Rattlesnakes are everywhere in western South Dakota, from the prairie lands, to the top of Harney Peak. Now that the weather is cooling off a little, you may begin seeing more rattlesnakes during the day.

Why? Because they like cooler, or milder, temperatures just like some people do. So when the temperature is cooler in fall and spring, rattlers are more active during the day.

“Anytime the temperature gets above about 80 degrees, the rattlesnake will generally retreat from that and try to hide,” said Terry Phillips, curator of reptiles at Reptile Garden.

“So in the spring and fall, they're active right now during the daytime. In the hot summer months, they're usually active in the evening, overnight, and early in the morning.”

He said rattlesnakes are very defensive and not aggressive by nature.

“People are the more dangerous of a rattlesnake encounter,” Phillips said. “Anytime we bump into a rattlesnake in the wild, the best thing to do is to step back and leave it alone. Their only thought is to escape that encounter.”

He said occasionally rattlesnakes have to defend themselves.

“In the case of someone accidentally stepping on one,” Phillips said. “The vast majority of all snake bite cases in their country are a direct result of people trying to catch, kill or tease the snake.”

He said it’s important to teach young children about the risks involved with snakes.

“Any time you see a snake of any type, go find mom and dad or find an adult.”

Physically, the rattlesnakes and bull snakes look very similar, especially as babies.  South Dakota has several harmless, non-venomous snakes that mimic the appearance and behavior of a rattlesnake.

“The easiest way to tell if it's a rattlesnake or not, is to look at the end of the tail. If the tail rounds off, that's going to be a rattlesnake. If it comes to a long point, like a toothpick, then it's going to be a harmless species of snake.”

Phillips says if a rattlesnake bites you, seek immediate medical attention at a hospital.

"Time is tissue. The more time it takes to get to the hospital to receive anti venom, the more tissue damage that will occur on your body. You have to have the anti venom to slow the destruction of what the venom does. An untreated snake bite can lead to amputated hands, feet, legs, things like that. And fatalities are possible."