There are endless benefits of connecting to the outdoors – but with the rewards of enjoying open wilderness come the responsibility of exploring it in a safe manner. As the seasons change, so do the precautions that should be taken by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians visiting the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Hotter temperatures mean it’s even more important to carry plenty of water and bring extra sun protection such as a hat or sunscreen; summer weather also means it’s time to be on the lookout for one of the Landmarks’ amazing animals: snakes.
Snake Safety Tips
1. Stay On Trail
Staying on trail is the most important precaution hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians can take this summer. Snakes will usually remain hidden under the protection of bushes, logs, and rocks, and within tall grasses. Stay on designated trails where you can scan the path in front of you as you go, and be extra attentive as you travel along the trails.
2. Leave Snakes Alone
If you do encounter a snake out on a trail, the No. 1 rule to remember is: Leave the snake alone and it will return the favor. Don’t panic – snakes are not interested in humans, and will likely avoid any interaction. While many people imagine snakes coiled up, if they are seen along a trail, the animal will usually be stretched out to better absorb heat. Do not try to physically move the snake in any way. Give the reptile plenty of room and a clear escape route in the direction it is facing – it’s important a snake is allowed to continue to move in the trajectory it was originally headed, otherwise it will quickly return to the same spot. The snake will most likely slither into nearby foliage and you can continue on your way along the trail. If a snake isn’t moving, you can encourage it to do so by stomping your feet on the ground to create vibrations. Be patient, and always be prepared to turn back if the snake refuses to move and you can’t continue along the trail safely.
3. Watch Your Step
It’s important to never step, climb or reach into an area you can’t see. Dirt holes and the undersides of rocks are popular hideaways for wildlife in the Landmarks, and you don’t want to startle an unsuspecting snake by disturbing it on its home turf. Make sure you have a clear visual of where you’re stepping at all times in the Landmarks. If you’re in an area outside of the Landmarks where climbing is allowed, it’s also a good idea to never grab a ledge without being able to see what’s there first.
Following these tips will help avoid contact with snakes, but people often ask what they should do if they are bitten. Most snake bites occur when a reptile is surprised and is acting in self-defense.
Also, since snakes are an inherent risk in wilderness areas it’s another reason to never explore open space alone. If you are ever bit by a snake, it’s important to remember a few things:
- Try to identify the snake. If possible, use your cell phone to snap a quick photo. Note the animal’s size, the shape and width of its head in relation to its body, its color and pattern. This can help a medical professional treat the wound more thoroughly.
- Seek medical attention immediately, but stay calm. Try to keep your heart rate down by walking – not running – to the nearest trailhead, road or location where you can use your cell phone to call for help.
- It’s always a good idea to carry a safety whistle with you while exploring the open space, which will allow you to signal to other trail users that you are in need of assistance. The universal sign for help is three successive short blows into the whistle, pause, and then repeat.
Many people have a learned or instinctual fear of snakes, but it’s important to remember that these species are an essential, integral part of the Landmarks’ ecosystem. They make up a significant portion of predators that help keep other species’ populations in check – acting as a necessary, natural form of pest control. Without these carnivorous reptiles, rodents and other small prey would reproduce at unsustainable levels and throw off the ecosystem’s balance. Additionally, snakes are also an important food source for larger predators including mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and birds of prey.
If you see a snake along the trails in the Landmarks, there is no need to report them – the Landmarks are their home and they belong there. If you happen to see a venomous snake while at a higher-traffic area such as a trailhead or regional park, report the sighting to a local park ranger, open space patrol officer, or park staff. If you see a snake during a guided program on the Landmarks, just let one of the volunteers on the activity know and they’ll pass along news of the sighting to the necessary people.
Keeping these safety tips in mind helps visitors to the Landmarks and its native species safely coexist, ensuring the continued enjoyment of the open space for all. To explore the Landmarks this summer, browse a list of all upcoming hiking, mountain biking and equestrian programs at LetsGoOutside.org/activities. All docent-led activities are free with required pre-registration.