Numerous sightings of rattlesnakes have been reported in the southern Wood River Valley this spring. One dog was recently killed by a rattlesnake bite, prompting pet owners to take warning in certain areas.
“There have been tons of sightings but only one actual bite reported here,” said Kimberly Berry, a veterinary technician at the Sawtooth Animal Center in Bellevue.
Berry said “a very large dog” was brought to the clinic with a mysterious illness that was later shown to be the result of a rattlesnake bite. It later died.
“We have been doing a lot of snake-venom vaccines the last month or so,” said Berry, who, along with other veterinarians in the valley, offers a $19 injection to protect against snakebites.
The Western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) is the only venomous snake in Idaho. After a long winter of hibernation, they are emerging from rocky dens to seek out small mammals, birds and amphibians for food. When surprised or threatened, they can deliver a potentially lethal bite to animals much larger.
Snake dens, or hibernacula, are usually located on south-facing slopes and are not shaded by vegetation.
Though the Western rattlesnake’s range reaches altitudes of 11,000 feet, reports of their regional presence north of the East Fork of the Big Wood River are rare.
“They have been seen in Hailey from Carbonate Mountain all the way over to the Wood River High School,” said Susie Lambert, a receptionist at the Sun Valley Animal Center, south of Ketchum.
Karl Nichols, the owner of the Nichols Group property management company, recently sent out an email to clients reporting that a rattlesnake was sighted at Copper Ranch in the Woodside subdivision of Hailey.
“This was the first time we have ever had a rattlesnake snake reported at one of our properties,” Nichols said.
Rattlesnakes in the southern Wood River Valley, especially Croy Canyon near Hailey, send up to 10 dogs each year to the veterinary clinics.
Amateur herpetologist and longtime Wood River Valley resident Alan Rickers has tracked and photographed rattlesnakes in Democrat Gulch and elsewhere in and around Croy Canyon for many years.
Rickers told the Mountain Express in 2016 that he knows of three snake dens near Democrat Road. He said he once spotted 90 snakes near one of these dens in an hour and half.
Snakes are considered a beneficial component of the ecosystem because they help control rodent populations.
If bitten, a person is advised to stay calm, call 911 and proceed to a medical center, keeping the heart above the bite area.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about 8,000 people per year are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States, but only nine to 15 victims die.