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.
Monday, March 16 2020
Snakes love warmer days. As reptiles, their body temperature mirrors air temperature, so it’s common to begin seeing many more snakes already this year. In fact, the Scottsdale Fire Department was dispatched to a hiking trail last week to remove a 77-year-old male male suffering from a rattlesnake bite. He was transported to the hospital. Also recently, a Phoenix man was bitten by a rattlesnake while out riding his bike. He pedaled himself to the nearest emergency room and received treatment. Most Arizona emergency departments and hospitals have anti-venom. But there's only a couple of hospitals that have medical toxicologists that specialize in this care. A hospital in the Phoenix area with a toxicology referral center sees 50-75 rattlesnake bite patients annually. Of those, 5-10 people die from the bites. Anyone who gets bit by a rattlesnake should get anti-venom as soon as possible. Wherever the bite is, is where most of the damage is going to occur. And that means breakdown of muscle and skin, as well as a lot of edema and swelling. Each person’s experience will depend on how much venom is injected.
Regardless of the state in which you live, if you work, hike, fish, hunt, prospect for gold, metal detect, ride ATVs, etc. in rattlesnake country, and there is decent numbers, you’re likely going to encounter some snakes this year. Keep in mind that snakes of many species are through hunkering down now that the weather is warmer, making human encounters more likely with ALL types of snakes. You might even see snakes in more northern areas where you’ve not seen them before. “It may have something to do with climate change,” says a wildlife ecologist. “There has been a lot of range expansions of a lot of animals and plants with climate change, and if that continues, they may end up moving north.” For example, Timber rattlesnakes have been found as far north as Red Wing, Minnesota. They find shade under logs and other hidden enclosures during hotter periods of the year.
If you’re wondering how to deal with snakes you might find in your own backyard, keep in mind that nonpoisonous snakes are harmless. They eat mice, rats, and other pesky rodents you don’t want around. Having them near the house is a good thing. When disturbed, these harmless snakes usually just slither away. They prefer to avoid contact with humans. Because you never know what type of snake you might encounter, wear gloves when weeding ground cover around the house. Wear snake gaiters or snake boots when hiking or working around timber.
To avoid accidental encounters with snakes, watch where you place your hands and feet when roaming fields and woodlands, especially in rocky areas. Poisonous pit vipers such as copperheads and rattlesnakes have triangular heads, vertical pupils, and prominent heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils. These characteristics can be difficult to see from a distance, but don’t take a chance — keep your distance. If the snake is within five to six feet of you, make slow movements and move in the opposite direction of the snake. Though copperheads are more common and widespread than rattlesnakes, their bite is much less dangerous. That’s because copperheads are smaller, they deliver less venom, and their venom is weaker than rattlesnake venom. Generally, rattlesnakes are considered the most venomous and the most likely to cause death. Treat any snake bite seriously whether you know for sure what bit you or not! Two (sometimes just one) puncture wounds identify a venomous snake bite. Keep calm and get to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible.
In the warm deserts, rattlesnakes are most active from March through October. In the spring, they are active during daylight hours. As days become increasingly hot around early May, rattlesnakes become more active at night and spend the day in a spot of shade or a cool shelter. Don’t take a chance! Be vigilant and take precautions such as wearing snake bite protection in the form of snake gaiters or snake boots to be safe in snake country— whether that be in the desert or the woods.
Sunday, April 28 2019
Did you know? Copperhead mating season lasts from February to May and from late August to October. This means that rising temperatures coupled with mating season leads to more and more snake sightings. In fact, the number of urban sightings this April was overall higher than this time last year. Copperhead snakes are some of the more commonly seen North American snakes. They're also the most likely to bite. Copperhead snakes are found from southern New England to West Texas and northern Mexico: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Copperheads will be a little bit more territorial now because they are trying to mate. And keep in mind that the venom of juvenile copperheads is just as potent as an adult’s.
Copperheads reside in an extremely wide range of habitats and are quite tolerant of “habitat alteration." This means that they can survive well in suburban areas. Copperheads can sometimes be found in wood and sawdust piles, abandoned farm buildings, junkyards and old construction areas. They often seek shelter under surface cover such as boards, sheet metal, logs or large flat rocks. Since they can live just about anywhere, copperheads bite more people than any other U.S. snake species, according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension at North Carolina State University. But their venom is mild and rarely fatal. Generally, rattlesnakes are considered the most venomous and the most likely to cause death.
Copperheads are pit vipers, like rattlesnakes and water moccasins. Pit vipers have heat-sensory pits between eye and nostril on each side of head which are able to detect minute differences in temperatures so that the snakes can accurately strike the source of heat, which is often potential prey. Copperhead behavior is very much like that of most other pit vipers— they are generally docile outside of mating season. They would much rather lay motionless and let you just walk on by. Most strikes result from a defensive reaction to being stepped on or startled.
Keep in mind that snakes of many species are through hunkering down now that the weather is warmer, making human encounters more likely with ALL snakes. With extensive urbanization and encroachment of housing developments into the natural habitats of snakes and other reptiles, children playing outdoors are at greater risk for encountering a snake and consequently suffering a snakebite. More than 1,300 U.S. kids suffer bites each year on average, with one in four attacks occurring in Florida and Texas, a new study reveals. All 50 states and Washington, D.C., reported snakebites to children and about one-fifth of these bites required admission to an intensive care unit, researchers found. Snake Chaps for Kids should be considered, along with snake proof boots or snake gaiters for adults if your family is active outdoors. Experts also recommend keeping dogs leashed instead of allowing them to roam free. Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten due to holding their nose to the ground while investigating the outdoors. Speak to your veterinarian about canine rattlesnake vaccines and what to do if your pet is bitten.
Although you shouldn’t let the fear of snakes keep you from enjoying the great outdoors, play it safe. Be alert and stick to well-used trails and avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day. Fish and Wildlife experts recommend knowing what to do in the event of a snake strike.
• Stay calm and seek medical care immediately.
• Do not apply ice or a tourniquet.
• Do not try to suck out the venom, take aspirin or ibuprofen or try home remedies.
• Remove watches, rings, etc., which may constrict swelling