This 5-foot venomous critter lurks as national park warns tourists about snake season

For one tourist, a New Mexico national park’s slithering snakes are her “worst nightmare” — and she’s not alone.

Officials at Pecos National Historical Park issued a warning about snakes that might be sneaking around the park as the summer continues. Snakes — mostly rattlesnakes — are so common that park rangers said they have their own season.

“Some places have rainy seasons and dry seasons. Some places have the classic four seasons,” the park said on Facebook. “We have snake season.”

Tourists need to be extra aware of snakes during their time at Pecos, officials said. It’s likely they could run into a prairie rattlesnake, the most common snake at the park.

The park encompasses more than 6,500 acres of land, and prairie rattlesnakes are typically found along trails.

Prairie rattlesnakes can grow to be 5 feet long, and they use their tongues to smell and track down prey. They’re also thermosensitive and can have a “heat-sensitive pit” on the sides of their heads, according to the National Park Service.

The snakes prey on all kinds of prey from mice to small birds, gophers and prairie dogs, NPS said. Prairie snakes also ambush their prey and strike from a distance.

The prairie snakes aren’t typically aggressive, but they will lash out if they feel like their safety is threatened.

Tourists should never approach any wildlife at any of the national parks across the country, but that especially goes for a rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnakes can bite and release their venom through their teeth. Giving a rattlesnake space is the best way to avoid a bite, the National Park Service said.

“To avoid rattlesnake bites, keep a keen eye and ear out while hiking,” officials said.”Prairie rattlesnakes often seek out spots where they are well-hidden and can be found under thick prairie grasses or in shaded badlands formations.”

Maddie Capron is a McClatchy Real-Time News Reporter focused on the outdoors and wildlife in the western U.S. She graduated from Ohio University and previously worked at CNN, the Idaho Statesman and Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism.

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