MISSOULA – The warm weather has caused a sudden jump in snake sightings in the hillsides surrounding the Missoula Valley.
“As temperatures warm up, they’re wandering further and further away. They are active, looking for food, warming up, and this is the time of year you end up seeing them on out trail systems,” says Missoula Conservation Land Manager Morgan Valliant.
So what exactly is out there? There are three primary snakes habitating Mount Jumbo and Water Works Hill: garter snakes, rubber boas and the aggressive bullsnake.
“The bullsnake is a rattlesnake mimic,” Valliant says. “Their patterns look very similar, their head shape is different and they are more aggressive. They’ll make a hissing sound, they’ll shake their tail, they’ll pretend to be a rattlesnake and they will actually try to attack you.”
The good news is that none of these snakes, including the bullsnake, are venomous.
Valliant says that there have been no rattlesnake sighting in recent years in the Mount Jumbo area, but there is a known rattlesnake den located between Marshall Canyon and Bonner Milltown. He says they could certainly settle onto the Mount Jumbo hillside.
“There’s no reason they couldn’t live on the habitats of the north hills that Jumbo provides. They’re great snake habitat.”
Most reports of snake sightings come from trail runners who can more easily sneak up on snakes. Valliant adds that it’s easier to find snakes in the early season, as they first become active.
“They’re actually just concentrated in certain areas and normally that’s near an old stump or a rock, a rocky area. Later in the summer in July, they’re spread out all across the hillside, so we don’t end up having as many sightings.”
If you should encounter a snake, it’s wise to keep your distance. The hillsides are a wildlife protected area, an area where snakes are allowed to thrive.
Valliant is encouraging the public to contact Conservation Land Management if you see a bullsnake or if you think you may have seen a rattlesnake.
Reporting by Russ Thomas for MTN News