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A rare encounter near Rossland

The rattlesnake Daniel Papanek found while hiking. Photo by Daniel Papanek

A local man, Daniel Papanek,  found something totally unexpected during a hike along the Malde Creek Forest Service Road on Sunday, September 17.  It was lying in a coil, the tip of its tail barely visible and adorned with things that rattle when shaken.  Just to make sure of its identity, the man took a long branch and just tickled the creature with it ― and sure enough, it rattled.

Rattlesnakes are more common in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Boundary  areas and east of the Fraser River in southern BC. Rock climbers on cliffs near Hedley, for example, have been known to reach up for a handhold and find a dozing rattlesnake instead.  But sightings anywhere near Rossland have been very rare ― so far. 

Rattlers are the only venomous snakes found in BC.  All others are harmless, though some may bite, or attempt to bite, if sufficiently irritated.

The only rattlesnake found in BC is the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, described as "a stout snake" that  "generally is a quiet, non-aggressive snake "  Rattlers can grow to a metre long, and can weigh around 900 grams. 

Unless a person is unfortunate enough to step on one, a rattlesnake will usually strike only as a last resort when threatened.  Don't try to pose for a selfie with a rattler if you should happen to find one; that has proven too much irritation for at least one rattlesnake, and the cost was enormous ― it happened in the USA.  

Don't provoke a snake to a warning rattle, and keep your distance if you do hear a rattle!  Rattlesnake antivenin is stocked routinely in the emergency wards of hospitals where rattlesnakes  are more common, such as Kelowna and Kamloops. The Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital is unlikely to need it,  but does stock rattlesnake antivenin anyway.  Wildsafe BC has a list of actions to take if one is bitten by a rattlesnake; one item to note is that doctors in BC do not have to identify the snake in order to treat a snakebite.

Don't kill or harass rattlesnakes ― they're a protected species in BC.  It's illegal to kill, harm, or capture them.  An interesting factoid is that mother rattlers' eggs "hatch" internally, so they give birth to live babies.  The babies don't have rattles yet, just a "button";  they grow one new rattle each time they moult, and how often they moult depends on how fast they grow.

It's now colder than  rattlesnakes prefer, so rattlesnake-finding season is probably over for this year in this area, but do be watchful in coming years; you might see something rare, and you might avoid stepping on any creatures with fangs and dangerous venom.  And rattles.