June 10, 2010 | Larry Vickerman, Director of Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield

We received a large amount of publicity over the past weekend about a rattlesnake biting a young man on the heel last Friday.  I wanted to assure our visitors that this is a very rare event at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield.  We have been open to the public for more than 20 years, and this is the first time a visitor has been bitten.  Fortunately, the young man is well on his way to making a full recovery. 

Here are a couple of things to know about snakes at Chatfield:  We have several species beside rattlesnake.  The bull snake is common out here.  Bull snakes can strike and hiss at you.  Many people mistake them for rattlers because of their striping and color, but they have no rattles and their stripes are usually a much darker yellow than rattlers.  Bull snakes are not poisonous, but can be aggressive and can bite.  The best way to handle bull and all other snakes at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield is to give them plenty of room.  They are only defending their territory because they feel threatened.  We also have red racers, garter, and green garden snakes.  These are all non-poisonous and harmless.  Still these snakes all can bite.  So, always give them plenty of room and back away if you encounter one.

Rattlesnakes at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield are sometimes seen on the dry prairie sides to the north and south.  The snakes like areas where prairie dogs burrow because it provides them a source of food and a ready den to hide out in.  The wet spring has been a boon to the rodent population, and rattlers have been enticed down to the Deer Creek area by the easy hunting.  We mow an apron along all our walking paths so snakes are easier to spot, but please BE AWARE that the snakes may lounge in the mornings along those paths to help themselves warm up in the sun. 

Staff members make rounds on our paths every morning to check for lounging snakes.  Snakes, when encountered, are gently relocated to the back areas of Chatfield where there are no trails. Always be aware of your surroundings at Chatfield.  Rattlers will sound a warning, but sometimes, if surprised, they can strike without warning.  Stay out of tall grass and do not walk along the edges of tall grass, whenever possible as well.

I have been at Chatfield for more than five years and roam over all the property frequently.  The number of rattler snakes I have encountered in those five years is less than six.  Nevertheless, I always keep an eye peeled to the ground.  I do not like surprises any more than the snakes do! 

By the way, the wildflowers at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield are just starting to come into full bloom.  Enjoy and bring your camera!


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