Rattlesnakes in eastern Washington are western
rattlesnakes or Crotalus viridis. Several subspecies of western
rattlers inhabit western and midwest states such as the northern Pacific
rattlesnake or Crotalus viridis oreganus in Washington, Oregon
and California; prairie rattlesnake or Crotalus viridis viridis inhabiting a swath east of the Rocky Mountains from the Dakotas to Texas,
and great basin rattlesnake or Crotalus viridis lutosus and others
inhabiting the desert southwest. The map below shows areas with habitat favorable
to western rattlesnakes in Washington State based on ecological region,
land cover and elevation, courtesy of the University
The rattlesnakes encountered
in eastern Washington typically display fear of people and slip away, rattling
meekly, or they may act docile -- staying put and remaining quiet when
approached-- this behavior seems typical during cooler times of day or
night, and/or when damp. They're more jumpy in the heat though.
These rattlesnakes are are a little over two feet long, many between
one and two feet. Their color can be brown against a tan/white background
to olive against a dusty light green background. Rattlesnakes make a distinctive
sch-sch-sch-sch rattling sound when disturbed. Grasshoppers may
make a similar sound, more like rapid clicking than rattling. To listen
to a rattler recording, click the recording
of an Eastern Washington rattlesnake.
Harmless gopher snake
Over many years of travelling eastern Washington I've heard of one person
getting bitten by a rattlesnake and don't let it get in the way of exploring
new places -- the truth is, they can be hard to find. However, snake bites
do happen, and
it's sensible to be wary of rattlesnakes, mainly to be aware when travelling where they live and look where you step or grab hold. It's also a good idea to wear boots covering the ankles and walk with a stick. A certain amount of fear or waryness is an
appropriate instinct but that said, available data shows
snake bites are relatively rare, mortality extremely rare, and most bites
are easily preventable in the first place. Here are some statistics on snake
bites from credible sources, to illustrate the level of danger posed by
rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes:
- Approximately 8,000 people a year get snakebites from all venomous
species in the U.S., 9 -15 victims die. (FDA) - U.S. population is about 300,000,000
- 25% of adult Rattlesnake bites are dry, with no venom injected. (Brown,
- Rattlesnakes can only strike a distance equal to 1/2 their own length
- 85% of the natural bites are below the knee. (cited by University
Of the bites mentioned above, most are due to handling pet snakes or tormenting
wild ones. This article from GORP helps clarify these statistics and illustrates
the importance of not harassing rattlesnakes:
and the Risk of Snakebite.
In any case, it's good to know what to
do and not to do in case you or someone you're with gets bitten. The difficult
thing to keep in mind is to treat it as a medical emergency, yet keep
the bite victim calm and get him to a hospital. This article by the FDA
covers the subject well:
Preventing Venomous Bites
In addition, here are some ideas for people worried about rattlesnake
bites to reduce risks:
- Talk to kids pointedly about snakes-- let very young ones know snakes
can bite and that bites will hurt, and especially try to impart good
judgement to teenage boys to help dissuade them from poking with sticks
or counting coup. Instilling some fear is good but promoting phobia
is not -- exaggerated fear can result in an inability to take basic
precautions, instill shock as the response to minor situations, and
can last a lifetime.
- Write down phone numbers and locations for the nearest hospitals and
clinics where you're going.
- Bring a cell phone when you're out & about, if you have one--
it may not work everywhere you go but may come in handy in open country
where there's a good signal.
- Bring good walking boots.
- Bring a walking stick.
This page is provided for people who live
east of the Cascade mountains or are interested in visiting eastern Washington
just to explore, or to search out and see these beautiful animals in their natural environment.
There's little to worry about and much to look forward to seeing, and
it's always a better to be prepared and not need it than need it and not
For more information about rattlesnakes, snakebite and children, and
to see what other wildlife can be seen in eastern Washington, follow the
related links to the left.