Monday, September 26 2022
Rattlesnake range is extensive— from southern Canada to central Argentina. The thickest concentration is in the US Southwest and northern Mexico, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The estimated 36 rattlesnake species are adaptable, living in forests, grasslands, swamps and deserts Rattlesnakes are "pit vipers" with heat-detecting pits on their heads. Other US snakes in that family are copperheads and cottonmouths, also called water moccasins. These latter two species are concentrated in the central and eastern United States, whereas multiple species of rattlesnakes range across the United States. Fully grown rattlesnakes are typically between 36 and 46 inches long. Most pit vipers typically deliver a "hemotoxic" venom that attacks the circulation system, destroying blood vessels and causing tissue damage. The only other venomous snakes in the United States are coral snakes. Known for their bright bands of red, yellow and black, they are in a different snake family that's related to cobras. They deliver a neurotoxin that disrupts nerve transmission and can cause respiratory failure and paralysis.
Where do snakes hide?
Rattlesnakes constantly hunt for shelter. They hide under logs and in stump holes. They also like woodpiles, thick brush and spaces under boulders, experts say. Pit vipers some times take up residence where people live and work— especially if hiding spots and their food supply (mostly small rodents and lizards) are plentiful. However, rodents are much more likely to get into your house than snakes. If snakes do get into your house, it's most likely you have a rodent infestation. In this respect, rattlesnakes play a key role in balancing the environment. They're mostly eating mice and rats— they're out there doing free pest control.
Do people die from snake bite?
Deaths in the USA from venomous snakes are rare. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year. About five of those people die. While human death from a rattlesnake bite is rare, bites will cause a great deal of pain and almost always require a hospital visit to prevent further complications. "The number of deaths would be much higher if people did not seek medical care," the CDC says. World estimates for death by venomous snakebite are much higher -- 81,000 to 138,000 each year.
Rattlesnakes are also afraid of us
Rattlesnakes' reclusive nature is one reason why there aren't more incidents. The rattlesnake actually views humans as a predator; we're a large animal that could eat him. And they're afraid of us, say experts. Rattlesnakes tend to stay hidden. When we encounter a snake on the move, he's usually looking for food or looking for a mate or looking for shelter. Otherwise, he stays hidden because they're so vulnerable to all sorts of predators. Rattlesnakes are "sit-and-wait predators. Some will sit in one place for over a week waiting on a meal. So when there's an encounter, people have generally encroached on their territory.
What to do if a rattlesnake bites you
If you are bitten, seek medical attention as quickly as possible say the experts. If you can, call 911 to come get you. You'll know if you have a serious bite in just a couple of minutes; you can start to feel tingling in your face. According to the California Poison Control System, other symptoms could include:
- Extreme pain and swelling at the bite
- Lots of bleeding
- Nausea, lightheadedness and drooling
- Swelling in the mouth and throat
But what if you can't make that SOS call?
- Keep your heartbeat as low as possible. It takes a while for the venom to work. Don't run, but get yourself somewhere you can make a phone call immediately. There's nothing to really help you from the venom except the serum.
- Stay as calm as possible and deep breathe. Don’t let yourself fall asleep.
- If possible, use a marker or pen and circle where you were bitten in case of swelling. Medical personnel will need to know the bite point.
- Remove jewelry such as rings and tight clothing before you start to swell.
What NOT to do if a rattlesnake bites you
- The best emergency response to a snakebite is car keys and a cell phone!
- Don't employ the out-of-date advice of cut-and-suck (cutting an X at the bite area and sucking the venom out by mouth or suction cups). It's very ineffective; people are likely to do more damage from the knife cut than from the snake bite.
- Do not elevate the affected area! Keep the bite below the level of the heart.
- Don't try to kill the snake to bring to the hospital, and don't take a picture of it unless you can do so easily. Don't comprise your safety by forcing another interaction with an already defensive rattlesnake. Your response to a bite should be the same no matter which type of pit viper bites you.
- Don't apply ice or cold packs to the bite .
- Don't use Advil, Motrin or other nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Don’t apply a tourniquet to a pit viper bite. That venom is concentrated and it works like an acid. It breaks down blood vessels and multiple skin tissues. If you confine that venom in that area, you're apt to lose a limb from that. If you allow it to spread, you're more apt to keep your hand or fingers.
How to avoid a snake bite
Rattlesnakes are most active in spring and fall, but vigilance is important all year. Snakes really can venture out in winter on a sunny day. Always be careful where you put your hands and your feet, especially when working around woodpiles or clearing brush. Wear thick gloves. If you're reaching under your house, shine a light under there first to make sure the coast is clear.
- Wear closed-toe shoes or snake proof boots that fangs cannot penetrate. Snake gaiters help protect your lower legs. Snake chaps offer more coverage than just your lower legs.
- Make plenty of noise and vibration while walking. Stick to well-used trails.
- Go around a rattlesnake on a wilderness trail if you spot one.
- If you find a rattlesnake in your yard, call agencies such as your state's natural resources departments or US Fish & Wildlife or contact a biologist at a local college. Do not try to kill the rattlesnake because that's when most people get bit.
- If you must deal with a rattlesnake on your own, use a long branch or pole to gently nudge the snake toward an escape route if you're at least six feet or more away.
- What do you do if you hear that bone-chilling rattle? Experts say if he's rattling, he's alarmed. If you can tell where the snake is, back away. Don't approach. Rattling does not necessarily occur before every bite.
Tuesday, October 01 2019
For the average person, chances of a potentially dangerous snake encounter are small. But those of us who hunt, fish, hike and work in the outdoors, are at greater risk because many of the areas we frequent are prime snake habitat. Serpents are shy by nature and do their best to avoid humans, but an unnerving close call with a snake can happen when you least expect it, no matter how experienced you are in the outdoors or how often you are out there. Whether you’re bow hunting, shed hunting, stalking big game, or turkey hunting in a southern swamp or the Texas brush country, you might stumble across a venomous snake, so be prepared. According to herpetologists, there are four groups of venomous snakes in the United States: rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths/water moccasins and coral snakes.
About 30 species of rattlesnakes inhabit a variety of environments across the U.S. In the eastern half of the country, the timber rattler thrives on rocky ridges and mountain sides from 1,000 to 3,000 feet in elevation. Further south, the timber snake, along with its close relative the eastern diamondback, are at home in swamps and thick, mixed forests. Five different species of western rattlers live in diverse habitats from sea level to 9,000 feet–from the desert to rocky hillsides and canyons, on grassy coastal plains and in conifer forests.
Copperheads are the most numerous and most frequently encountered venomous snake, and have bitten more people in the United States than any other pit viper. Copperheads range from southern New England, south to the southeastern U.S. and west through the Ozarks and into Texas. Their young are hatched between August and mid-September, which is prime time for humans to trek into their their territory.
Cottonmouths are also pit vipers and range roughly from the Carolinas west to Oklahoma and south to Florida and Texas.
Smallest but deadliest of North America’s venomous snakes are two species of coral snake, which belong to the same family as cobras, sea snakes and mambas. Coral snakes are often confused with non-venomous king snakes due to their similar colored band patterns. You can easily distinguish the two if you remember the phrase: “Red touches yellow, kill a fellow. Red touches black, friend to Jack.” There really is some truth to that rhyme.
KNOW WHERE SNAKES LIVE
Wherever you roam, know where rattlesnakes live and especially remember the word “rocks.” Prominent rocky ridges marked with crevices, ledges, and shady dens are all great hiding spots for snakes. Keep an eye peeled as you traverse rocky habitat. If you’re turkey hunting, always check the ground near your setup tree and inside your ground blind before sitting down to call a gobbler. Check the brush at the base of a tree with a stick. Probe the brush with your pole or shooting stick before reaching too close. Many times hunters don’t follow the beaten path that hikers take. When off-trail, avoid thick brush in the woods where a snake might be hiding. The rattlesnake is an ambush predator that hides and coils beside logs and rocks. When you walk up to a fallen tree or large stone, step up on it rather than over it, as there could be a snake lurking on the other side. After ankles and legs, most snake bites occur on hands and arms, so never put your hands in spots where you can’t see what might be hiding there. If you come upon a steep stretch of trail that requires scrambling up and over rocks, check each ledge or crevice.
If you ever hear a rattle or see a snake, back slowly away with no sudden movements. Hold your trekking pole or stick between you and the snake, if you have one. If it lunges, it will go for the pole rather than you. Keep in mind sometimes they rattle, sometimes not, you never know. Beware of silent slitherers! When you are safely away, calm down, catch your breath, make a big detour around the snake and mosey on to enjoy your hike or hunt.
WHAT TO DO IF BITTEN BY A SNAKE
If you are bitten, the Mayo Clinic advises:
- Call 911 immediately or get yourself to a hospital as quickly as possible.
- While waiting for medical help, stay calm and position the body so that the bite is at or below heart level.
- Remove jewelry or tight clothing before swelling starts.
- DO NOT apply ice or a tourniquet on or near the bite.
- DO NOT cut the wound or attempt to suck out the venom.
- DO NOT drink caffeine or alcohol, which could speed the body's absorption of venom.
PREVENT SNAKE BITE
Just like you learn in the Scouts, preparation and prevention are key. Always wear long pants and snake chaps or snake gaiters with thick footwear that fangs cannot penetrate. Knee-high snake proof boots are a good alternative to wearing gaiters if you prefer. We have all heard the basic hunter safety lessons thousands of times and unfortunately, over time we can become complacent. When this happens, the chances of an accident can drastically increase. Safety should always come first, so take time to review not only firearm safety, but basic first aid and these tips on snake bite prevention as well. And please pass your knowledge down to new hunters.
Tuesday, June 25 2019
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 7,000-8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes annually and that a small number of those victims die. Most snake bite deaths occur in children, the elderly, or with people who do not seek medical attention. While most bites are not fatal if treated by medical professionals, getting bitten is still the stuff of nightmares— swelling and discoloration of the surrounding tissue, intense pain, itching, nausea, rapid pulse, loss of muscle coordination and weakness, not to mention the cost of antivenom. Areas around the bite may suffer tissue death. It is not uncommon for victims bitten on the fingers and toes to have them amputated. The venom of a rattlesnake is primarily a hemotoxin, meaning that it works on the blood by destroying red blood cells and disrupting coagulation. It has the potential to cause organ degeneration and generalized tissue damage. Victims of venomous bites typically show signs of envenomation within 30 to 60 minutes. It’s crucial to get to a hospital immediately! While this information should be taken seriously, it is not meant to scare anyone away from enjoying the great outdoors, rather it's a reminder of what to do if you encounter a snake.
First, assume all snakes are venomous and leave them alone. Depending on the state you live in, there are many species of rattlesnakes— timber, prairie, canebrake, diamondback, and many others. The greatest concentration is found in the Southwestern United States and in Northern Mexico. For example, Arizona is home to 13 species of rattler, more than any other state. These snakes are commonly called pit vipers. The "pit" is an extremely sensitive organ located between the snake's eye and nostril on both sides of its head. These pits are so sensitive that the snake can detect the body temperature of a mouse, and judge its distance— whether that be a few inches or as far away as two feet. All snakes have an electrostatic sensor connected to its tongue that allows it to "taste" or chemically sense the air around it. Snakes are extremely attune to vibrations in the ground, too, so hiking with a stick or pole is a good way to “warn” snakes something is moving their way. Most pit vipers have tails with a series of rattles, hence the name rattlesnake. When rattlesnakes are disturbed, the rapid vibration of their tails will make a characteristic rattling sound to warn the intruder of their presence. However, not all rattlesnakes will “rattle” when disturbed. For this reason, when you are in rattlesnake country, pay close attention to where you walk, sit and place your hands. Wear snake gaiters or snake boots to protect your lower legs.
All venomous snakebites should be considered life-threatening.When someone has been bitten by a venomous snake, time is of the essence. Get medical help immediately! If possible, call ahead to the emergency room so antivenom can be ready when the victim arrives. Until then, keep the victim calm, restrict movement and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom. Wash the bite area with soap and water. Remove any rings or constricting items, as the affected area will swell. Do not apply a tourniquet, cut into the bite or try to suction out the venom, as doing so may cause more harm than good.
While no one wants to encounter a snake, keep in mind they occupy a valuable place in our ecosystem and should not be killed upon sight. They help reduce rodent populations, which destroy crops and sometimes carry diseases which can infect people. In general, snakes don't purposefully position themselves to frighten people. They'd much rather avoid encounters and usually will flee. There is no good reason to kill a snake except in the situation of a venomous snake posing immediate danger to people or pets. Snakes usually bite people only if they are molested on purpose or startled by accident; it's their only means of self-defense. Get outside this summer and have fun! Being in snake country is nothing to worry about if you take sensible precautions. Please stay alert and appreciate snakes as an integral part of wildlife.