home / Hidden Valley
When snakes bite
Friday, August 20, 2010
It is a well-known fact that all kinds of snakes live in the desert, and Maricopa sees its fair share. The farther you are from town, the higher the chance of a snake encounter. Many folks never see more than the occasional slither across the road, while others – especially in the Hidden Valley area – deal with them routinely.
Here is another fact: all snakes will bite if provoked or threatened. Most will also leave without biting if they have the option. To kill them arbitrarily is to upset the ecological balance of the world we live in. Just think of all the gophers, mice, and other vermin we would have to deal with if snakes weren’t around to control those populations. Not that I am a snake-lover, but facts are facts.
The best known and worst feared are rattlesnakes, of which five varieties live locally. They are venomous, they don’t always rattle before they bite, and a bite always warrants a trip to a doctor or veterinarian – depending on which family member you’re talking about. Another venomous snake sometimes seen is the coral snake – small but deadly. Several types of non-venomous snakes also live here: gophers, bulls, kings, and racers, just to name a few.
You can avoid confrontations by using common sense. In the spring, snakes are particularly aggressive. They come out of hibernation looking for three things: warmth, food, and a chance to mate. They will go in and out of the sun to regulate their body temperature, so don’t expect them to be sitting out in the open waiting for you. In the summer and fall, they are more often found at night, or in cool, shady areas like around water pumps and faucets. Here are some tips to help you stay safe:
If you are bitten, stay calm. People almost never die from snake bite in Arizona. If you can see the snake, try to memorize its markings so you can tell medical personnel, or get a picture with your cell phone. If not, don’t worry about it. Professionals say they use the same anti-venin for most snakes now, anyway. The following first aid guidelines are recommended by the American Red Cross for all snakebites, regardless of type.
- Close up entry holes around your home. Keep skirting, foundation, and doorways in good repair.
- Build solid steps, and skirt raised patios or platforms.
- Remove woodpiles, clutter, and piled debris from your yard. Fill holes and pits.
- Minimize thick vegetation around the home, fence, play areas, or animal runs.
- Consider installing snake fence around your home or yard, with flush-closing gates.
- Snake-proof your dogs. A veterinarian or professional trainer can help you with this.
- If you keep chickens or other fowl, be extremely observant. Snakes love eggs.
- Watch where you walk. Look at – and around – your intended path.
- Always use a flashlight at night. Check under and around objects.
- When hiking, carry a long walking stick. Rustle the brush and alert snakes to your presence.
- Dress prudently when in grass or brush, or working anywhere snakes can hide. Wear long pants, boots, and gloves. Don’t put your fingers or toes anywhere you can’t see.
- If you see or hear a snake -- stop. Determine his exact location so you don’t step on him. Then calmly back up and skirt a good ten feet around him. A snake can strike up to two-thirds his body length.
- Teach your kids snake safety. No poking holes with sticks, no chasing or irritating snakes.
Medical help should be sought for any bite victim who is very old, very young, or has chronic health conditions – or if you know the bite is from a venomous snake.
Call 9-1-1 if the victim has difficulty breathing, loses consciousness, or is bleeding profusely and bleeding cannot be staunched.
The biggest keys to safety around snakes are knowledge and prevention. Snake-proofing your home, kids, and pets is important – but not foolproof. Your alertness, vigilance, and common sense are ultimately what will keep you and your family safe.
- Keep the victim calm.
- Wash wound with mild soap and water and leave open. Do not apply either ice or heat.
- Immobilize the wound and keep it lower than the heart.
- Remove tight clothing and jewelry from the affected area.
- Watch the wound for immediate swelling, bulging, discoloration, or bruising. Watch the victim for nausea, vomiting, or light-headedness. These may be symptoms of a venomous bite. Get to a medical center immediately.
- If medical aid is farther away than 30 minutes, wrap an elastic bandage two to four inches above the wound, between the wound and the heart. Do not over-tighten like a tourniquet. The bandage must not cut off blood flow. Make sure you can slip at least one finger under the bandage.
- Some commercial snakebite kits include a suction device. This should only be used in extreme emergencies, or when there is no medical aid available.
Avoiding snakes is the easiest -- and safest -- way to avoid a painful bite.