JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Mid-April marks not only tax day every year, but is about the time rattlesnakes start emerging from hibernating in their dens in Colorado, and this year is no different.
“It’s around the right time of year for rattlesnakes to be emerging,” said Joe Ehrenberger, a snake expert with Adaption Environmental Services, told CBS4 last week.
Ehrenberger and Dr. Nick Brandehoff, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician, recently led a group through the foothills of Jefferson County on a snake-seeking mission and allowed a CBS4 crew to come along.
“We will call 911 if there is a bite,” advised Ehrenberger. “It will be up to the dispatcher to decide if they dispatch a helicopter or an ambulance.”
With that warning, the group of about 10 doctors and snake researchers went off-trail to see if rattlesnakes had emerged yet from their dens. It didn’t take long to come upon a young rattlesnake in its rocky den. The snake experts estimated it was about six months old.
“They’re medically significant,” said Brandehoff, who said a bite from a young rattlesnake can be as consequential as a bite from an adult.
He said a bite from the younger snake would lead to pain, swelling, potentially some bleeding.
“You’d be in a lot of hurt,” he said.
Ehrenberger said a bite, even from a young snake, would lead to the sound of sirens and doctors poking and prodding you.
“They’re around,” said Brandehoff. “It’s just a matter of putting eyes on them.”
On this hike through the foothills on a cool and breezy Sunday, there were many trail users out running, hiking, riding mountain bikes and walking their dogs.
The experts advised to keep dogs tightly leashed and avoid flexible leashes that might allow pups to stick their noses into snake dens. They said allowing dogs off-leash was not advised.
They also encouraged keeping one earbud out so you can hear a rattlesnake if it is providing a warning of its presence. Brandehoff suggested staying in the middle of trails and keeping your eyes on the edges.
If you do encounter a rattlesnake, he said they “don’t chase. They won’t come after you. Their motive is to get away from you and to avoid you.”
The snake experts said a rattlesnake shaking its tail is agitated and is, “Telling you to back up and turn around,” said Ehrenberger. “It’s saying it sees you. Take a step back and give the rattlesnake time and space to move on its own. It needs time to figure out what’s going on and know that it can escape.”
The men advised always carrying your cellphone on trails in case there is a bite.
If that happens, try to keep the extremity that was bitten immobilized, stay calm and get to a hospital as quickly as possible.
“The more you move muscles, the more the venom moves quickly,” said Brandehoff, who is President of the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation, which conducts research, training and treatment of snakebites.
The last person to die in Colorado from a snakebite was in 2017.
Brandehoff and Ehrenberger said the idea of cutting around a snakebite and sucking out the venom does not work, despite what you may have seen in movies.
It’s estimated about 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the U.S. and about five people die from those bites.