Thursday, March 14 2019
The calendar says it’s not even officially Spring yet, but when the warming weather causes rattlesnakes to come out of hibernation, it doesn’t matter what the date. It’s time to beware— especially in Arizona. 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. So far in 2019, two people have been treated for snake bite and have lived.
The first was a Phoenix man who made medical history, but in a very painful way. Samuel Evans became the first patient treated with a new antivenom since its recent approval. Evans was trying to move a rattler from a hiking trail in the White Tank Mountains, when the pit viper bit his thumb. At the hospital, he was treated with CroFab antivenom, but developed a serious allergic reaction.
As fate would have it, Evans became the first patient to be treated with the FDA approved alternative called Anavip. Luckily it worked! No allergic reaction this time. Anavip also could be effective in preventing the delayed bleeding that can occur after rattlesnake bites. Anavip isn’t cheap. Each vial costs $1,220 and the average dosage is expected to be around 16 vials.
That total of around $20,000 might not sound so bad when it means saving a limb or even a life. Sources say it’s actually a lot less expensive than the older product. Antivenoms in general are very expensive.
Just a week ago, a 75-year old man rode his bike for a half-hour to seek help after he was bitten by a rattlesnake while on the Apache Wash trail in Phoenix. Jim Watkins was on a bike ride with a friend when he lost momentum and fell off his bike beside the trail and into a bush. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was bitten by a rattlesnake! “It felt like a bee sting. And then as I looked down, I could see the snake was recoiling back up, but still vibrating his rattles. And so I pulled away,” Watkins said.
Watkins, who was bit on his left calf, then rode with his friend for 30 minutes to get back to the trailhead. His friend called poison control right away to seek help. Their advice: "This is serious, you need to go to an emergency room.” Once he reached the nearest hospital, Watkins received three treatments of anti-venom – 12 vials in all – that thankfully counteracted the snake's venom and reduced the swelling.
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. Both of these men were lucky! 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. The most important factor in a rattlesnake bite is to consider how much venom is injected.
As the weather warms up, rattlesnakes are out on the hiking trails. To anyone planning on hiking, biking, fishing, or working in snake country, follow these tips:
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 to be safe in snake country— whether that be in the desert or the woods.
Tuesday, May 01 2018
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!
Sunday, August 20 2017
Rattlesnakes usually stay away from humans, but health officials say about 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the country every year. Snakes bites are most prevalent between April and October and are on a record pace this year, according to many poison control centers. It doesn’t seem to matter if you are on the East Coast or the West Coast, or down South— location doesn’t matter. Snakes are very temperature-dependent, so it’s more a matter of warm weather than a particular state or region.
The number of calls last month to the Carolinas Poison Center about snake bites nearly quadrupled compared to last year. More than 500 calls about snake bites are expected in California. Georgia Poison Control reports a 50 percent increase in the number of bites reported this year compared to the same time period last year. This is a small sampling, but represents what most states are experiening in late summer.
A few species seem to cause the majority of poisonous bites: copperheads, cottonmouths (also called the water moccasin), eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, pigmy rattlesnakes, timber rattlesnakes, and sidewinders. It's true that there are ways to tell if a snake is venomous by its appearance, but most people aren't paying close enough attention to really know. It's better to assume ALL snakes are poisonous and avoid them. Don't be afraid to be outside, just be cautious and know what poisonous snakes look like that are common to the areas where you recreate and live. A rattlesnake, for example has a broad, triangular head. It has a relatively heavy or "fat" body, with a rattle on tail. The rattlesnake’s signature sound is a lot like bacon sizzling. However, these venomous creatures can lose their rattles over time, so don’t be lulled into a false sense of safety because you hear nothing. Even when not fatal, snake bites can be painful and scary. Bottom line: it's better to be safe than sorry, so follow these tips when in snake country no matter the state:
- Be alert. Like all reptiles, snakes are sensitive to the ambient temperature and will adjust their behavior accordingly. After a cold or cool night, they will attempt to raise their body temperature by basking in the sun midmorning. To prevent overheating during hot day, they will become more active at dawn, dusk or night.
- Wear sturdy boots or gaiters. Kid size snake chaps are worth considering, too. Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through brushy, wild areas. Startled snakes may not rattle before striking defensively. Children should not wear flip-flops while playing outdoors in snake country.
- When hiking, stick to well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day. Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
- Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see. Step on logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use. Be careful when trimming tall weeds or working around wood piles even in your own backyard.
- Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers. Rattlesnakes can swim! It’s not known why they take to the water, other than sometimes to escape predators.
- Teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone.
- Leash your dog when hiking in snake country so they can’t poke their noses into holes where a rattler might be hiding.
If you do get bitten, don’t try using an ice compress or a tourniquet. Don’t try “cutting and sucking.” Seek immediate medical attention and take comfort in the fact that the bites may cause intense, burning pain but are rarely fatal, unless it is a child or pet, in which case a bite can be deadly. Once at a hospital, treatment depends on the type of snake involved, the amount of venom injected and the health of the person bitten. If your dog is bitten, take it to the veterinarian immediately to receive the antivenin treatment.
Although snakes of any kind are not "out to get you," bites can and do occur. Your best defense is don't take a chance! Wear snake gaiters or snake pants when in known snake country - whether that be the desert or woods - and greatly reduce your chances of being bitten!
Sunday, June 04 2017
As the weather heats up, rattlesnakes especially become more active. They, like humans, tend to explore when the weather gets warm. Also like humans (those who enjoy the great outdoors, that is), rattlesnakes tend to avoid developed areas, preferring undisturbed, natural habitats. That means the more you hike, hunt, camp, fish, bike and recreate in wilderness areas, the greater your chances of encountering a pit viper. And another thing they have in common with humans is they tend to be found in log piles and rocks and other natural "seats" where you might be likely to enjoy your lunch or bask in the sun. They also can be found in swampy areas. Snakes are able to regulate their body temperature by moving in and out of shade. A warmer body allows a snake to move faster when trying to catch prey (insects, slugs, frogs, birds, bird eggs, small mammals, and other reptiles).
Rattlesnakes are native to North America, living in diverse habitats. There are 36 known species of rattlesnakes, with between 65 and 70 subspecies. The state with the most types of rattlesnakes are Texas and Arizona. Even baby rattlesnakes possess dangerous venom as soon as they hatch. Rattlesnakes all have the ability to rattle, hence their name, but they don't always make a rattling sound, so someone can be standing next to one and not even know it.
It is impossible to know what each and every variety of poisonous rattler looks like, but in general, they all have a triangular head, much wider than the neck, thick body with dull skin, and bands of color or splotches of color on backs and tail. Become familiar with the most common snakes found where you live or recreate. The three most common are:
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake: The color pattern is usually dark-brown, dark-gray, olive-brown, or sometimes black or pale yellowish ground color overlaid dorsally with a series of large, dark blotches with uneven white edges. These blotches are also wider than the spaces that separate them. Additionally, a lateral series of blotches, usually darker than the dorsal blotches, is clearly visible on all but the darkest specimens. The first rings of the tail are about the same color as the last body blotches, but these rings become progressively darker; the last two rings, at the base of the tail, are usually black. The belly is pale yellow, usually with brown spots. A large, dark-brown blotch on the snout has a pale border behind it. There is a dark brown postocular stripe with a white border that extends from the eye to around the angle of the jaw.
Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnake: A large and heavy-bodied species, this rattlesnake's coloring varies from chalky gray to dull red, appearing dusty due to minute flecks and dots on the scales. As suggested by its common name, this species has diamond-shaped markings over most of its body, which are edged with black and white. These markings are replaced by conspicuous black and white bands towards the rear of the tail, just in front of the rattle, while the head has two characteristic pale stripes, one in front of the eye and the other behind, which run diagonally down the head towards the mouth.
Timber Rattlesnake: This is the only rattlesnake species in most of the populous northeastern United States; it is the third largest venomous snake in the United States.The physical color of a timber rattlesnake can vary widely depending on its area. Some are gray with a rich black pattern, some are tan with a sulfur yellow pattern, and some are a combination of both. They have V or W-shaped crossbar markings, which create a distinct pattern across its back. Generally they have a wide head and narrow necks. They have a distinctive rattler on its tail made up of a special scales. Their eyes are yellow, with elliptical pupils. These are large snakes, generally ranging from 36-60 inches (90-152 cm) in length and between 1.5 to 3 pounds.
It is estimated that 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, resulting in many deaths. The most important factor in survival is the time elapsed between the bite and treatment. Most deaths occur between six and 48 hours after the bite. If antivenom treatment is given within two hours of the bite, the probability of recovery is greater than 99 percent. Still, any bite by a rattlesnake must be considered a life-threatening medical emergency!
When a bite occurs, the amount of venom injected is under voluntary control by the snake. The amount released depends on a variety of factors, including the condition of the snake (e.g. having long, healthy fangs and a full venom sack) and its temperament (an angry, hungry snake that has just been stepped on vs. a satiated snake that was merely surprised by walking near it). About 20% of bites result in no envenomation at all. Common symptoms include swelling, severe pain, tingling, weakness, anxiety, nausea and vomiting, hemorrhaging, perspiration, and eventually heart failure. Local pain is often intense, and will increase. Children generally experience more severe symptoms because they receive a larger amount of venom per unit of body mass.
What to do if bitten by a snake:
If bitten by a rattlesnake, stay calm and send someone to call 911. Always hike with a friend so you can help each other in case of emergency. The victim should remain calm by lying down with the affected limb lower than the heart. Do not waste precious time on tourniquets, "cutting and sucking," or snake bite kits. If you are by yourself, walk calmly to the nearest source of help: another person or a phone to Dial 911. Do Not Run. If you are not sure what kind of snake bit you, check the bite for two puncture marks (in rare cases one puncture mark) associated with intense, burning pain. This is typical of a rattle snake bite.
Although snakes of any kind are not "out to get you," bites can and do occur. Your best defense is don't take a chance! Wear snake gaiters or snake boots when in known snake country - whether that be the desert or woods - and greatly reduce your chances of being bitten!
Tuesday, May 02 2017
“Rattlesnake encounter in California State Park sends hiker to hospital”
“Elderly woman hospitalized after snake bite in Mobile”
“Rattlesnakes are coming out in Phoenix”
“Man flown to hospital after being bit by rattlesnake in Dallas”
“SC woman dies after rattlesnake bite at nature preserve”
“Rattlesnake bites boy who mistook it for a toy.”
Headlines like these, while scary, serve a good purpose— to remind us to be alert and prepared while we’re in snake country. Worldwide, there are over 100,000 confirmed deaths from snakebites every year; the vast majority of those deaths do not occur in the United States. But when people here do get bitten, whether it’s by a rattler, cottonmouth, copperhead, coral snake, or other viper, it’s usually between the months of April and October.
Just about a quarter of all rattlesnake bites are “dry,” where no venom is injected. Other bites that do inject poisonous venom will definitely ruin your day, but not always kill you. The effects of being bitten are unpleasant to say the least. According to bite victims, your face starts tingling, your flesh feels like someone has sewn hot coals beneath your skin, your pulse flutters, and your limb puffs up like a water balloon. Not to mention the cost of being treated with anti-venom. Why even take that chance?
Overall, rattlesnakes are an important part of the ecosystem as they eat rodents and are eaten by other predators. They are generally shy creatures and will gladly retreat if given enough room, but their bites can be extremely dangerous, so knowing what to do to avoid them in the first place is key. The sound of rattling can instill cold fear in a hiker, but that's a good thing. You got the warning before accidentally stepping on or too close to a snake!
Despite the headlines, it’s possible to live and recreate safely around rattlers by taking precautions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends:
- Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through wild areas. Wear over-the-ankle hiking boots with snake gaiters, or wear snake proof boots. For full leg protection, consider snake chaps.
- When hiking, stick to well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
- Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see and avoid wandering around in the dark. Step on logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing on rocks or gathering firewood.
- Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use.
- Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
- Teach children to respect snakes and to leave them alone. Children are naturally curious and will pick up snakes.
- Seek IMMEDIATE professional medical attention if bitten.
Monday, February 20 2017
Most posts on this blog are about protecting yourself from snake bite while outdoors— while hunting, hiking, clearing brush, or just walking your dog while in the desert or woods where snakes live. But what if you found a rattlesnake in your bathroom at home?!
Unfortunately, a family in Texas was recently taken by surprise when they discovered a live rattlesnake slithering in their toilet bowl! According to the family, the snake was pretty much alive and was doing its best to climb out of the toilet bowl. The family called in a snake removal company. Lucky they did that, not only for their own immediate safety, but because upon inspecting their house, the snake removal company found more than one stray snake. Unbeknownst to anyone, their cellar had become a rattlesnake den!
According to the company’s spokesperson, the snake removal team found more than 20 rattlesnakes in the family’s storm cellar. And, five of those snakes were infants. Rattlesnakes are extremely protective of their infants, but fortunately no injuries were reported by the family, and the large rattlesnake population was successfully relocated. As for the little creeper that exited through the family’s toilet, the experts believe that the snake somehow managed to enter a relief pipe and to make its way up. To ensure the family’s safety, the snake removal company sealed the relief pipe. After a clean sweep, no other rattlesnakes were found on the Texas family’s property.
Although the family claimed that they hadn’t seen a rattlesnake on their property for years, the company’s spokesperson declared that even though we can’t see them, snakes are still out there. Rattlesnakes and other poisonous vipers can be masters of disguise— relying on skin camouflage in order to elude bigger predators. That's how snakes can take up residence in your residence— if you don't hear a rattle, you don't necessarily know that they are there. Or they might be living in an area of your home or yard where you don't visit very often, such as a basement or outbuilding.
In addition to checking the rarely used areas of your home and property, your best defense against unwanted visitors is to make your property unattractive to snakes. Don't give them places to hide (abandoned junk piles and overgrown brush) and eliminate their food source such as mice and other small rodents. The neurotoxin carried by the snake’s venom can kill an adult in six hours or less. Even if not fatal, rattlesnake bite symptoms may include pain, tingling, swelling, numbness, nausea, weakness, and breathing issues— so don't take a chance! Whenever you are in snake country, protect yourself by wearing snake gaiters or snake boots and keep your eyes open to stay safe!
Sunday, July 17 2016
“The number of reported bites usually hovers in the double digits through May, June and July and then jumps to about 30 in August and September,” said an employee at the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center. “It’s about a bite a day during those months before tapering off in October and November.”
Yikes! A bite a day in just southern Arizona alone?! The Grand Canyon state is home to 13 species of rattlesnakes, with eight or nine species living in Southeastern Arizona, depending on how the region is defined, and on average, 150 to 160 rattlesnake bites are reported every year. Multiply those statistics by all the states where poisonous vipers live, and you know why you've got to be careful this summer!
Rattlesnakes typically come out of their winter dens in March or April, and return in November. They range far and wide — from deserts, canyons and forests to urban backyards. Some rattlers slither a mile or more from their dens to places where they spend the summer— many times in the same places where humans and dogs hike, camp, hunt and live. Some rattlesnake bites are so-called “dry bites” in which no venom is injected. Sometimes the dry-bite rate can be 20 percent. It all depends on the age of the snake, if it has recently eaten (and used its venom on the rodent it bit), and other factors.
“I’ve been a little bit paranoid just walking around the house now,” admits a home owner in Anaheim Hills, California who was hospitalized after she was bit in her own bathroom by a rattlesnake. Her neighbor’s Beagle was also bitten the week before by a baby rattlesnake. Both received anti-venom and are recovering. Fire officials say the appearance of rattlesnakes in Orange County is no rare occurrence. “The reason why we’re seeing more and more snake calls, and snake incidents, is because it’s so dry. It’s the fourth year of a serious drought, and it’s been so hot lately. These snakes are trying to find water.”
Rangers in Boulder County are warning hikers and cyclists to be on the lookout for snakes in the grass after a Wyoming resident who'd been visiting friends in Colorado was bitten on the shin by an adult snake that was about three feet long. The friends reportedly got off their bicycles and were crossing an open grassy area to go to a different trail when the woman was bitten. The victim was airlifted to a nearby hospital, treated with anti-venom, and was released.
"Contrary to many people's understanding, rattlesnakes do not deliberately harm people. They will only strike if threatened; otherwise, rattlesnakes will do everything possible to avoid a human encounter." Officials in Boulder caution people to watch where they step, particularly when in rocky or grassy open areas, and to be careful about what you wear. Especially this time of year the weather is beautiful and you want to wear shorts, but leaving one's legs bare and ankles exposed may not be wise for people who leave the traveled trails. Always keep your dogs on a short leash when hiking to minimize the opportunity for them to poke their nose where a prairie rattlesnake might be hiding.
Snake bite victims are generally not doing anything wrong. They are just in the wrong place at the wrong time— working in the yard or around a wood pile, or outside enjoying the summer— and nothing could have been done to prevent the bite. But if you are purposely going into known snake country to hike or hunt, the best prevention is to wear snake gaiters or snake proof boots.
If the worse happens, the best response to a bite is to go immediately to a medical facility for examination and treatment with anti-venom if needed. No cutting, no sucking, no tourniquets. Just get to a hospital. Other tips include not putting ice on the bite, and any limbs that are bit, whether it be on the arm or the leg, should be kept below the heart.
Thursday, October 29 2015
Snakes are seen just about everywhere from spring through October, and then they are presumed to hibernate. But that's not always true. Snakes are more reactive to consistently cold weather, rather than a change of seasons. Rattlesnakes are even known to move around during extended warm periods during winter months, especially if they hole up in a stump or other location that can be warmed easily by sunshine.
Snakes do not actually hibernate, rather they become less active during cold weather. It is called "brumation." Brumation is an extreme slowing down of their metabolism. Snakes are awake, but just very lethargic so you don't see them moving around. In the fall, snakes move back to the previous year’s den. If a sudden cold snap catches them before they get there, they may die if not fortunate enough to find a suitable secondary den. They usually do not stay long at the den entrance, but hurry in for the long winter sleep. A number of species may share the same den. For example, black rat snakes, timber rattlesnakes and copperheads commonly den together. Sometimes there will be as many as 100 snakes in one cave. A group site is called a hibernaculum.
Cold-blooded animals like snakes, fish, frogs, and turtles need to spend the winter inactive, or dormant, because they have no way to keep warm. Snakes will crawl into any area free from frost such as caves, hollow logs, holes under trees and stumps, under wood piles, in other animal's burrows, and occasionally in a person's basement.
Snakes will increase their intake of food before brumation occurs, if they can. Not all snakes will survive brumation. A skinny snake will not survive. If the snake feeds heavily before they hibernate, and have digested their meal before the cooling starts, they will be OK. If food is in their stomach or intestines when they cool, it will rot and kill them. Vipers can also brumate during normal conditions, due to a loss of food, but normally when they become dormant it corresponds with extreme temperature changes.
On warmer days in late fall, early spring, or even during winters, brumating snakes sometimes come out of their dens to bask in the sunshine. Nice sunny days that follow a long cold snap are often when people are surprised by rattlers. Just like humans, snakes head out to enjoy the sun and unsuspecting hikers can startle them and cause them to strike. Generally, rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in March or April, or when the average daytime temperatures reach and remain about 60 degrees Fahrenheit and higher.
During a typical year, an estimated 45,000 people are bitten by snakes in the United States. That number is reason enough to always wear snake boots or snake gaiters when in the desert or the woods. If you do, you won't have to worry so much about the temperature or the season — use common sense to keep yourself safe. Hunters should be especially vigilant and wear snake protection!
Monday, August 17 2015
There is some concern that the drought in California has led to an increase in rattlesnake bites across the state. Along with many other animals, rattlesnakes are venturing into new-found territory in search of water sources. Earlier this summer, an experienced hiker was bit by a rattlesnake at Nevada Fall. The story was posted today on Facebook with a link to the Yosemite National Park website. Below is an excerpt:
On June 29, 2015, sometime around 4 pm, a 49-year-old day hiker at the top of Nevada Fall experienced what many people would consider their worst nightmare: being bitten, and envenomated, by a rattlesnake. He was an experienced hiker and had come across rattlesnakes in the wild before.
The top of Nevada Fall was the objective for the subject and his family. Upon reaching the footbridge at the top of the fall, they decided to do what many hikers feel the need to do after walking in the afternoon heat: take off their shoes and cool their feet at a safe spot in the river. As the subject made his way back onto the granite shoreline, he stepped down into a shallow recess between several rocks and was immediately bitten on the right foot. Moments later, another member of the subject’s family dialed 911 and reported the incident, at which time Yosemite Search and Rescue began to mobilize their response.
A rescue team began hiking to the patient's location as park helicopter 551 mobilized. Approximately one hour after being bitten, 551 airlifted the subject from the top of Nevada Fall and flown to the valley floor, where medical care was waiting. The clinic staff administered antivenom medication to the subject, stabilized him, and readied him for transport to a regional hospital via a medical helicopter.
Many people see rattlesnakes while hiking in Yosemite. Snake bites are rare here, but it is important to know that they do occur and that the resulting injuries can be serious: this subject spent several days in the hospital recovering from his bite. It is understandable that the patient was barefoot while wading, but for the rest of the hike, a pair of snake boots or other sturdy shoes can protect against many snakebites. Snake gaiters offer snake bite protection from approximately your knee down to your ankle and should be worn with sturdy boots. An important lesson to learn from this incident is to always be aware of where you place your hands and feet—in addition to snakes, crevices can hide scorpions, spiders, and yellow jacket nests. This hiker didn't do anything wrong. In this case it just happened to be that a viper proved to be the most dangerous part of the trip— not the obvious hazards of the quickly flowing river, the granite cliffs, or the midday heat.
If you are bitten, keep in mind that the most effective treatment for snakebite is to seek medical care at a hospital or emergency room as quickly as possible. Gone are the days when snakebite first aid involved cutting into the bite and sucking the venom out of the body. Don't try it! It doesn't work!
Finally, treat all wildlife with respect and give them the space they need to stay wild. Never approach wildlife to feed, pet, or photograph them. No matter how docile the animal or reptile may appear, it is wild and could spook easily.
Monday, August 03 2015
No one knows for sure how many people are actually treated for venomous snakebite annually, but according to a Parks and Wildlife Department herpetologist, each state usually reports of one or two deaths per year. For those bitten who survive, treatment for rattlesnake bites reportedly runs anywhere from about $20,000 at the minimum up into the six-figure range. Anti-venom and treatment is very expensive! Young children out exploring and intoxicated young men make up a good chunk of the bite victims. Hikers and hunters also get bitten, as do those who work in and around snake habitat, especially when moving logs and rock piles.
To keep you and your family safe, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to know which venomous snakes you might encounter where you live, work, and play. Texas has the most snake bites annually in the country, usually between 500 and 1,000. One-third to a half of those bites are venomous. Experts in the Lone Star State say you only need to worry about four species: western diamondback rattlesnake, copperhead, coral snake, and cottonmouth (also called water moccasin). Size does not matter because they are venomous at birth.
Coral snakes spend most of their time under leaves and logs and few people ever see them. They really aren’t a threat unless they are handled. Cottonmouths have black and white chins, float on top of the water and are not all that common. The copperhead is the only snake in Texas that is a two-color banded snake. The majority of venomous snakes sighted in residential yards are the diamondback. This rattlesnake sheds within 10 days of being born and then scatters. Babies end up in some strange places, like back steps and garages, looking for mice and lizards to eat, so you’re most likely to see this snake around homes and sheds. Adult diamondbacks want to stay away from activities and people. The most common snakes people encounter that are not poisonous are rat snakes—the only large snake that climbs.
Texas, of course, isn’t the only state with vipers. Oklahoma is home to five species of rattlesnakes. Three venomous species call Pennsylvania home— the northern copperhead, timber rattlesnake, and eastern massasauga rattlesnake. In California, where more than 800 humans are bitten each year, there are at least six types of rattlesnakes to be concerned about. Arizona has 13 species of rattlesnakes, and Nevada has six. Alaska is the only state that has never reported a venomous snake. For a list by state, visit http://www.venombyte.com/venom/snakes/venomous_snakes_by_state.asp
The best suggestions for avoiding snake bite is common sense and prevention. Don’t walk through tall grass. Places like flooded pastures create great breeding sites for frogs and feeding sites for frog hunters like snakes. Walk around rock piles and logs instead of stepping over them. If you see a snake, leave it alone. Remember that snakes are just as active in the fall as they are in the spring, so hunters should be extra cautious. No matter which state you live in, it makes sense to think about snake bite protection in advance of being outdoors — simply wear snake gaiters or snake boots. If you are bitten, below are a few do's and dont's suggested by medical professionals:
What to Do if You Are Bitten by a Snake
- Call 911 immediately.
- Stay as calm as possible.
- Get away from the snake but stay as immobile as possible until help has arrived.
- Remove clothing or accessories that may restrict your blood flow and cause swelling.
What Not to Do if You Are Bitten by a Snake
- Don’t try to capture the snake – this is unnecessary and can lead to a more dangerous situation.
- Don’t create an incision or suction the wound.
- Don’t administer any drugs to the victim.
- Don’t apply a tourniquet (restrictive device used to constrict the flow of blood to a body part).
- Don’t apply ice to the snakebite.
- Don’t wait to see if symptoms occur – seek professional medical help immediately!
Wednesday, April 29 2015
Most rattlesnakes are out of their dens by mid-May, roaming the wild and occasionally alarming humans. The fear of snakes ranks near the top of most common phobia lists, but do people in eastern states need to be worried about serpentine encounters as much as those in western and southern states?
Rattlesnakes are considered threatened or endangered in certain states such as Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This particular venomous creature is vulnerable to loss of habitat and being run over by vehicles. Once the population is depressed, it takes the population a long time to recover because of slow reproduction rates. It takes females the first seven to nine years of their 30-year life to reach sexual maturity. They will then only have a litter every three to five years, and only one baby from each litter will likely survive to reach maturity.
Still, snakes are surviving in eastern snakes and whether you should be truly concerned about them while hiking, hunting, or working in your yard depends largely on how often you will be in areas known for snakes. Your best bet is to wear snake gaiters or snake boots while recreating or working in snake habitat. Rattlesnakes are unlikely to bite unless provoked — usually by a young person bitten on the hand because they attempted to pick it up. Children need to realize if you poke at it long enough, even the most docile snake of any species is going to strike. Also, if you startle a snake by accidentally stepping on it, or perhaps moving a rock or piece of wood not knowing a snake is under there, that's when bites can occur, too.
If you happen to get bit, do not cut or suck the wound or use a tourniquet to isolate the venom. Go directly to a medical facility as quickly as possible. Not all hospitals carry anti-venom, so it’s a good idea to call ahead. Some victims might need to be hospitalized. Although a rattlesnake bite can be very painful and expensive (anti-venom doesn't come cheap), it's not common enough to avoid hiking or fishing or otherwise having fun in the woods on a summer’s afternoon. Just be prepared with the right snake bite protection, use common sense, and be on the look-out so you can avoid any rattlers that are also taking advantage of a sunny summer day.
Sunday, May 18 2014
It's rattlesnake season again! Most people fear those words, but a few actually relish this time of year. Are they crazy? Well, not exactly. Some folks have a job that involves tracking and catching snakes for research or preservation.
Take, for example, Ann Stengel in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Ms Stengel is a UMass Amherst doctoral candidate out to save the timber rattlesnake in New England. It turns out that the rattlesnake populations are endangered in that region. The largest population left in Massachusetts—and possibly in New England—is found in Berkshire County. Human incursion into habitat and malicious killing of the snakes have greatly disturbed their numbers. And given that female snakes only reproduce once every three to five years and 80 percent of offspring can be expected to die in the first year, the snakes are slow to rebuild depleted populations.
In the name of science, people like Stengel take newborn snakes into captivity for a year or a year and a half, then release them near their den site with the hope that they adapt back into the wild. Some do and some don't. The more successful this project becomes, the more people who find rattlers fearsome will object to it. In response, Ms. Stengle points out that snakes are good for rodent control, and that to date no one in Massachusetts has ever died of a rattlesnake bite. In fact, bites are extremely rare as timber rattlesnakes, the species found in the Berkshires, are not very aggressive.
A bride-to-be in El Dorado County, California wishes the rattlers in her area were not aggressive. Instead of marching down the aisle to say "I Do" Macee Whitton found herself in the hospital on her wedding day. A week before her Big Day, she was outside with her dogs and a rattlesnake bit her on the ankle. Despite getting bags of anti-venom at a nearby medical center, the poison kept traveling through her body. She had a lengthy hospital stay and it took weeks to recover. Her wedding has been rescheduled.
According to the California Poison Control Center, most bites occur between April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors. The vipers usually den from late October to early April. Their body temperature will get down to 40 degrees. They lose very little body weight because they shut down metabolically. A female rattler is pregnant for more than a year before giving birth to eight to 12 live little snakes. You might think the mother rattler then slithers off and leaves the little ones to fend for themselves, but researcher shows that the mother remains with her young until she leads them to the family den at the end of fall. There, the little ones, their mother and 30 to 50 other snakes will disappear deep into the ground below the frost level to sleep away the winter.
Once the snakes emerge from hibernation at this time of year, they have a kind of social life. They often use the same basking areas, and are particularly fond of south-facing rocky slopes. During the warm months snakes will travel— males up to four miles and non-pregnant females about two miles. But they always return to the same den. An adult rattler can live for 45 years if it avoids predators such as humans and red-tailed hawks.
The best thing you can do when in rattlesnake country is not to avoid the great outdoors, but to be prepared by wearing snake gaiters or snake proof boots. And don't ever let your guard down. Keep an eye out, be careful of where you sit, and don't reach into blind areas under rocks or wood piles where rattlesnake hang out.
Saturday, February 22 2014
We all know that there's a specific purpose to a snake's rattle— to scare larger animals and humans away. And it generally works! Hearing that rattle signals immediate danger and most of us move away as quickly as possible. But what if you couldn't hear the rattle and be warned? What if you sat down on a log or were walking down a trail and didn't know that a snake was inches from you because there was no warning rattle?! Some experts say that's what is happening with the Crotalus Viridis¸ or the prairie rattlesnake in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Over the past couple of years, naturalists have noticed many rattlesnakes with “curly-Q” tails, like you find on pigs. The tail muscles on these snakes have atrophied and can’t move the rattle. Snakes that have this genetic defect are the ones that are surviving. They reproduce and pass along that genetic defect to their offspring. The benefit to the snake is that if they are not heard, they are not killed. Because when most people hear that chilling rattle, if they have a garden shovel or gun available, it's all over for the snake.
Most people WANT to hear the rattle. It's helpful to both snakes and humans. These reptiles don't really want to bite humans— that would be a waste of venom on something they can't eat. So rattling warns us to get away, saving both species. Two hundred years ago when Native Americans were the only people in South Dakota, a rattlesnake would rattle and they would respect it and leave it alone. When white settlers moved in, however, and heard a rattlesnake rattle, they instantly killed it. So perhaps this genetic abnormality is actually saving rattlesnakes from certain death by humans?
There is no scientific data to back up this theory other than from observing that the rattlesnakes are developing this behavior, but it's worth keeping in mind for those who spend a lot of time in the desert or woods where rattlesnakes live. Keep in mind that if someone is bitten by a rattlesnake, the old wives tales about sucking out the poison, drinking alcohol, and other methods work won’t. The best thing is to carry basic First Aid supplies in your backpack, and then get help right away— get to a hospital and get anti-venom. Better yet, don't take a chance. Wear light-weight snake gaiters or snake boots and you won't have to worry about getting bitten— whether that snake is able to send a warning rattle or not.
Wednesday, January 01 2014
Did you know that rattlesnakes regulate the volume of their venom? A mouse needs only a little dose and a rat a little more. A rabbit may receive a little more venom than a rat. Rattlers sometimes bite humans without injecting venom. A snake that feels in danger may "deliver everything it has." About 6,000 people are bitten in North America each year. In about 80 percent of those cases, experts say, the victim was trying to handle the snake. A half century ago, fatalities were common. Not so today. Medical treatment is usually nearby, and antivenin is effective. Only one in about 700 bites results in death. If you don't die, the greatest danger is hock caused by dangerously low blood pressure that can deprive the brain and other organs of oxygen. Some snakebite victims bleed internally. Even with treatment, a survivor might lose flesh, muscle tissue, nerves, bone, even a limb.
Don't think rattlesnake venom is all that bad? Think again. A well-known snake expert, 61-year old Joe Wasilewski, was recently bitten in Florida and nearly lost his life. And that was someone who knew what he was doing— someone who has handled hundreds thousands of snakes during the last 50 years. Someone also used to handling crocodiles. But all it took was one mean viper to "deliver everything it has" and this expert almost didn't make it. Writer Jeff Klinkenberg of the Tampa Bay Times reported the story:
Wasilewski had opened a cage and used a short pole to lift a buzzing 4-foot diamondback rattlesnake. In a well-practiced move, he slid the snake into a garbage can for safekeeping while he cleaned the cage. Then it was time to reverse the process. Hook the snake in the middle, position head away from you, slide it back into the cage. But then Joe felt a sharp sting in his left forearm.
"Oh, oh,'' he told his son, Nick. "I think he got me.'' While his son called 911, Wasilewski got a funny metallic taste in his mouth. His lips tingled, he sweated profusely, he threw up. By the time he was taken to the hospital, Wasilewski was unconscious. His blood wasn't clotting. He'd received eight vials of antivenin. Then he got another eight. His arm was grotesque and swollen. Standing next to his dad's bed in intensive care, Nick stared in shock at the stricken arm. The twitching muscles made it look like worms wriggling under the skin.
Antivenin costs about $3,200 a vial. Why so expensive? First, lots of venomous snakes have to be captured. Their venom is extracted and injected into horses and sheep, whose blood forms antibodies against the poison. Finally, the animal blood is made into a product to treat humans.
Eventually Wasilewski improved. Opened his eyes. Talked. Then suffered a relapse. His blood had stopped clotting again. The swollen arm was turning black. Over the next three days his doctor ordered another 32 vials. Joe endured tubes up his nose, down his throat, in his penis, in his arm. Morphine. Fog. Day, night, another day. Improvement. Awake. Tubes came out. Ate some food. For the first time in more than a week, this man who was used to being around rattlesnakes, felt alive.
"I can't take another bite like that,'' Joe told friends who stopped by his home after Joe was released from the hospital. Joe has two Eastern diamondbacks. He has decided that he'll keep one of them for educational purposes. The other he'll give to a pal in Central Florida in the venom business. It is amazing that this South Florida longtime reptile wrangler has no hard feelings. “It was my own fault,” said Wasilewski. “I got careless. It’s not the snake’s fault.”
If a situation can happen to this expert, imagine what can happen out of the blue when hiking, hunting, stacking wood, or camping in rattlesnake habitat without the right protection. Don't take a chance! When in the desert or woods -- anywhere rattlesnakes are known to live -- protect yourself with snake gaiters or snake boots. This type of snake bite protection enables YOU to "deliver everything you have" when it comes to not getting bitten.
Monday, November 04 2013
The Burmese python, a native of India and other parts of Asia, has recently become an out-of-control menace in the Florida Everglades. No one knows exactly how these snakes got out of control. The guess is that they most likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. These snakes eat native species like alligators and endangered egrets, and are a threat to humans and their pets. These snakes have no natural predators, so wildlife officials are racing to control the python population. The U.S. Department of Agriculture received a patent in August for a trap that resembles a long, thin cage with a net at one end for the live capture of large, heavy snakes.
The Gainesville field station for the National Wildlife Research Center, which falls under the USDA, is preparing to test the trap in a natural enclosure that contains five pythons. Over the coming months, the researchers will try baiting the traps with the scent of rats and python pheromones. The wire traps will be camouflaged as pipes or other small, covered spaces where pythons like to hide. The 5-foot-long trap is made from galvanized steel wire with a tightly woven net secured to one end. Two separate triggers need to be tripped simultaneously for it to close, which should keep it from snapping shut on such native snakes as the eastern diamondback rattlesnake or the water moccasin. Of course a pair of snake gaiters will keep humans from being bitten by rattlesnakes and other deadly vipers, but gaiters, boots or chaps won't protect you from pythons.
In an effort to control the snake population, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allows hunters with special permits to remove pythons and other exotic reptiles from some state lands. Earlier this year, a state-sanctioned hunt that attracted worldwide media attention was held. Roughly 1,600 amateur python hunters joined the permit holders for a month, netting a total of 68 snakes. A prolonged cold snap has proven to be one of the better methods of python population control, killing off large numbers of the snakes in 2010. The population rebounded, though, because low temperatures aren't reliable in subtropical South Florida. And with plentiful food around, the pythons can get really big! The longest python ever caught in Florida was an 18-foot-8-inch specimen found in May beside a rural Miami-Dade County road.
Everglades National Park encompasses 1.5 million acres, and all but roughly 100,000 acres of that is largely inaccessible swampland and sawgrass, so it's not easy tracking down Burmese pythons. The new traps are definitely an experiment. It may work, or it may not. Traps have been used in the park to collect pythons for research, but not for population control. The area may turn out to be too vast for steel traps to be effective. Time will tell.