Campus Life

Sharing the prairie landscape with rattlesnakes

The University of Lethbridge is built into the coulee slopes along the Oldman River, an area that’s also habitat for the prairie rattlesnake.

Rattlesnakes are periodically seen on campus during the spring, summer and fall months as they travel in search of food. This fall, the rattlesnakes will migrate back to their den site for the winter but they may appear on campus over the next couple of months. A locally made video of a recent rattlesnake relocation can be found on YouTube at Rattlesnake at Piikani House.

“Rattlesnakes are cold-blooded and rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature. They cannot tolerate extreme hot or cold for very long and, because of this, most human encounters with rattlesnakes occur before noon as the day heats up and again in the evening when it cools down,” says Ryan Heavy Head, ecological consultant for the City of Lethbridge.

The prairie rattlesnake can be identified by its arrow-shaped head and its olive green, yellow and brown colouring.

Often the first indication of a rattlesnake is the sound of its rattle. Rattlesnakes are shy by nature and will retreat rather than strike if they have the choice. But if they are surprised, cornered or stepped on, they can strike at a distance of up to half their length. Their venom is not especially lethal and no one in Alberta has died from a prairie rattlesnake bite.

If you encounter a rattlesnake on campus, back away slowly, remain calm, and give the snake plenty of space. Call U of L Security Services at 403-329-2345 and they will stand by and make arrangements for the snake to be relocated.

In the event a rattlesnake bites you, remain calm and get to a hospital as soon as possible. Do not try to suck or cut the venom out as it is quickly absorbed into the blood stream. Early treatment of rattlesnake bites usually results in a full recovery.

In Alberta, it’s illegal to kill a rattlesnake, possess rattlesnakes or their parts, or damage their denning areas.

More information is available on the City of Lethbridge website and information pamphlets are available at U of L Security Services.