As many areas of the country settle into warmer temperatures, especially in the desert regions, snakes are slithering out of their dens and becoming increasingly more active. Once temperatures begin to hit 75 degrees, snake season begins. But that’s not all… it’s also time for the inevitable emergence of spiders and scorpions, too! Yikes! But that doesn’t mean we should avoid the great outdoors and stay home. It just means to take common sense precautions and be aware of your surroundings.
One of the best ways to avoid being bitten by a snake is to think about where you put your hands and feet. Look carefully before moving rocks or any object that may be providing shade for a snake. Use caution when walking through fields with tall grass, or along rivers or creeks. Keep in mind snakes are more active in the cooler hours of the day, which means they are more active at night through early morning, so consider installing outdoor lighting fixtures along porches and sidewalks, and carry a flashlight after dark. If you have a backyard swimming pool with a messy log pile next to it and dog food lying out, then you've created the perfect environment to invite rodents, which invites snakes.
Some regions that received more rain than usual this year during the cooler months means there is plenty of spring vegetation to feed the rodents and birds that rattlesnakes love to eat. When the ecosystem flourishes, the animal flourishes, and a number of those birds and rodents are prey to venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes. But that doesn't mean more rattlesnakes now, experts say. That may happen in a couple years, but not until rattlesnakes get fat and happy from plentiful food and make more baby rattlesnakes. As the weather gets warmer, we see snakes come out to sun themselves and look for food, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are MORE snakes than previous years, spring just means all snakes become more active and are therefore seen more often.
Nearly all rattlesnake bites result from human error, not rattlesnake aggression. It’s no surprise that the stereotypical bite happens to a male ages 17 to 27 with large amounts of alcohol involved! All rattlesnakes can be aggressive at certain times, but not all rattlesnakes are aggressive in general. Some don’t possess their iconic “rattle” but it’s best to assume all snakes are venomous. Although new species of rattlesnakes continue to be discovered, there are currently about 20 species in the United States (13 of those are found in Arizona). The most commonly encountered is the western diamondback; it accounts for the most bites and deaths. They are not aggressive; they're defensive. If you see any type of rattlesnake, don't make it feel threatened and leave a lot of room between you and the snake.
If you are bitten by a rattlesnake or other venomous snake the Mayo Clinic lists these steps:
• Call 911
• Remain calm and move beyond the snake's striking distance.
• Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell.
• Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
• Clean the wound, but don't flush it with water. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing.
Be sure not to to do these things:
• Don't use a tourniquet or apply ice.
• Don't cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.
• Don't drink caffeine or alcohol, which could speed your body's absorption of venom.
• Don't try to capture the snake. Try to remember its color and shape so that you can describe it, which will help in your treatment.
Of course your best defense against venomous snakes is not to take a chance in the first place. Adults can wear snake bite protection such as lower leg snake gaiters or full chaps or snake proof boots when working or playing in snake country. Snake chaps for children also available. Be safe and have fun!