January 25, 2013 – Venomous Snakes

posted in: California | 0

Each year, nearly 8,000 people suffer bites from venomous snakes in the United States alone.  Most of the country is  home to one ore more species of Venomous snakes.  We describe several species of venomous snakes  living in California and Arizona. The article gives tips on how to safely navigate the territory occupied by snakes, how to avoid being bitten, and what to do in the unlikely event that one is bitten. If you have children, are a gardener, or go out side you owe it to your self and you family to read this article and learn every thing you can about the  native venomous snakes you have for neighbors.

In California and Arizona below 10,ooo feet, and South of Lake Shasta the following species of venomous snakes can be found:

The Side Winder
Red Diamond Rattlesnake
Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
Western Diamond Back Rattlesnake
Mohave Rattlesnake
The Coral Snake – Arizona
The Gila Monster – A lizard, but also could be just as nasty as a venomous snake. He bites but does not let go. If bitten, shoot it in the head.


Venom facts for venomous snakes  found in California “

  • Sidewinder — Venom is of moderate toxicity. Human lethal dose is 40 mg and people have died from envenomation. Average venom delivered per bite is 20-63 mg. Venom is still lethal to mice and cats after 27 years of storage. Venom causes deep tissue necrosis at site of bite.
  • Speckled rattlesnake — Venom is very potent. Minimum lethal dosage for 350 gram pigeon is 0.002-0.04 mg, for mice 0.05-0.12 mg. Adults contain up to 227 mg of venom (dry weight) but inject 0.16 mg. Dried venom potency undiminished after 27 years storage.
  • Red diamond rattlesnake — Long fangs (over 1/2 inch). Low in toxicity compared to other rattlesnakes but this is a large species capable of delivering large amounts of venom. Lethal dose for people is about 100 mg and 150-350 mg (up to 1.65 ml) is delivered per bite. People have died from envenomation. Lethality of venom decreases only slightly after 27 years, producing complete neuromuscular block of a cat diaphragm in 22 minutes. Tissue damaging properties of venom are 6-15 times greater in adults than juveniles. In one case history an adult man spent 9 days in the hospital (antivenom was administered) following a bite to the leg and was able to walk almost normally in two weeks.
  • Southern Pacific rattlesnake (western rattlesnake) — Venom primarily hemorrhagic (affecting blood) but some subspecies contain neurotoxic components. Toxicity of venom is greater than some larger species such as the western diamondback. This coupled with the high irritability of some individuals makes this a dangerous snake. Hemorrhagic, neurologic and proteolytic activity can all result from the same bite. Hemorrhagic activity in 18 minutes accompanied by some paralysis. Death in untreated cases may occur in 18 hours or up to 5 days. Lethal venom dose for humans is 70-160 mg and adults can produce up to 112 mg of venom (dried). Dried venom toxic to mice for at least 27 years.
  • Western diamond back rattlesnake — Fangs over 1/2 inch in length. Venom highly hemorrhagic. 53% of the enzymes cause breakdown of the circulatory system, 17% are neurotoxic, and 30% digest proteins. Hemorrhaging from vascular breakdown occurs in only 6 minutes. Stored venom loses little potency after 17 years. Lethal dose to humans is about 100 mg and snakes may contain up to 300 mg (dried). One snake yielded 1,145 mg (3.9 ml liquid)! This species probably responsible for more human deaths than any other snake in the U. S. Symptoms following bites include intense burning, vomiting, breathing difficulties, lowered blood pressure, increased heart rate, and secondary gangrene infection.
  • Mojave rattlesnake — Neurotoxic venom is extremely virulent (10 times more toxic than any other rattlesnake in the U. S.) affecting heart, skeletal muscles and neuromuscular junctions. Once bite sufficient to kill a human: lethal dose is only 10-15 mg and one adult can yield 141 mg (dried). Death occurs in a high frequency of untreated cases.

”  – Taken from the US Geological Survey Web Site at https://sbsc.wr.usgs.gov/products/htms/snake.aspx

I grew up in eastern Oregon where venomous snakes were omni present. In school, we were taught to watch for and respect these critters. Those of us who lived on the farms, were taught to where cowboy boots, and to allow our jeans to cover the boot. We preferred loose-fitting  jeans that covered the shank of the boot. Since bell bottoms were in at the time, getting such clothing was not a problem. Teachers knew as kids,  perfect vigilance while running around in the hills was probably not going to happen.  Thus out parents having the same education as our teachers, gave us boots as young boys. This would eliminate about 90% of accidental snake bites penetrating the skin.  There is really nothing that could be done to protect all the areas a snake could possibly reach. We were told if we saw a snake and had a sharp implement, or our gun to kill the thing, cut its head off and bury the head. Yes, the head needs to be buried; for several hours after severance, the venomous snake still has its venom, and can bite! Growing up I saw several snakes, many we just let alone, and many we did kill due to their proximity to our homes.

The first snake I encountered, was in third grade, it was huge, about 4′ long,  green, scary and was in the yard with my little sister. I got an ax and killed it on site. I learned a lesson via corporal punishment that day. Don’t kill a snake until you know your snakes. Not all huge scary snakes are venomous snakes. The snake I killed was a king snake these snakes are non venomous snakes, and primarily eat rodents. They help control rodents such as moles and gophers. There are rumors that they eat rattle and coral snakes. From that point on, I left snake population control to the older and wiser members of the community.  As an adult who knows a venomous snake from a non venomous snake, living where no one is likely to have trapping resource near by, I would still consider it a capital offence for the snake to be in my yard. I would happily act as the judge and executioner. When done killing the snake, remember to bury its head, save the rattles, skin it out and make a belt, and if you’re so inclined fry the meat up in butter and enjoy a free meal.

The best strategy for dealing with venomous snakes is to live and let live.

Snakes out in their own environment, really are beneficial, God made them for a reason, I don’t know what it is, but it is our responsibility to let them be if at all possible. God gave us the responsibility to manage the earth and all that is in it. It would be preference to kill everything that is higher on the food chain than myself, or could kill my kids. That sort of behavior I am afraid would not be considered good environmental stewardship. Since our job is not to go out an annihilate the snake population, we need to learn to live with the venomous snakes. Keep this straight!  Venomous snakes in my house or yard are dead snakes, venomous snakes on their reservation (Which is everywhere except my yard) we have to let live.  So how do we coexist? Take the following precautions:

  • Hands, feet and ankles are the most common sites for rattlesnake bites. (Wear Boots, and watch where you place your hands. Double check the stick you are reaching for is not a young snake.  One person in Clarkston, Washington picked up what he thought was a stick next to a pot in the garden center at Walmart, was bitten and lost use of the hand on a permanent to hopefully a semi permanent basis.)
  • Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking in the rough. Always wear hiking boots. ( I can’t believe how often people prefer comfort over protection.)
  • Always stay on paths. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where there may be snakes. (If you are walking alone and don’t step on the snake, often he will not wake from his nap in time to strike you, if you are walking single file in a line the second or third guy will get nailed. Consider your position when hiking. I know it is a lot like the bear joke and the guy with the tennis shoes, but hey! ).
  • Bring a solid bright light when walking at sunset.  Just this year, four separate incidents venomous snakes  occurred. Each one of us were with in inches of stepping on a venomous snake who was enjoying the heat radiating from the black top just after sunset. Venomous snakes lay there until well after dark soaking in the left over heat from the earlier sun light. We let three of the snakes go, and the one my wife stepped on was captured and relocated to another part of the park that we were staying in.
  • Use a walking stick when hiking. If you come across a snake, it can strike the stick instead of you. (This is standard  recommendation, it is BS, unless you are poking the snake with the stick. At that point, You better hope someone shoots the snake before the snake strike you!
  • Always look for concealed snakes before picking up rocks, sticks or firewood. Snakes, hide under rocks, I have many pictures of venomous snakes hanging out under rocks. If you pick up one of these rocks, you may very well be down a hand or arm. Don’t walk around in rocks that are in places such as river beds, and hill sides, and more importantly don’t pickup any rock that you can not 100 percent verify has no one residing under it.
  • Always check carefully around stumps or logs before sitting.
  • When climbing, always look before putting your hands in a new location. Snakes can climb walls, trees and rocks and are frequently found at high altitudes.
  • Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming. Rattlesnakes are excellent swimmers.
  • Never hike alone. Always have a buddy to help in case of an emergency. Learn basic life-saving methods.
  • Don’t handle fresh killed snakes. You may still be bitten.
  • Never tease a snake to see how far it can strike. You can be several feet from the snake and still be within striking distance.
  • Teach children to respect snakes and to leave snakes alone. Curious children who pick up snakes are frequently bitten.
  • Always give snakes the right of way! Let the snake go his way, even if he is in your way.
  • Snakes can blend in with their surroundings. I nearly stepped on a Mohave green rattlesnake in the Verde river bed. He was on green grassy path where the trail was rather wide. I took a picture of him, and left the area.

When you park your RV, stay in a cabin or tent in snake country you need to look before stepping out. Snakes like to hide under steps, against thresholds  or any other location where they feel like they are protected on at least one side. Venomous snakes have predators too!

Best Practice – Stick to well-used trails and wear over-the-ankle boots and loose-fitting long pants. 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 rocks or gathering firewood. Always avoid walking through dense brush or willow thickets.

First Aid for a Venomous Snake bite

Though people rarely die from a snake bites, people often suffer lasting effects that remind them of the incident for years to come.  There is little we can do without an anti venom. The only way to get that is getting to a hospital! If you are not where there is phone service, your goal is to keep the victim calm, and get to a location where you can call 911. Don;t wait to see if a reaction will occur. The typical rattle snake will start to bruise and kill skin, and other damage approximately 2 hours after the bite. The Mohave rattle snake will have a bite that might not even be visible. Many believe the snake is responsible for deaths thought to be just plain old heart attacks, as the examiners or first responders may never see the lesions. The coral snake yields bite with little or no pain, the antidote needs to be administered within an hour, or the victim may be one of the very small number who does not survive. With medical attention being viable in most situations, the key objective is to keep the victim calm, fear can send him into shock, which is more dangerous than most venomous snake bites.

One last thing that can be done in the vent of  venomous snakes bites, if you are way out in the boonies and getting the victim to the hospital in under 2 hours is not in the cards, use the Sawyer Extractor Pump Kit. This is a highly controversial procedure, but if you are looking at several hours before getting care you might want to try it. Sawyer Extractor Pump Kit buy one of these and keep it with you! Used within five minutes, it may pull enough venom out to buy a bit more time.

“Too far from Help?  https://www.desertusa.com/may96/rattlesnake2.html
If a victim is unable to reach medical care within 30 minutes, a bandage, wrapped two to four inches above the bite, may help slow venom. The bandage should not cut off blood flow from a vein or artery. A good rule of thumb is to make the band loose enough that a finger can slip under it.
A suction device may be placed over the bite to help draw venom out of the wound without making cuts. Suction instruments often are included in commercial snakebite kits. Mechanical suction for 30 minutes with a reverse syringe (e.g., Sawyer Extractor) helps if you begin suction within five minutes after the bite occurs.”

Venomous snakes – List of never do’s 

  • Don’t suck the venom out of your self, or the victim. This could cause the venom to enter the body directly in large quantities through the soft tissues. This could be fatal to the care giver, and worsen the condition of the victim.
  • Giving the victim whiskey, will help circulate the poison through out his body very rapidly. Giving your self whiskey may be calming, but will make it more difficult to get the victim to medical help.
  • Cutting the bite area, and using a device to suck the poison out, will cause the poison to enter through the laceration and more quickly flow through the victim.

 Are bites from venomous snakes fatal?

Never believe the lie that snakes are safe, don’t ever come into town, here is a tragic story of one college student in California who was bit on campus  –  https://www.canyons.edu/offices/pio/rattlesnakeinfor.html

What you need to do to stay safe.

The best you can do in snake country is dress in ways that will help limit the area in which an unexpected snake can strike you. At the very least, wear cowboy boots, or better yet snake proof boots manufactured by a proven company. Here is one such boot: Chippewa Men’s 23913 17″ Pull-On Snake Boot.  This boot does not replace great care and judgement, it is just one really useful piece in your safety puzzle.

These guys do live testing of the boot. You will notice, that snakes, are not out to bite, but bites do occur if the snakes feel the need.

Dressing appropriately and following the advice in this article will keep you safe. Please remember your children are more vulnerable to snake bite due to their size than you are. Dress them for safety, teach them about snakes so that they too can avoid being bitten by them.

Good Evening and good night