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Posted by: Dennis Hinkamp on Jun 19, 2013

Snake-Wise Safety Tips

Contact: Terry Messmer
  Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist
  Phone: (435) 797-3975
  E-Mail: terry.messmer@usu.edu
   
  Julene Reese
  Utah State University Extension writer
  Phone: 435-797-0810
  E-Mail: julene.reese@usu.edu


Ask a Specialist: Do You Have Tips on Being Snake Wise?
Answer by: Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist

LOGAN, UT – As the hot summer months begin, so does the risk of snake bites. Utah is home to 31 species of snakes. Of these, only seven are venomous and are commonly called pit vipers because of the pit located between the nostrils and eyes. The seven venomous species include sidewinders, speckled rattlesnakes, Mojave rattlesnakes, Western rattlesnakes, Hopi rattlesnakes, midget faded rattlesnakes and Great Basin rattlesnakes. The most commonly encountered of these is the Western rattlesnake.

 
Since most snakes in Utah are non-venomous, most human-snake encounters are generally not dangerous. However, if you encounter a venomous snake and are bitten, the consequences could be serious.
 
New research has found that the toxicity of venom varies greatly between individual snakes, both young and old. Pit vipers generally inject large amounts of venom into hunting bites, but often little or no venom into defensive bites. In fact, up to 25 percent of pit viper bites in humans are non-venomous “dry bites.” A provoked and angered snake, however, might not only “load up” to be quite venomous, but may also strike several times. Most venomous snakes are peaceful, retiring reptiles that flee for the underbrush when they encounter humans. Unless they are hunting rodents, rattlesnakes strike only in self-defense. But if you step on one or try to capture it, a rattler will retaliate with a rapid strike that can be debilitating or even lethal.
 
In 1988, the University of Southern California Medical Center analyzed 227 cases of venomous snakebite, covering more than a decade, and found that 44 percent occurred during accidental contact, such as stepping on the animal. More than 55 percent, however, resulted from the victim's grabbing or handling the creatures, and in 28 percent of these cases, the victims were intoxicated.
 
It is important to be snake wise. Consider this information.
 
• If you encounter a snake, it is best to leave it alone. Even dead snakes have been known to bite by reflex action. More than 7,000 venomous snake bites are reported each year in the United States, with nine to 15 of those bites being fatal. If you encounter a venomous snake, it will greatly reduce your risk if you simply leave the area.
 
• As a general rule, poisonous snakes have elliptical pupils and a single row of scales on the underside of the tail. Non-poisonous snakes have round pupils and two rows of scales on the underside of the tail. Most pit vipers in Utah have a series of rattles on their tail, hence the name rattlesnake. When these snakes are encountered, the rapid vibration of the rattles warns intruders. However, not all rattlesnakes will rattle when disturbed, so when you are in areas where rattlesnakes are known to live, pay close attention to where you walk, sit and place your hands.
 
• If you hear a rattlesnake, stand still until you can locate it. Do not try to jump or run, as you may end up within the snake’s striking range. Rattlesnakes can be found throughout Utah in sagebrush, pinyon-juniper woodlands, sand dunes, rocky hillsides, grasslands and mountain forests at elevations ranging from sea level to timberline.
 
• Snakes are classified as non-game animals and are protected by Utah state laws. A person cannot collect or possess a live wild snake without receiving a Certificate of Registration from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. With human or domestic pet and livestock safety concerns, a venomous snake may be killed without a certificate.
 
• Non-venomous snake bites are harmless. The only concern may be for potential infection. If bitten, clean and sterilize the wound much like you would a cut or abrasion.
 
• Bites from venomous snakes will almost instantly show signs of swelling and discoloration of the surrounding tissue. Other symptoms include a tingling sensation, nausea, rapid pulse, loss of muscle coordination and weakness. Also, bites from pit vipers will have two characteristic fang marks as well as other teeth marks.
 
• When someone has been bitten by a venomous snake, there are many things you should not do. Do not allow the person to engage in physical activity such as walking or running. Carry the person if he or she needs to be moved. Do not apply a tourniquet to the area above the wound and do not apply a cold compress to the bite area or cut into the bite. Do not give the victim stimulants or pain medications unless instructed by a physician. Do not give the victim anything by mouth, and do not try to suction the venom, as doing so may cause more harm than good.
 
All venomous snake bites should be considered life threatening. When someone has been bitten by a venomous snake, time is of the essence. If possible, call ahead to the emergency room so anti-venom can be ready when the victim arrives. 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 constricting items such as rings, since the affected area will swell. Cover the bite with clean, moist dressing to reduce swelling and discomfort. Monitor the victim’s vital signs (pulse, temperature, breathing, blood pressure). If there are signs of shock, lay the victim flat and cover with a warm blanket. Get medical help immediately, and if possible, bring the dead snake to the hospital if it can be done without further risk of injury.
 
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Direct column topics to: Julene Reese, Utah State University Extension writer, Logan, Utah, 84322-4900; 435-797-0810; julene.reese@usu.edu

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