- Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States.
- While most snakes in the area are harmless, several can pose a danger to humans.
- One species possesses neurotoxin venom that is considered among the world’s most potent rattlesnake venoms.
Located along the Colorado River on the border of Arizona and Nevada, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States. The lake provides water to nearly 20 million people and represents one of the most critical water sources in the country. The lake is surrounded by rugged desert hills and supports a wide range of wildlife. Bighorn sheep, mountain lions, great blue herons, geese, tortoises, and all manner of fish rely on the lake and its life-giving water.
Hidden amidst the rocks and canyons around the lake, you can also find numerous species of snake. While most snakes in the area are harmless, several can pose a danger to humans. In fact, Lake Mead features 4 different species of venomous rattlesnakes. Moreover, one species possesses neurotoxin venom that is considered among the world’s most potent rattlesnake venoms. Let’s take a moment to discover the 4 venomous snakes near Lake Mead!
The 4 Venomous Rattlesnakes Near Lake Mead
Mojave Green Rattlesnake
Also known simply as the Mojave rattlesnake, the Mojave green rattlesnake is the first rattlesnake on our list. You can find this venomous pit viper throughout the southwestern United States and central Mexico. It prefers high desert and lower mountain terrain with plenty of scrub brush present, such as sage or mesquite. On average, most specimens measure around 3.3 feet long, but they can grow up to 4.5 feet. As its name implies, the Mojave green rattlesnake typically appears pale green. However, they can vary in color depending on their surroundings. The tail sports white and black bands and a dark diamond pattern runs down the length of the back.
Mojave green rattlesnakes are ambush predators. Their diet consists primarily of small lizards and rodents. When threatened, they will actively defend themselves, which has led many people to see them as aggressive. They possess some of the most potent venoms among rattlesnakes worldwide. Their venom contains both neurotoxic and hemotoxic qualities. This means that the venom attacks both the nervous system and brain as well as skin and muscle tissue. Such a deadly combination makes the Mojave green rattlesnake one of the most dangerous snakes in the United States. Still, with proper medical treatment, the vast majority of people recover from bites.
Mojave Desert Sidewinder
The Mojave desert sidewinder goes by many other names, including the horned rattlesnake, sidewinder rattlesnake, or simply the sidewinder. It lives in deserts throughout the southwestern United States and central Mexico. Most adults measure between 17 and 31.5 inches long, with females measuring larger than males. Raised supraocular scales – the enlarged scales directly above the eyes – help shade the eyes and provide protection from the sand. These protrusions look somewhat like small horns, hence their name. They range in color from yellowish-brown to pink to gray or cream. The sidewinder moves horizontally by curling its body up and thrusting its head forward. This movement, known as sidewinding, helps the snake to move across loose sand and reduce contact with the hot ground.
Like all rattlesnakes, Mojave desert sidewinders possess toxic venom. However, their venom is relatively weaker than other rattlesnakes. In conjunction with their comparatively smaller venom glands, this makes Mojave desert sidewinders among the least dangerous rattlesnakes. That said, you should still seek medical attention if you get bitten by a sidewinder. A sidewinder bite can cause intense pain, swelling, and bruising. Additional symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, chills, and shock.
The speckled rattlesnake, or Michell’s rattlesnake, ranges throughout the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Its common and specific name honors Silas Mitchell, a doctor and prominent researcher of rattlesnake venoms. Specimens vary in size depending on the location. Smaller speckled rattlesnakes may measure around 25 inches long, while the largest recorded specimen measured nearly 54 inches in length. It gets its name from its unique spots or specks that cover its entire body. The base of the body can vary in color from tan to brown to white to orange. However, all speckled rattlesnakes feature spots either black, white, or brown spots.
Speckled rattlesnakes prey on lizards, rodents, and the occasional small bird. Although they rarely bite humans, some cases of speckled rattlesnake bites do exist. Their venom contains neurotoxins, but some specimens may also contain hemotoxins in their venom. Common symptoms include swelling and pain at the bite sight. Envenomation can cause additional symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, shock, impaired blood coagulation, and mild paralysis.
Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake
The southwestern speckled rattlesnake is also known as the pale rattler, bleached rattlesnake, and white rattlesnake. You can find it throughout the southwestern United States and part of northern Mexico. It typically inhabits rocky hillsides and canyons, which provide the snake with shelter during the heat of the day. Adult southwestern speckled rattlesnakes range from 3 to 4 feet long. The color of their scales varies according to the color of the rocks and soil in their environment. While some look brown or gray, others look pink, yellow, or white. Some specimens feature a pattern of bands, blotches, or spots, hence their name.
Southwestern speckled rattlesnakes primarily prey on small mammals. However, they may also hunt lizards and birds. Their venom can cause severe pain, discoloration, and swelling. Skin damage, such as blisters, is also common.
Other Venomous Snakes In Nevada
You can find several other species of rattlesnake in Nevada. Directly outside the immediate area surrounding Lake Mead, you can find several other rattlesnake species. These species include the Panamint rattlesnake, western diamondback rattlesnake, and western rattlesnake. Several venomous snakes not belonging to the rattlesnake family also reside in Nevada. These include the desert night snake and the southwestern black-headed snake.
What To Do If You Encounter A Rattlesnake
The best thing you can do if you encounter a rattlesnake is to leave it alone. According to a 1988 study conducted at the University of Southern California, rattlesnakes normally only bite when surprised or threatened. The study revealed that 44% of all rattlesnake bites occur when people accidentally step on or disturb a rattlesnake. Meanwhile, nearly 55% of rattlesnake bites happen due to people handling or grabbing a rattlesnake. By keeping your distance, you drastically improve your chances of avoiding a rattlesnake bite. If you encounter a rattlesnake in the wild, simply walk around the snake. Do not try to provoke the snake or move it. If the snake is in a heavily populated area – such as a playground – or in your home, contact your local wildlife authority to remove the snake.
Tips To Avoid Rattlesnake Bites
Follow these tips to increase your chances of avoiding a rattlesnake bite::
- Keep your pet on a leash while out walking in areas where rattlesnakes live
- Don’t wander off trails into areas with tall grass or rocky ledges where rattlesnakes like to make their burrows
- Always try to maintain at least 10 feet between yourself and a rattlesnake
- Wear tall hiking boots or rubber boots when hiking to protect your feet and legs
- Avoid reaching into crevices or cracks when hiking where rattlesnakes may be hiding
- Keep the grass in your yard short and remove debris where rattlesnakes can hide
- Remove bird feeders and cover trash cans, as they can attract rodents and other animals that rattlesnakes prey upon
What To Do If A Rattlesnake Bites You
If you get bitten by a rattlesnake, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm. While painful, most rattlesnake bites are not fatal. In fact, experts estimate that rattlesnakes bite between 7,000 and 8,000 people every year. However, of that total, only 5 people die from rattlesnake bites each year on average. In other words, following practical medical advice gives you a 99.9% chance of surviving a rattlesnake bite.
The first thing you should do when bitten by a rattlesnake is to get as far away from the snake as possible. Do not try to capture the snake. Instead, study the snake from a safe distance. Make sure to take note of its size, shape, and color. These details can help medical experts to identify the species of snake and choose the appropriate antivenom. If you can, immediately make your way to the nearest hospital or medical center. Rattlesnake bites can produce various symptoms in the affected area, including pain, redness, itchiness, and swelling. Other symptoms may include:
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty breathing
To treat a rattlesnake bite, remove any tight clothing or jewelry around the bite to avoid pressure caused by any swelling. You can apply a clean bandage to the wound but do not try to wash the wound or cut off blood flow to the area. Letting the wound bleed may allow some venom to release and may help medical professionals to identify the correct antivenom. If you begin to experience signs of shock, lie down and avoid unnecessary movements. Also, do not:
- Raise the affected area above the level of your heart – this may cause the venom to reach your heart more quickly.
- Ingest any medication, alcohol, or caffeine.
- Apply a tourniquet or ice.
- Cut the wound or try to suck out the venom.
Don’t let your fear of snakes stop you from visiting Lake Mead. The chances of getting bitten by a rattlesnake are low so long as you take the proper precautions. Generally speaking, snakes tend not to bite unless you give them a very good reason. By sticking to paths and watching where you put your hands and feet, you should have nothing to fear from rattlesnakes around Lake Mead.
Other Dangerous Reptiles Found Near Lake Mead
There are two venomous lizards in the world that have made Lake Mead their home and the Gila Monster is one of them. This reptile is the largest lizard in the United States and can grow up to 22 inches in length. Although it is rare that they will ever bite a person as they are very non-aggressive, they do have a highly toxic venom that can cause serious respiratory issues, eventually leading to paralysis. Unlike the rattlesnake, which uses fangs to inject its venom, this lizard must chew through the flesh of its victim in order for the venom, which is on the roof of its mouth, can travel down the grooves in its teeth and make its way into the flesh.
Other Non-Venomous Snakes Found Near Lake Mead
Lake Mead has 41 species of reptiles and 12 species of amphibians and one of the most well-known of those is the king snake. This large snake can grow up to 42 inches and is found in colors of black or dark brown with white or cream-colored rings throughout its body. Like a rattlesnake, it vibrates its tail when annoyed but it is non-venomous as they do not even produce venom. This reptile uses constriction to subdue its prey and unlike the rattler which is an ambush hunter, this snake is an active hunter and seeks out prey. While this is a non-venomous snake, its bite can still be rather painful and should be treated to avoid infection.
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- , Available here: https://www.nps.gov/lake/learn/nature/reptiles.htm
- , Available here: https://extension.unr.edu/publication.aspx?PubID=3763