By Eric Brotman
RVer Tim Slack emailed us recently from Arizona with a question we hadn’t heard before: “Are there any reasonable ways to keep snakes away from the vicinity of an RV? I’m generally pretty fond of snakes, but we’re in rattlesnake territory lately and yesterday had a 3-foot diamondback heading for our cat in her outdoor playpen. When I disturbed its slithery stalk, it coiled up right under our entry steps!”
Tim had been told Boogey Lights (stringed LED decorative lights) around the area might help, or encircling the perimeter of his site with a rope the rattlers would mistake for another snake and not cross.
Neither of those methods would do much good, according to Bob Myers, Director of the American International Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Keep in mind snakes are shy creatures that do their best to avoid confrontation with larger animals,” said Myers. “A diamondback would probably not stalk a cat, as cats can be vicious killers and are much larger than a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes prefer to stalk small prey. What looked like stalking to Tim was more likely the snake wanting to go from point A to point B and the cat pen just happened to be along the way.
“Other than digging a moat filled with kerosene around your RV, I can’t think of any guaranteed way to keep rattlesnakes away from your vehicle. But there are things you can do to lessen the chance of attracting them.”
RVers can most effectively avoid rattlers by removing any spilled food from their site. Pet food and birdseed attract rodents and birds, both of which top the list of rattlesnakes’ preferred prey. “Rattlesnakes rely on their sense of smell the way humans rely on their sense of sight,” said Myers. “They can follow rodent trails and sometimes will sit on them to wait for rats to return.”
Avoiding heavy ground cover and brush is also important, as such terrain can provide hidden refuge for snakes.
If you walk your dog in rattlesnake territory, think about having him vaccinated in advance by a veterinarian. The vaccination might lessen the effects of a bite, should one occur.
Don’t worry needlessly about baby rattlers. Despite a persistent belief that baby rattlers are more toxic than adults, Myers said the opposite is true. “Young snakes are potentially a meal for predators. They are more defensive than adults, but a baby rattler has only 1/30th to 1/50th the volume of venom to inject, compared to an adult.”
Myers recalled a young boy who picked up a baby rattlesnake and held it in front of his face. The snake bit him right between the eyes, but the boy suffered only swelling and discomfort.
“The truth is,” said Myers, “approximately one person in a thousand bitten by a rattlesnake will die.”