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.