LETHBRIDGE: First it was grizzly bears coming out of hibernation now, it's Western
Prairie Rattle Snakes. The snakes have several hibernaculums (pits or
underground chambers where they hibernate over winter) along the western side of
the Oldman River.
The snakes traverse the west side river valley and are most
common in the south-west area of the city, including Paradise Canyon, Popson and
Cottonwood parks, as well as Riverstone and below the University.
Coreen Putnam, Helen Schuler Nature Centre coordinator, says the rattlesnake
population in Lethbridge is small and the Western Prairie Rattle Snakes that
live here may have been, at one time, much more abundant in the area.
Provincially, the reptile is "Blue Listed", which means their populations have
undergone significant declines and their population or the habitat they require
may be at risk. For that reason, the snakes are 'protected'. It is illegal to
kill, harm or possess rattle snakes or their parts. Not only is the creature protected but, so is their
habitat and their denning sites.
In the spring, rattle snakes will generally 'hang-out' around their
hibernation sites because of the uncertainty of the weather. If it turns cold
again, they can easily return underground. Because snakes are cold blooded, they
have to raise their body temperature by way of the environment, specifically,
the sun. For that reason, people will most frequently see the reptiles sunning
themselves on a rock or cement. Putnam notes, "They are very susceptible to road
kill because they are drawn up to roads because the pavement is warm. Part of a
snake's daily requirement is getting access to warmth and sunlight, which helps
them digest the food they have inside of them". Putnam asks everyone to "give a
snake a break' and slow down on the roads and watch out for them. Do Not run
over them. There are significant fines and charges for killing a rattlesnake in
According to Putnam, rattlesnakes play a key role in our ecosystem,
particularly in controlling the rodent population.
When walking along the west river valley or in areas that might be frequented
by the snakes, keep any pets on a leash. If you encounter a rattlesnake, walk
away from it slowly. Be sure to look where you are walking, just in case there
is another one nearby. Give the snake plenty of room to escape from you.
Putnam explains, "The wonderful thing about rattle snakes, is that they are a
very shy species and would prefer to get out of your way, even more than you
would like to get out of their way. One of their first lines of defense, is the
rattle on their tail, which sounds like a buzzing, raspy sound". She notes that
it takes a rattler a lot of energy to produce the venom used in a bite so,
striking out is only done when they are threatened or in a dire situation.
Rattle snake bites are uncommon in our area. If you are bitten, stay calm
and get to the hospital. To Putnam's knowledge, there has never been a death
due to a rattle snake bite in Lethbridge.
If you require a rattlesnake to be removed from your property or a
recreational area near you, please call the Rattlesnake Call Line at