Sunday, February 21 2021
If there’s one thing worse than actually seeing a rattlesnake, it’s not seeing it and knowing it’s there! Many venomous rattlesnakes are experts at blending into their environment — it’s something wildlife officials and snake removal experts in Arizona see quite often — rattlesnakes that hide in plain sight.
The southwestern speckled rattlesnake from central Arizona is rarely seen by most people because of it's excellent camouflage. In the mountains of southern Yavapai County, the area is covered with rough granite boulders of the same base color as the snake— some pinkish/orange, some black and white. There is even a light blue rattlesnake, and you might be surprised to learn this is one of the most common rattlesnake species in the Phoenix area. Each community of southwestern speckled rattlesnakes is born with an adaptation that makes it look almost exactly like the rock composition in its immediate area. To see one in motion is to see what appears to be moving rocks, experts say. Even down to the smallest detail of the eye and the flecking frequency within the rock, the disguise is complete. This makes them both incredibly specialized predators, and notoriously difficult for humans or dogs to spot and then avoid. In the right context, the speckled rattlesnake is nearly invisible to passersby. According to the Tuscon Herpetology Society, this species is found in Arizona, southern California, southern Nevada, and extreme southwestern Utah. Every mountain from Phoenix to the Pacific Ocean has its own unique color combination of southwestern speckled rattlesnakes. Whether you appreciate snakes or they all give you the willies, there’s no denying their impressive camouflage ability.
Encountering a rattlesnake while out hiking or working outdoors is fairly common, but something that’s should not be common is finding a viper hiking under your bed! Yikes! That’s a lot worse than thinking the boogie man lives under there! Recently, a couple in Phoenix were surprised by a big Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. It was nearly 5 feet long — very large for the state of Arizona — and in a “defensive” state of mind. How did it get there? The best guess is that in came in through an open door. The tenant went out onto the patio for a few minutes, left the door open, and then saw it after going back inside from the patio. Only 1 in 400 calls to a rattlesnake removal company proves to be a rattlesnake in a home, showing how rarely it happens. In most of those cases, the rattlesnake got in through an open door. This was safely removed by an expert and good thing, too, because a Western diamondback is one of the nation’s 10 most dangerous snakes, with a venom that causes massive internal bleeding.
Obviously, prevention and avoidance is the way to go when it comes to snakes. So here’s a tip…. don’t plant Lantana around your home. This plant, which is installed at most new builds in Arizona by default, is the most rattlesnake-friendly landscaping feature you can have. If you have it, and live where rattlesnakes do, consider carefully how much you like this type of verbena. Prevention is key. Killing a snake does nothing to prevent future encounters. But not “inviting” snakes in the first place is the way to go. Besides growing lantana, having wood piles, sources of moisture, and rodents can inadvertently “invite” snakes into your yard, too.
If you purposely go out into snake country to hike, bike, camp, or if you work outdoors, don’t take a chance! Snake Gaiters can offer peace of mind and help protect your lower legs from deadly snake fangs.
Friday, September 11 2020
North America is home to dozens of venomous snakes, everything from the small and elusive coral snake in the southern portion of the country, to the much larger timber and diamondback rattlesnakes. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid hunting in snake country. Some of the best hunting grounds for deer, elk, bear, turkey, wild boar, pronghorn, big horn sheep, moose, and other game takes place in areas where poisonous snakes are not just present, but common. If you’ve hunted for any length of time, you’ve no doubt at least seen a snake or two from a distance. Thankfully snake bites are not something that occus every day, but a bite from a venomous species can cause extensive damage and, in some cases, even death. Knowing how to avoid and treat a venomous snake bite is a crucial skill for any hunter.
Know Something About Snake Habitat and Habits So You Can Avoid Them
A critical first step toward staying safe in areas where poisonous snakes are found is to have a basic understanding of snake ecology. As exothermic animals, snakes must regulate their own body temperature. If it’s cool they will likely seek out a place where the sun’s rays will warm their bodies—on roads, rocks, stone paths, etc. In hot weather, snakes will find spots that are cooler, such as under a fallen log or in a rock pile. Avoid common snake hideouts like deadfalls, tall grass and brush, and rock slides. When you are in the woods, be sure to step on and then over fallen logs and large rocks, and never reach into areas that don’t offer enough visibility to see a snake. The key is to train yourself to recognize potential snake hazards and to avoid them. Most snake bites occur on the hands, lower legs, and feet when someone inadvertently gets too close to an unseen snake. Watch where you sit. It’s true that snakes are most active in the early mornings during the summer months, but snake bites can happen year-round. Stretches of warm weather at any point during the year bring these reptiles out of hiding. Chilly weather often makes snakes more lethargic, but they could be on the move because they are seeking shelter from an imminent cold front. A lesser known fact is that rattlesnakes can only bite from a coiled position. And not all rattlesnakes actually rattle a warning before striking.
Don’t Antagonize Snakes
This should be common sense, but a number of snake bites each year occur because people intentionally put themselves in a position to be bitten. Emergency room doctors report that the most common snake bite victim is male, between the ages of 18 and 35, and the most common place they are bitten is the area between the thumb and forefinger. Usually, there is alcohol involved. Obviously you won’t be drinking if you are hunting, but you get the idea. It’s not a good idea to try and kill a snake you see in the distance. It’s not a good trophy. Snakes are fascinating creatures and you might want to get a closer look out of curiosity, but they deserve a wide berth. When you spot a snake – stop and take a few steps back.
Have the Right Equipment
The most obvious piece of gear you’ll need for hunting in snake country is a pair of snake-proof gaiters or snake-proof boots. In rocky terrain it’s a good idea to have a shooting stick to help you navigate through rough terrain. Sticks accomplish two things. First, they help keep you from falling down into a rock slide or brush pile that may contain a snake, and second, they allow you to stabilize yourself without exposing your hands or legs. Carry a good flashlight in snake country. Communication is key, so if you don’t have a cell phone that works, carry a radio or satellite phone—something that allows you to call for help if you are bitten (or for any other emergency).
Know What to Do if You’re Bitten by a Snake
Avoiding snakes is the best option, but if you are bitten you need to know how to react. The first step is to get away from the snake, making sure that you and others are out of harm’s way. If you can identify the species that may help, but don’t put yourself at additional risk to try and see or catch the snake. There are several myths about sucking venom from the wound, but that’s only Hollywood. Don’t “cut and suck” like in the movies! Prompt medical care is the only reliable option. Increased blood flow spreads venom more quickly, so the first step is to remain calm. Exert as little effort as possible to minimize heart rate and the spread of toxins within your body. Try to keep the bite site below the heart if possible and control breathing. Remove any jewelry like watches or rings because there will be swelling. Cover the bite with something clean, like gauze but don’t put too much pressure on the wound. Every snake bite should be treated as an envenomation (as opposed to a dry bite when the snake strikes but does not inject venom). Get to a doctor as quickly as possible!
Although it’s true that one errant step in snake country can turn a wilderness hunt into a life-threatening emergency, keep in mind that snakes are generally not aggressive unless threatened (by accidentally stepping on or near them) or if deliberately provoked. Given room, they will retreat. If you plan to be trekking through prime snake habitat this hunting season, use these tips to stay safer.
Saturday, June 20 2020
It’s summertime, and like it or not, snakes are out. Last year, several news organizations reported an increase in the number of venomous snake bites in Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, California, and Arizona. Rapid urbanization and higher-than-normal amounts of rain were blamed for the spike in bites, especially since they were occurring more frequently in suburban areas. People can encounter snakes while walking trails, camping or just doing summer yard work. In fact, recent encounters with snakes hiding under car hoods and in pool noodles have made the news. So even if you are sheltering in place due to COVID-19 and not out recreating much, you may still encounter snakes in and around your own home.
Did you know that there are over 3,000 species of snakes on Earth? While not all of them are perilous, per se, certain slithering serpents are extremely dangerous. Common venomous snakes include western diamond-backed rattlesnakes, copperheads and the cottonmouth, also known as the water moccasin. The range of species and likelihood of an encounter differ from region to region and specific locations. For instance, it’s much more likely to see a cottonmouth around bodies of water, like ponds, lakes or creeks, as well as bottomlands that maintain high levels of moisture throughout the seasons. Although it is best to always avoid contact with all snakes, the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is probably the most feared. Rattlesnakes are unique to the Americas, with at least 32 recognized species living in a multitude of habitats. Though they are icons of the Southwest, rattlers are found in many states across the country. Part of what makes the Diamondback so deadly is its refusal to back down when partaking in a stand-off. While many snakes are venomous but calm, this desert-dwelling critter can be super aggressive when provoked! This viper coils and rattles its tail (you’ve heard the sound) to warn enemies to stay back. When said enemies don’t take the warning seriously, the sassy snake will strike, and its venom packs quite the punch.
Because snakes are cold-blooded, they prefer sun and/or stretching out on warm surfaces like rocks, pavement and other heat-absorbing materials when temperatures are cooler. Just like people! But in the heat of the summer, they prefer shade, especially from the midday sun. “Contrary to popular belief,” explains a professor of biological sciences at California Polytechnic State University, “rattlers don’t like to be out when it’s really hot. When the temperatures hit triple digits and the monsoon comes, people aren’t the only ones seeking relief. Snakes will hide under something on the ground in people’s yards to get away from that extreme heat.”
What a lot of people don’t know is that venomous snakes typically do not want to use their venom as a defense. They usually give warnings – like rattlesnakes rattling – before they strike. The Texas Department of Health Services reported that half the reported bites by venomous snakes were “dry,” meaning no venom was injected into the victim. Of course victims don’t know that at the time so always seek immediate medical help. A snake strikes because it views you as a threat. Producing venom is an energetically costly process, and they only have so much. If they use it, they must make more to hunt for food, and they have to work for every single meal, so striking to defend themselves is something they would rather avoid.
You can’t get rid of snakes, nor should you necessarily want to. Rattlesnakes can actually do a service to homeowners near the foundation by eating rodents. Learn how to live with them so you, your kids, your pets and the snakes can all be safe. They are integral to ecosystems because they eat insects and rodents you don’t want around the house, in your garage, our outbuildings. Just leave the animal alone if you see one. The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary says an estimated 80 to 90 percent of rattlesnake bites occur when untrained people try to move or harm the snake. It’s best to give them plenty of room and let them go on their way. There are no chemical repellants proven to deter snakes, so removing potential shelter and food sources is the best way to NOT attract snakes. Cutting the grass, removing brush and debris, and trimming the lower branches on bushes and trees will go a long way in reducing the places a snake might want to hide. Reducing hiding spots for snakes will also reduce hiding spots for the prey they seek, like rats and mice.
The best advice this summer is as lockdowns are lifted and people get out and about is to be alert and check your surroundings. Wear appropriate protection such as snake gaiters, snake proof boots, or snake chaps, and never purposely disturb or touch a snake.
In the event you are bitten by a snake:
- Remain calm, and move away from the snake.
- Immediately call 9-1-1 or send someone for help and safely transport the snake bite victim to the nearest emergency medical facility for treatment.
- Remove wristwatches, rings or anything constrictive.
- Gently wash the area with soap and water. Keep the bite at or below heart level.
- Try to remember what the snake looked like so you can tell the emergency room doctor (but do not attempt to kill or catch it!)
- Do not cut open the wound and try to suck out the venom. Do not use a tourniquet - this will restrict or cut off blood flow and the limb may be lost.
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.
Monday, February 10 2020
Encountering an aggressive copperhead snake in January is pretty rare in most areas, but getting bit by a copperhead that was hiding in a tree is unheard of! Or so folks in Mississippi might think… until this recently happened to a hunter. It's the stuff of nightmares!
Last month, Mr. Hardy was taking the last of his dog pack back to his truck one evening when he encountered a flooded ditch. He found a narrow spot where he could jump across. When he leaned forward to jump, he felt a severe pain on the left side of his head. At that moment, he had no idea what had hit him, until he shined his light on a branch near his head and saw something he never expected— a snake coiled up on a tree limb about six feet off the ground. Startled by the flashlight, the snake struck at the hunter again and fell out of the tree.
Mr. Hardy was hunting with a friend and both identified the snake as a copperhead, which is common in Mississippi and venomous. Both hunters grabbed the dog and loaded her and their gear in the truck. Even though that took only a couple of minutes, Hardy was already feeling the effects of the bite. "It was a lot of severe burning. By the time I got in the truck the burning was spreading. It started spreading rapidly, the swelling,” he said. Amazingly, the two hunters didn't panic. They called the closest hospital so that the emergency medical team would be prepared when he arrived. Five vials of Crofab, an antivenom, was administered at that local hospital, and then Mr. Hardy was airlifted to a medical center in Jackson. After a day of hospital care, doctors agreed to release him because his wife is a nurse practitioner and could monitor his condition at home.
“Copperheads are basically terrestrial snakes, but it's been known that they will climb trees,” commented a local herpetologist. “One of the more common times for copperheads to climb is during summers when cicadas emerge from the ground and cling to trees and bushes while they shed their shells. During that time, copperheads will climb to eat the insects.” Since the hunter was bitten in January, that obviously wasn't the case here. One theory is that this particular copperhead ended up in the tree because it was caught in flash-flooding that occurred the day before. "I'll be looking [for snakes] the rest of my life," Hardy said. "I'll get some snake boots and a hat, I reckon."
If that scary incident wasn’t enough, a couple of weeks prior to that, another hunter, Mr. Ginn from Lexington, was trapped in a small hunting blind with a rattlesnake. It was a warm morning with temperatures in the 60s, so seeing a snake wasn’t too surprising, but hearing a rattling sound and then discovering a rattler next to his boot in a four foot by four foot space with no way to escape was more than alarming! With the commotion of the hunter jumping on his chair, the snake became more agitated and was striking at the chair each time it moved. Ginn took aim through his scope at the snake's head, fired, and missed. Scopes are great tools for shooting at long distances, but at a couple of feet, not so much. The hunter then put the barrel close to the snake's head as the snake was striking at it and fired. The rattling stopped, the snake was dead, but Ginn’s ears rang all day from firing a high-powered rifle in a metal building no larger than a typical public restroom stall "I shot twice. There's no telling what it would have measured on a decibel meter.” The snake measured about four and a half feet, had eight rattles, and its girth was larger than a canned drink.
Copperheads and rattlesnake are only two types of venomous snakes found in Mississippi. The cottonmouth is another. A local snake expert said Mississippians should not be surprised to see snakes at any time of year in the South. They don't truly hibernate. Snakes do something called brumate, at which time they're semi-active. They move around a little. Because of that, and combined with Mississippi's mild winters, you can find snakes in Mississippi twelve months of the year. Obviously these unfortunate snake encounters are not the norm, and should not keep people out of the woods. But keep in mind that in the South, snakes are active year-round, so protect yourself as best as you can by being very aware of your surroundings and wearing snake gaiters or snake proof boots.
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.
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.
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
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.