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Of the ten snake species that live in Montana, only the prairie rattle-snake is venomous. Also known as the western rattlesnake, the prairie rattler is found in open, arid country and ponderosa pine savannahs. It often dens on south-facing slopes in areas with rock outcrops.

Rattlesnake bites are extremely rare. Of the hundreds of thousands of hunters, hikers, and backpackers traversing Montana each year, only five or six report being bitten, according to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver. The center also notes there was not a single death among the 45 reported prairie rattlesnake bites in Montana during the last eight years.

The prairie rattlesnake is a medium-sized species with venom glands that harbor only moderate amounts of venom. Nevertheless, prairie rattlesnakes have the ability to deliver a dose of venom lethal to an adult human. That's why anyone who spends time outdoors in Montana should have at least a passing awareness of snake-bite first aid.

Rattlesnakes are shy, retiring creatures. If left alone, they won't bother people. But if a rattlesnake thinks it will be stepped on or otherwise harmed, it may bite. These snakes are armed with a pair of hollow, hinged fangs that fold back against the roof of the mouth. A rattlesnake strikes most often on the hand, calf, or ankle, leaving one or two small fang marks. When bitten, a person will likely feel intense pain at the bite area. Other symptoms may include difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, swelling, and gangrene.

First-aid for snake bites

Though it's rare these days for someone to die of snakebite, it does happen. Learn more about the steps to take if someone is bitten.

Rattlesnakes play an important role in the balance of nature. Each year they consume millions of rodents, which can become agricultural pests and spread disease such as hantavirus. Unless a rattlesnake has invaded your backyard and poses an immediate threat to you, your family, or your pets, don't kill it. Enjoy watching this fascinating snake from a distance and let it be.

Snakes of Montana poster

Snake poster

Click image to download poster.

Snakes have an important role in our ecosystem, including free rodent control. But they don't have it easy; habitat loss and human fear result in the loss of many snakes. You can download and print the poster (click on the image). Even though the poster is quite large, most printers have the ability to scale it to fit their paper size. It prints nicely on 8.5"x11" paper.