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.
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.
Thursday, August 08 2019
The odds of the “average” person being bitten by a rattlesnake is low— that is, if you’re an “average” city dweller or someone who doesn’t hike, hunt, or work around timber. But what if you spend a great deal of time outdoors in known snake country either working or playing or both? Then you might want to take the threat of snakebite seriously and protect yourself with rattlesnake gaiters or by wearing snake proof boots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 7,000 - 8,000 venomous snakebites occur per year in the United States. If you like statistics, here are a few more:
• 55% of people bitten by snakes are male, ages 17 to 27.
• 28% of snakebite victims were intoxicated.
• 50% of bites occur on the feet and legs; 50% are to the fingers and hands.
• 57% of snakebite victims were handling the snake at the time of the bite.
A triangular shaped head and cat-like eyes are giveaways that a snake is venomous. Non-venomous snakes have round heads and round pupils. Venomous snakes will normally be heavier and fatter, too. The Western Diamondback, also called the Pacific Western Rattlesnake, is one of the most common member of the viper family. A common myth about any species of rattlesnake is that they are vicious and go around looking for someone to bite. The fact is that most actually only strike in self-defense or to obtain food. Self-defense includes when they are startled, and that’s exactly when the “average” person is bitten— when they accidentally step on or near a viper, or are working in tall weeds or around wood piles. When not basking out in the sun, most of a snake’s time is spent hiding under a rock or a bush. If you have ever hiked through the woods, chances are you have passed within a foot or so from a rattler and luckily never knew it.
Make no mistake, a bite from a rattler (or copperhead or water moccasin, etc.) can be very serious business. Their venom breaks down the tissue around the bite. When a rattlesnake bites its prey, this action of breaking down the tissue hastens the digestive process and makes it easier for the snake to swallow its prey. If a human is bitten, there is often a loss of tissue around the bite. The snake’s teeth also transfer bacteria and the venom suppresses the immune system of the victim, making it tougher to fight off infection. While this rarely causes death, it can result in the loss of a limb. And the entire process is extremely painful and can be expensive due to the cost of anti-venom.
So why take a chance? If you spend a good amount of time where snakes live, protect yourself by wearing snake proof gaiters or snake proof boots. Luckily, Razer snake gaiters for women and snake gaiters for men are the same product. Children are bitten more frequently than adults. Most children are bitten because they often go barefoot or actually pick up a rattlesnake out of curiosity. Make sure the kids are wearing snake chaps sized just for them.
And if you are bitten, keep in mind that all that stuff about tourniquets, cutting open bites, or trying to suck out the venom has been disavowed by current medical thinking. Don’t apply ice to the wound either. Instead, the advice is simply to seek medical treatment immediately. If you’re a long way from that, try to keep your heart rate down and the bite location below the level of your heart. Your best snakebite kit is your cellphone or your car keys! And although it might be counter-intuitive, avoid killing snakes since they are valuable to our ecosystem. Plus, in many states, illegally killing a snake is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and/or jail time.