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caption: Chris holding a Northern Pacific rattlesnake. The age of a snake can be determined by the number of coils on their rattlers. 
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Chris holding a Northern Pacific rattlesnake. The age of a snake can be determined by the number of coils on their rattlers.
Credit: Chris Morgan

Sitting on a den of rattlesnakes

Rattlesnakes have long been persecuted, even killed for sport or having their entire dens burned. I head out with two wildlife biologists to look for rattlesnakes as they emerge from hibernation and learn about the important role these snakes play in our ecosystem.

John Rohrer with the US Forest Service gives me a warning before we head out to find a rattlesnake. “It should go without saying but I'll say it anyway,” he says. “Rattlesnakes are venomous. And their bite can inflict harm on humans. And so we want to do everything we can not to get not to get bit.”

If one of us is envenomated (bitten and injected with venom) then we immediately will have to head to the nearest hospital. The closest hospital that has anti-venom is over an hour and a half away.

Now to put things into perspective, John explains that about 9,000 people in the United State are envenomated by venomous snakes every year and of those only about five people die, usually as the result of pre-existing conditions. But my goal on this hike is not to become a statistic, so I keep a close eye on the ground as we head out, looking for Northern Pacific rattlesnakes.

caption: Sitting near a rattlesnake den in the North Cascades of Washington state. Wildlife biologists John Rohrer (left) and Scott Fitkin (center).
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Sitting near a rattlesnake den in the North Cascades of Washington state. Wildlife biologists John Rohrer (left) and Scott Fitkin (center).
Credit: Matt Martin

Recommended links from Chris Morgan:

The Burke Museum

Searching for Snakes in the Methow Valley

Snake info: The Washington Department of Wildlife

THE WILD is a production of KUOW in Seattle in partnership with Chris Morgan and Wildlife Media. It is produced by Matt Martin and edited by Jim Gates. It is hosted, produced and written by Chris Morgan. Fact checking by Apryle Craig. Our theme music is by Michael Parker.