Resource Ramblings 2006-07

Prairie Rattlesnakes

As you get out in the park and other areas, remember that prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis viridis) are relatively common in South Dakota and in Wind Cave National Park. They are often found near exposed south-facing rock faces. Rattlesnakes are not generally aggressive to humans unless provoked and attacks on people are usually a defensive response.
Prairie Rattlesnakes - Crotalus viridis viridis
Prairie Rattlesnakes - Crotalus viridis viridis

NPS Photo

Rattlesnakes feed mostly on small rodents and they often seek refuge in rodent burrows to avoid the heat of the day or cold nights. They are commonly found in rodent areas, such as prairie dog colonies. They can also be found sunning themselves on ledges, on roadbeds, or other areas where they can absorb heat to get their blood moving.

Proper identification of venomous snakes is important. The prairie rattlesnake is born with a single rattle segment at the end of its tail called a "button". Additional segments are added as a result of shedding their skin. However, the number of segments is not an accurate gage of the snake’s age. Rattlesnakes have a relatively flat and triangular shaped head. The pupils of rattlesnakes eyes are cat-like, whereas all non-venomous snakes have round shaped pupils.

Rattlers try to expend as little energy as possible, therefore they are inactive for the most part. They rely on concealment and surprise for protection and hunting. Because of their excellent camouflage, rattlers are often impossible to see. They also do not always rattle prior to striking. Rattling is a nervous or angry reaction, not a warning. As a result, make sure you can see where you put your hands, feet, and behind. A good habit to form is walking around obstacles and being careful if you have to turn over rocks, logs, or other materials where rattlers may be resting. Also, avoid heavy underbrush or dense grasses.

Proper personal protection is important when outdoors, especially footwear that provides adequate protection for the feet and ankles. In some instances, snake chaps or guards may be wise. Also, loose-fitting clothing is better than tight, as rattlesnake fangs can penetrate clothing. If you happen to encounter a rattler, maintain a safe distance. Most snakes are not normally aggressive. Sometimes a snake may move toward you, but this is usually because they are seeking escape cover. - Dan Foster

Poison ivy - Toxicodendron rydbergii
Poison ivy - Toxicodendron rydbergii

NPS Photo

Beware of poison ivy

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii), is renowned for poisoning resulting from handling. It occurs at numerous locations throughout Wind Cave National Park. It is a native plant in the Cashew Family, along with skunkbrush, smooth sumac, cashews and pistachio nuts.

People generally develop sensitivity to poison ivy after several encounters with the plants, sometimes over many years. However, sensitivity may occur after only one exposure. A reaction to the plant can result from direct contact, or from handling clothing or pets that have touched poison ivy foliage. Smoke from burning poison ivy plants can blister lungs. The cause of the reactions (rash, blisters, and infamous itch) is urushiol (pronounced oo-roo-shee-ohl), a chemical in the plant sap. Stems or leaves broken by the wind or animals, and even the tiny holes made by chewing insects, can release urushiol. As a precaution after you've been outside, it's best to wash exposed skin areas with soap and COLD water.

With the exception of humans and a few species of primates, most animals do not appear to be affected by urushiol. Surprisingly, the cream-colored fruits are eaten by deer and many birds, including turkeys.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has an excellent site for information about dealing with poison ivy, including information about control methods and medical treatments. The url is: - Marie Curtin

Comments and feedback about Resource Ramblings are encouraged. Send and should be directed to Dan Foster, in person, or via email.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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