Flipping over rocks and dead trees around Glendo Reservoir on Tuesday, Zack Walker came up empty-handed. Snakes are out there, but they can be hard to find.
Walker works for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as a herpetologist - an expert on reptiles and amphibians. For the last week, Walker has been combing the prairies and foothills of eastern Wyoming chasing down snakes for the Wyoming Hunting & Fishing Heritage Expo next week.
Rock after rock, hill after hill, and not a snake in sight.
"The snakes here are definitely shy, and very secretive," Walker said.
After about five hours of searching, Walker and his team called it a day.
The snakes will be on display in terrariums and used in demonstrations to teach people about hiking safety and facts about Wyoming's native snakes.
Assuming that Walker ever finds a snake.
With any luck, the booth at the expo will feature a variety of snakes, including a prairie rattlesnake, pale milk snake, several kinds of garter snakes and a bull snake.
The expo will be a chance for Game and Fish to teach people the reality of Wyoming snakes and help them identify which species are dangerous.
"Most people don't ask questions. They figure, 'A good snake is a dead snake,'" Walker said.
Even among the largest snakes in Wyoming, not all of them are dangerous. The bull snake is the largest snake in Wyoming. They're often confused with the prairie rattler, but they are not poisonous. They have similar coloring, and the bull snake will slap their tail in an imitation of a rattlesnake.
"You really just want to look for a rattle - or get away from it regardless," Walker said.
If it does turn out to be a rattlesnake, it's not as big a problem as most people think.
There are only two poisonous snakes in Wyoming: the prairie rattlesnake and their more poisonous cousin, the midget faded rattlesnake.
Midget faded rattlesnakes only live around Flaming Gorge and are in danger of being driven out of the state entirely.
Prairie rattle snakes are much more common and live in about two-thirds of the state. They're found almost everywhere in Wyoming east of the continental divide at elevations under 8,000 feet, in rocky outcroppings and short grass prairie. TheyÃ¯Â¿½re usually pale brown with darker rectangular patches on their back.
But the easiest way to identify any rattlesnake is by the rattle on its tail.
Rattlesnakes can control how much venom they release when they bite. They only strike when threatened, and if you're not pestering them too much, they usually don't deliver enough venom to seriously injure a human.
"Unless you're really pestering the snake - hitting it with a stick or something - they're only going to slap at you," Walker said.
These quick warning bites will come with a small amount of venom, but a snake would much rather save its juice for something it can eat.
On Tuesday, Walker's day wasn't completely wasted. He found several horned lizards (commonly known as horny toads), and the largest of them will be on display at the expo.
With several of Wyoming's reptile species on the brink of being driven out of the state, Walker said it's important for people to understand how to live with snakes.
"For example, the bull snake is a rodent specialist," Walker said. Without snakes, an important link the food chain would be missing.
Snakes control insect and rodent populations, and provide food for raptors like hawks.
There's also a myth that bull snakes keep the rattlers at bay. Walker said they probably don't eat big rattlesnakes, but they might eat a smaller one opportunistically.
"There's also just not a lot known about them," Walker said. "Bigger populations give us more opportunity to study them."
There are only two poisonous snakes in Wyoming: the prairie rattlesnake and the midget faded rattlesnake. The midget faded rattlesnake is by far the more poisonous of the two, but there aren't very many of them in the state, and they only live in the Flaming Gorge area.
The prairie rattlesnake is more common and much less poisonous. In the Casper area, they are commonly seen around the Miracle Mile and Pathfinder Reservoir.
The most important thing to do if you're in rattlesnake country is to stay alert and move away from snakes if you see or hear them.
If you are bit by a rattlesnake, get to a hospital as soon as possible.
"Time is tissue," said Zack Walker, Wyoming Game and Fish Herpetologist.
* If you're bit, try not to panic or run - raising your heartbeat will accelerate the venom's progress.
* If it's going to take more than 40 minutes to get to a hospital, put a loose bandage above the bite. If it's too tight, you risk cutting off circulation and damaging the tissue more than the venom on its own, so make you can fit at least two to three fingers under the bandage.
* Do not cut around the bite, or put ice on it.
* Do not shock the area. There are some electric shock kits for snake bites. The only thing those kits have been proven to do is sting like crazy.
* Do not try to suck out the venom; this is ineffective and risks spreading the venom to another person.
Snake bite kits with venom extractors, like the ones sold at most outdoor retailers, haven't been proven to help, Walker said. "But they haven't been proven not to work either."
Deaths from rattlesnake bites are rare, and when they occur, it's usually because the person was severely allergic to snakes.
If you start to have an allergic reaction - throat closing, extremely heavy swelling - taking an antihistamine will reduce the symptoms.
Wyoming Hunting & Fishing Heritage Expo
The Game and Fish Department will be hosting their annual hunting and fishing expo from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 10-12 at the Casper Events Center. The event is free.
It will feature exhibits from local businesses and hunting and fishing clubs, and demonstrations on wildlife and wilderness safety, including an exhibit on Wyoming snakes and reptiles. There will also be access to shooting ranges and a Pony Express re-enactment by the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.
For more information visit the Game and Fish Web site http://gf.state.wy.us/education/expo or call (888) EXPO-WYO.
Here's a look at the schedule:
- Shooting ranges: Two areas will be open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. all three days.
- Events for kids: Youth ages 10 to 18 can pursue the Youth Shooting Pentathlon by participating in shotgun, .22 rifle, muzzleloader, pellet gun and archery.
- Women's clinic: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Casper Trap & Skeet Club.
Events Center, main floor:
* Snake demos: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
* Hunting dog demos: 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
* Smokey the Bear: 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
The center will be open for the duration of the expo, and there will be a variety of presentations there, including a demonstration of Indian sign language by Ron Garriston. Shuttles will be available between the expo and the pony express rides, which will be at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily.