Spring means higher temperatures, and that means more rattlesnakes are out and about in the deserts of Central and Southern Arizona.

As Doug Kreutz of the Arizona Daily Star reported last week, Arizona is home to 13 rattlesnake species. Most of those can be found in Southeastern Arizona, and they typically begin leaving their dens around this time of year. As of last week, though, only one rattlesnake bite had been reported to Tucson's Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, the Daily Star reported.

The center received about 160 reports of bites last year, but there were no fatalities reported in Arizona. On average, the center's director told Kreutz, fewer than five people in the United States die from rattlesnake bites every year.

That doesn't mean rattlers should be taken lightly, though. Here are a few tips, some of them from our Arizona Highways Hiking Guide, for avoiding a painful and potentially life-threatening bite:

  • The best place to find rattlesnakes is in thick ground vegetation — under, around and in large logs, and tucked into rock cracks. If you don't put your hands and feet in places you can't see, you probably won't be bitten. And don't count on the snake to use its rattle to warn you of its presence — baby rattlesnakes, typically born in summer, can't yet produce an audible rattle. Use a stick to bat the brush ahead of you before your feet get there.
  • At night, snakes like to sprawl on warm, flat ground and on asphalt, so use a light.
  • If you encounter a rattlesnake, take one or two steps back to get out of striking range. As a Coolidge man learned last year, you should not play with the snake.
  • If you are bitten, try to stay calm and sit still. If possible, get to a hospital quickly. If you must hike out on your own, set a moderate pace and remind yourself that this injury is not fatal.