Near Snake Bite and Missoulians Debate: Rattlesnake or Bullsnake?
On Monday, the City of Missoula Police Department Facebook page posted a concerning reminder for hikers. Someone hiking had almost been bit by a rattlesnake.
As the news spread around Missoula, an interesting conversation started with a question posted by the Let's Improve Missoula Reserve Street Facebook page, "Was this snake correctly identified as a rattlesnake?"
As you follow the conversation, someone suggests that it was a bullsnake, not a rattlesnake. Others offered their experiences, saying they had seen bullsnakes in the same spot, while others shared experiences with rattlesnakes in the Missoula area.
Are There Rattlesnakes in Missoula?
It might seem like a silly question given that we have a whole recreation and wilderness area named for the reptile, yet I've heard people say "It's called the Rattlesnake, but there aren't any rattlesnakes."
But I've also heard stories of people seeing rattlesnakes on the University Golf course and one of the comments on Facebook says, "There is a known Rattlesnake den between Marshall and Mt Jumbo."
Here's What the Montana, Fish Wildlife, & Parks Has to Say
There's actually a "handout" on Montana's snakes available from the Montana Department of Agriculture and Montana, Fish, Wildlife, & Parks with a listing of Montana's snakes and key details about each species.
According to the handout the Prarie Rattlesnake "occur(s) through Montana below 6,400 feet." That would include a lot of Missoula. In regards to the comment about rattlesnakes not being in the Rattlesnake Wilderness, that's only somewhat true. The elevation range in the Rattlesnake wilderness is "between 4,200 feet at the southern boundary and 8,620 feet at McLeod Peak." Given the rattlesnake's typical territory, you could see them in parts of the Rattlesnake wilderness.
Many people thought that the snake on Waterworks Hill was likely a Gophersnake or Bullsnake. Their range is all over Montana, and "will be found in the valleys of western Montana up to elevations of 5,000 feet."
Could it have been a Rattlesnake or a Bullsnake?
In short, yes. The approximate elevation of Waterworks Hill is 3,402 Feet and given the ranges of both snakes, it's possible it could have been either one, but if someone says they saw a rattlesnake, why not trust them? When identifying snakes, FWP recommends paying attention to "pattern before color." Also, a Bullsnake is Montana's longest snake and can get up to 7 feet long, whereas Rattlesnakes are much shorter.
Either way, look out for those nope-ropes when you're exploring around Missoula.