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Alberta - August 15, 2019

They slither, they slide, they hiss, they rattle, they bite, and, for many people, they are scary. Fear of snakes ranks high on the list of common fears and some research suggests that humans are born with ophidiophobia (the clinical name for fear of snakes).

So dealing with them, or potentially dealing with them, on a daily basis is far from an ideal job for most. However, if you live and work in Medicine Hat, you're likely going to cross the path of a tongue-flicking prairie rattlesnake or bullsnake. And if you find yourself near any of the compressors used to move natural gas through a pipeline in the "Gas City," your chances are even higher because snakes love to coil up near compressors.

Field staff keep their eyes peeled for snakes when out at sites.

Field staff keep their eyes peeled for snakes when out at sites.

"They love the heat and the vibration and hum of the machinery," says Heath Matthews, manager of the Alberta Energy Regulator's Medicine Hat Field Centre. "They're really timid and will usually scatter if people are in the area. They also give plenty of warning if you're too close."

Matthews adds that the snakes in the Medicine Hat area are small and have weak venom, so even if you are bitten, the poison isn't powerful. "You'll have time to get medical attention."

“They love the heat and the vibration and hum of the machinery.”
Heath Matthews, Manager, AER Medicine Hat Field Centre

Children, and smaller animals, such as dogs and cats, are more vulnerable to a prairie rattlesnake's venom. Adults, especially those clothed in head-to-toe personal protective equipment, like coveralls and work boots, face less danger.

Nevertheless, Matthews says that snakes are a hazard that is taken very seriously by field staff.

"When on a site, snakes are noted when doing a hazard assessment—we definitely have to watch for them in the warmer weather."

The Medicine Hat area is home to the prairie rattle snake and the bullsnake.

The Medicine Hat area is home to the prairie rattle snake and the bullsnake.

 

Six Snake Species to Spot

Alberta is home to six snake species:

  • the bullsnake
  • the plains garter snake
  • the prairie rattlesnake
  • the red-sided garter snake
  • the wandering garter snake
  • the western hog-nosed snake

However, only one of these species carries venom that poses a risk to humans—the prairie rattlesnake, which makes its home in the Medicine Hat area.

Despite the very low risk of getting bitten by a snake in Alberta, it's still important to know what to do: get medical attention and ensure the bite area is properly cleaned. Even if the snake isn't venomous, a bite can lead to an infection.

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Story Comments

Sheila Stewart

Really enjoyed the story, thanks, and love the title.

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