Tracking Valley snakes: Researchers need public's help tracking rattlers

Posted at 10:37 PM, Apr 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-28 19:43:32-04

Rattlesnakes are creepy and crawly to some, but scientists say they need your help keeping track of the iconic Arizona creatures. 

Researchers are tracking rattlers in the Phoenix mountains for the first time in more than 20 years. Part of the project involves citizen scientists reporting sightings on trails. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is teaming up with the city and snake expert Bryan Hughes to make it happen.

"I've seen rattlesnakes tucked up under here before," said Hughes, who also runs Rattlesnake Solutions, LLC. "We have more species of rattlesnake in the Phoenix city limits than most states have." 

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Hughes wants to know where each of those snakes hangs out, how many there are, and when they're active. He says conservationists have a pretty good idea, like diamondback rattlesnakes hanging out mostly in low lying areas, but they don't know everything.

"Hikers can help us correct those biases to where we can point out where we're wrong about something or where rattlesnakes exist where we didn't think they were at," said Hughes, pointing out that hikers and bikers frequently come across rattlesnakes that researchers may never see. 

He said citizen scientists can help by snapping a picture (at a safe distance) of the snake. Then, send the picture, preferable with geo-tagging, to the research team email: 

There are a few spots you're much more likely to run across snakes. 

Trails along a wash, next to heavy brush, or near rodent holes are all places rattlers may be hiding to wait for a meal. The more remote the trail, the more likely you'll stumble across a snake.

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Hughes said most people see them when they're simply crossing a trail while moving from one place to another. 

"There are some people that see a rattlesnake crossing a trail, and they think they need to act or do something; go catch it or kill it," said Hughes.  

He said that in reality, people need to simply leave the snakes alone. 

"Even if it's rattling at you, it's rattling at you because your presence is keeping it there and it's defending itself," said Hughes. "Just get out of sight for a second, and it'll go away."