonly found, as the name states, in prairies as well as near rivers and bodies of water.

First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park near Great Falls is home to many rattlesnakes. Employees encourage folks to come along for guided tours where snakes are often sighted nestled underneath rocks or slithering through the brush.

Clark Carlson-Thompson, the recreation manager at Buffalo Jump State Park, said that rattlesnakes will generally retreat when in close proximity to humans, however it is important to take to time to learn the safety precautions when heading outdoors. He explains, "If you do encounter one on the trail, make sure you know where it is once you hear that signature rattle. Once you know where it is, back away. Most of the time it will slither off because they don't want to mess with you."

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks does not regulate the killing of rattlesnakes. However, it may be illegal on a local level so it is important to check in with a local game warden or biologist.

Carlson-Thompson said if you are bitten by a rattlesnake, it's important to remain calm and call 911. Panicking or running for help only increases blood flow and spreads the venom. Carlson-Thompson said it also helps to take off constricting clothes or jewelry to prevent massive swelling.

According to Montana State University, the following types of snakes can be found in Montana:

The Western rattlesnake is Montana's only poisonous snake. It has a triangular head, blunt nose, narrow neck, stout body and a tail that ends in a rattle. Rattlesnakes are found in most of Montana and are 15 to 60 inches long.

The rubber boa looks and feels like rubber. This small stout snake (12 to 18 inches long) has small eyes, a blunt tail and is distributed throughout western Montana.

The racer is a long (20- to 65-inch), slender snake found throughout Montana. The belly is whitish to pale yellow with the back of adults varying from greenish grey to brown or blue.

The Western hognose snake is heavy-bodied and can reach 32 inches long. It has an upturned nose and its back is yellowish to gray-brown with three rows of dark brown blotches running longitudinally.

The milk snake is highly recognizable with a series of red-orange saddles or rings that are bordered by black rings and separated by white or yellow rings. This medium-sized, slender snake can reach lengths of 42 inches. It is rarely found in Montana.

The smooth green snake is rare in Montana and only reported in the far northeast. About 26 inches long as an adult, it is bright green in color above and whitish below.

The gopher snake or bull snake is very common in Montana. It can reach a length of seven feet and is readily identified by a series of large black or brown blotches that run down the back, and another series along the sides.

Montana has three garter snake species which can be identified by three yellow stripes running the length of the body. The stripes vary from yellow to orange-yellow to green-yellow along the back. The adults are 16 to 43 inches long and are found throughout the state.


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Rattlesnake warning sign at Buffalo Jump State Park
Rattlesnake warning sign at Buffalo Jump State Park