Friday, April 2, 2010

Slithery Friends

When the weather starts to warm up, the local snakes come out of their winter hibernation. You're most likely to see them when the nights are cool and the days are warm, but they are active throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Most "snake sightings" are King Snakes or Gopher Snakes, but this is also Rattlesnake territory. We like ALL of them—they're part of nature's rodent control system.

Rattlesnake Facts
  • Rattlesnakes can strike at distances up to 2/3 their own length.
  • It's possible for a rattlesnake not to have a rattle. Baby rattlesnakes don't have a functional rattle until they molt for the first time and adults occasionally lose theirs.
  • 25% of adult rattlesnake bites are dry, with no venom injected.
  • Baby rattlers are more dangerous because they have less control over the amount of venom they inject.
  • About 800 people in California are bitten by rattlesnakes each year and more than 99% of them survive.
Dos and Don'ts in Snake Territory

The best way to avoid being bitten by a snake (rattlesnake or otherwise) is to LEAVE IT ALONE!
  • NEVER stick your hands or feet anywhere you can't see them! This includes in piles of loose hay and under the pallets.
  • If you see a snake, DO NOT try to move, catch, scare, or kill it. If it's resting someplace where there's lots of foot traffic, let other folks know so they don't accidentally tangle with it.
To make sure you don't accidentally have a close-encounter with one of our slithery friends:
  • Avoid taking shortcuts through tall grass or weeds. Walk or hike in areas where the ground is clear, so you can see where you step or reach with your hands.

  • Make plenty of noise so that they have the opportunity to retreat. Rattlesnakes can sense that we're too big to eat and will only bite a human if they feel threatened.

  • Wear gloves when using your hands to move pallets, jump standards, rocks, or brush.

  • If you're working in the weeds, wear protective clothing such as long, heavy pants and high boots.

If you have small children, it's important to keep a close eye on them and keep them on the main walkways and out of the tall grass and weeds.

Name That Snake...

Have you seen any of these snakes around the barn or your house? Do you know which ones are poisonous?

Not sure? The answers are at the end of this post.

First Aid for Snakebites

If you or someone you're with is bitten by a rattlesnake or suspected rattlesnake, it should be treated as a medical emergency. Call 911 or proceed immediately to the nearest emergency room.

In the meantime:
  • Stay calm. It can be extremely painful, but rarely fatal.
  • Remove any jewelry or tight-fitting clothing that could constrict swelling.
  • Gently wash the bite wound with soap and water.
  • Immobilize the affected area and keep it below the level of the heart.
  • Apply ice
  • Attempt to "suck the venom out"
  • Apply a tourniquet
  • Administer aspirin or other NSAIDs
  • Elevate the affected area
What if my Horse or Dog Gets Bitten?

Horses tend to have a milder reaction to rattlesnake bites than humans. In fact, horses have traditionally been used to produce antivenin. Like with humans, the bite should be treated like a puncture wound. Keep the horse calm, clean the wound, and consult the vet immediately regarding further treatment. Bites on the nose or face can be life-threatening if the swelling impedes breathing. If necessary, 6" pieces of garden hose or hollow tubing can be inserted into the nostrils to keep the airway open.

Reactions vary in dogs (and cats), but rattlesnake bites can be life-threatening. Keep your pet calm and seek veterinary care immediately. (Call ahead to determine the nearest clinic that's prepared to treat snakebites.) It's generally advised NOT to attempt to clean the wound on your own, just head to the clinic. If your pet lives, works, or plays where there are rattlesnakes, ask your vet about the rattlesnake vaccine.

Want to Know More?
Row 1: Mountain King Snake, Ringnecked Snake, Garter Snake, King Snake
Row 2: Gopher Snake, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Speckled Rattlesnake
Only the rattlesnakes are poisonous. Note that not all rattlesnakes have the distinctive diamond pattern. The Mountain King Snake is sometimes mistaken for the very venomous Arizona Coral Snake, which is not found in California.