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Be a Friend to Snakes

Learn to live with snakes.

The Species: Snakes in the City

New Mexico is home to around 50 snake species, including eight endangered or threatened species. Although snakes are more common in rural and semi-rural areas, you may encounter snakes in our city’s residential neighborhoods, parks, and open spaces. Especially in drought conditions, snakes travel farther in search for food and water.

Most snakes are completely harmless and not venomous. These include gopher snakes (or bullsnakes), coachwhips, garter snakes, rat snakes, and many others. They offer effective rodent control as they hunt mice and rats both above and below ground, routinely entering rodent burrows and nests.

Snakes don’t see or hear very well. They respond most to motion and vibration. Snakes do not have nostrils, but they smell with an organ on the roof of their mouth called the Jacobson’s organ. They stick out their tongue to collect chemicals and deliver them to this organ to get more information about their environment.

Rattlesnakes are the only venomous snakes in Albuquerque. You are less likely to see rattlesnakes in the city, but with the sprawl of homes encroaching on their natural habitat, it’s good to be prepared. Western diamondback rattlesnakes and prairie rattlesnakes are common venomous snakes, and they will defend themselves if people or pets approach. Keep your distance!

It’s not always easy to tell snakes apart. Most snakes have camouflage patterning and blend in with their surroundings. When spotting a snake, keep your distance and look at their head and tail: a rattlesnake has a wide triangular head, narrow neck, and a rattle at the tip of their tail. But don’t rely on your ability to identify a snake: it’s always wise to leave any snake alone.

See the Snakes Fact Sheet!

Did You Know?

Snake venom is used to develop common medicines that treat hypertension and heart conditions. In 1980, the first such drug was approved for medical use and its developer received the Nobel Prize. Since then, snake venom has played an important role in developing life-saving drugs for serious medical conditions ranging from thrombosis to cancer.

Snake Season

New Mexico snake season is usually April through October. Snakes are inactive in the winter because they are cold-blooded creatures, which means their body temperature depends on the outside temperature. Once the weather warms, snakes leave their winter den and search for food, water, and mates. After mating, rattlesnakes give live births, while most non-venomous snakes lay eggs.

New Mexico is home to 7 types of rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes give birth between August and October. Mother rattlesnakes care for their babies for 1 to 2 weeks after birth, or until the babies’ first shedding.

Young snakes have a natural drive to explore and, due to their smaller size, may feel threatened more easily than their adult counterparts. Give young snakes plenty of personal space!

In their active season, snakes move to shaded areas when it’s hot, and to warm surfaces when it’s cool. Be aware of snakes sunbathing on roads in the mornings and evenings and sheltering in shady crevices during the heat of the day.

The Challenges: Snake Safety

Snakes have suffered immense changes to their habitat. Urban development breaks up their land and isolates them. It’s difficult for a snake to move across unfriendly terrain and adapt to unfamiliar spaces. As the human population grows, snakes get displaced and their numbers reduced.

Snakes fulfill an important function in the ecosystem and are very beneficial to humans, including for controlling the rodent population. Non-venomous snakes pose no threats and create no problems for humans. Snakes won’t raid your garden or chew up your belongings, but they will eat the critters that do!

Venomous Snake Bites

Rattlesnakes are not aggressive and will crawl away if they can reach cover safely. If that’s not possible, they will defend their position: if they are cornered and perceive a threat by a larger animal, including dogs and humans, they will assume a coiled pose, rattle loudly and open their mouth. These behaviors are intended to scare off the intruder. They will strike if the intruder doesn’t stop and back away. A bite from a venomous snake means a trip to the hospital, so keep your distance!

It is very rare for a human to get bitten by a snake. If it does happen, it’s usually because people tease, harass, or try to catch or kill a rattlesnake.

What happens in a snake encounter is largely up to you: once you spot a snake, you have already reduced the risk of a bite to virtually zero, because now you can keep a safe distance.

Did You Know?

You are six times more likely to die from a lightning strike than a snake bite!

Each year, around 7,000–8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S., that’s less than 0.0025% of the population. Of these bites, fewer than 6 are fatal.

Action Tips: Be a Friend to Snakes! ❤  What You Can Do

We live in snake country, and we must be prepared for safe encounters with venomous snakes. Teach your kids and your pets to respect snakes and keep 10 feet away so that even the largest ones can’t reach you. If you want to discourage snakes from entering your yard, modify the surroundings so that snakes find them unattractive. No repellants, chemicals, or traps exist to control snakes.

The words Tip #1

Make Your Yard and House Unattractive to Snakes

By keeping snakes out, you will forgo an important rodent control method. But if you’re worried about rattlesnakes, here’s what you can do:

  • Remove potential snake shelters: debris and junk piles provide cool, damp, dark hiding places for snakes.
  • Stack firewood on a rack at least 1 ft off the ground, and not against your house.
  • Seal any cracks and crevices that could offer entry into your house, for snakes or rodents.
  • Use natural ways to control or keep out rodents (see our factsheet on rodent control). Remember, snakes are attracted by the presence of rodents.
  • Don’t feed or water pets or birds on the ground. Remove birdseed that has fallen on the ground.

The words Tip #2

Keep Snakes Safe

Even if you don’t want to attract snakes, you also shouldn’t endanger them.

  • In your yard, remove mesh that could entangle snakes.
  • Don’t use sticky traps or glue traps for rodents or pigeons.
  • Don’t use rodenticide, which can poison any animal that eats rodents.
  • While driving, watch for snakes that may be attracted by the warm surface of paved roads.

The words Tip #3

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Move cautiously near areas preferred by snakes, such as rock outcrops, downed trees and logs, water’s edge, and bases of shrubs. While most rattlesnakes will give a loud warning with their rattle, it’s possible that they get surprised or that they have lost their rattles.

  • Look before placing your hands and feet.
  • Wear gloves when moving rocks or brush.
  • Wear sturdy shoes, not sandals, when hiking or doing yardwork.
  • If crossing rough terrain or tall vegetation consider wearing snake gaiters which provide an added layer of protection against snakes, biting insects, and weather.
  • If you can’t see, use a long stick to disturb vegetation and hidden animals.

Be aware at nighttime, too: rattlesnakes can be out at any time.

The words Tip #4

Keep Dogs Safe

Dogs are at much greater risk of suffering a rattlesnake bite than people, and with more severe consequences. Dogs tend to stop and sniff things on the ground or pursue other animals. To a rattlesnake, this appears to be threatening behavior by a large predator, so they will often strike to defend themselves. Because dogs are smaller than humans, snake poison will harm them more.

  • Train your dog to avoid snakes. Dogs must learn to stay away and walk away from snakes, rather than sniff, play, or pursue. There are various methods to train snake avoidance; try learning about the use of positive reinforcement rather than shock collars to train dogs.
  • Leash your dog when hiking during snake season.
  • Construct rattlesnake exclusion fencing around your yard: a 4 ft high smooth metal sheet (or very fine hardware cloth) with a buried footing (can be attached to the outside of existing fencing).

The words Tip 5

When You Encounter a Rattlesnake

  • Stop! Rattlesnakes respond to motion. Slowly back away to a safe distance, at least 6 and ideally 10 feet away.
  • Respect warning signals. If you hear rattling or hissing, give the sound a wide berth.
  • Snakes have nothing to gain by chasing you. If one seems to be coming toward you, they are probably trying to escape. Help them out by getting out of their way.
  • Don’t try to capture or handle a snake.
  • If the rattlesnake is in your home or yard, they should be carefully relocated for everyone’s safety. Keep an eye on the snake from a safe distance and contact a local snake relocator or animal control.

In the Event of a Snake Bite

  • Remain calm and back away from the snake.
  • Do not try to catch or kill the snake. You will waste time and can receive another bite.
  • Don’t use tourniquets.
  • Remove constricting items such as jewelry or your pet’s collar, as swelling can cut off circulation.
  • Stay still and keep the bite area level with the heart.
  • Don’t put ice on the bite or try to suck or cut the venom out.
  • Go to a hospital or emergency veterinarian immediately; anti-venom is the only effective treatment.

Just Ask: Need Help?

  • Go immediately to a hospital or emergency veterinarian (call and ask if the vet stocks antivenom) if you or your pet have been bitten by a rattlesnake.
  • If you’re not sure whether the snake was venomous or whether the bite contained venom, get first aid advice by calling Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • To report and relocate a rattlesnake, call 311 or contact the city’s animal welfare department 505-768-2000.

Be a Friend To Wildlife ❤ ABQ Wildlife Coexistence

Albuquerque is home to over 850 animal species, many of whom roamed these lands long before our city's founding. They are important city residents who help maintain healthy local ecosystems. Always Enjoy Wildlife from a distance.

Be a Friend to Wildlife: Dos & Dont's

Don't feed wildlife (except songbirds)
Don't feed pets outside
Don't leave pet waste
Don't use chemicals or poisons

Do keep your distance
Do seal garbage &compost
Do plant native flowers
Do supervise your pets
Do stay on trails