Chinese New Year falls on February 10 this year, but Tucsonians may not be too eager to celebrate, for 2013 is the Year of the Snake. Most Tucson residents would prefer not to find one in their own backyard, especially if there's a rattle attached, but visitors are often keen to get a glimpse of these infamous desert dwellers, from a safe distance, of course.
There are several places around the city where you can get acquainted with these fascinating reptiles. Some even have live snake presentation programs.
The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is the best place to see the wide variety of snakes that live in Southern Arizona. These include venomous species such as the sidewinder, Western Diamondback and Mojave rattlesnakes, and coral snake, along with benign species such as kingsnakes, gopher and garter snakes.
The snakes are housed behind glass in recreated natural habitats, enabling a close-up view. They are in the reptiles and invertebrates building to the right of the museum entrance. Volunteers trained in handling snakes often take one to an outdoor demonstration stand, where visitors can ask questions and even touch the snake's skin.
In addition, a live animal presentation called "Live & (sort of) on the Loose!" is held most days in the museum's Warden Oasis Theater, Saturday through Wednesday at 12:15. It features a wealth of information on venomous creatures, as well as live rattlesnakes, a gila monster or Mexican beaded lizard.
Snakes are also on display at the Reid Park Zoo in the family-oriented Conservation Learning Center. Docents (zoo volunteers) are sometimes on hand to show them to visitors for an up-close encounter.
Although snakes are prevalent throughout the region, most people are unlikely to see one, because of their superb natural camouflage. But care should always be taken when hiking on desert trails, such as those in Saguaro National Park.
The visitor centers at both the Eastern and Western districts of the park have displays and information about rattlesnakes, and what to do if you see or hear one while on the trails. Park rangers can answer questions and tell visitors about snake sightings.
Follow their advice, and the Year of the Snake may be a lucky one after all.