SNAKEBITES ON THE RISE!
Scarlett Cludius Indian Trail Master Naturalist
According to recent news releases(CBS), snakebites in North Central Texas have spiked this year, 2012, compared with last year. Some hospitals have seen more cases of snakebite so far this year than they saw in all of last year. The cause of the increase may be due to our mild winter and plentiful spring rains. Loss of habitat due to wildfires or construction also can cause snakes to move to new locations. Usually snakes are seen more in late spring and early fall. This year the reptiles are out earlier than usual as are their prey, insects and rodents. That abundance of prey may have spurred on the rise in sightings of snakes and the number of snakebites.
In Texas everyone needs to be able to recognize the four venomous snakes and know how to avoid snakebites in the first place. The snakes in question are the copperhead, which causes the most bites; the rattlesnake; the water moccasin; and the coral snake. You can find pictures of each online or in a snake field guide. Be sure and look at several photos of each of the four and study the descriptions. The colors can be slightly different depending on the age, health, molting status, weather, or time of year. Don’t just relay on old sayings such as, look for a “triangular head”, or “the white inside of a cotton mouth water moccasin”. Some nonvenomous snakes can flatten their heads so that they appear triangular and a moccasin may not open its mouth before striking. For more information, the Texas Poison Center Network online offers information on symptoms of snakebite, venom properties, how to treat snakebite, and photos and information on the four venomous snakes and their habits and habitats at www.poisoncontrol.org//critters.html
To prevent bites consider the following. Snakes frequent human areas for food and/or shelter. They are found in or around object that attract their prey, mainly rodents. Your home is made less attractive to snakes by keeping piles of wood, trash, and brush as far as possible from your home. Keeping your yard mowed and flower beds cleaned out discourages snakes from hiding close to the house. Build barns and out buildings as far away from your home as possible.
Most bites occur at home and they are usually on the arms or legs. To prevent bites, don’t pick up any snake. Remember, even nonpoisonous snakes can have painful bites. Use something besides your hands to turn over logs or boards. Watch where you place your hands and feet when cleaning out trash piles, tree branches, wood piles, garages, or attics. Snakes may lurk under overturned boats. Look before stepping over logs and rock piles where snakes like to hide. Wear heavy shoes or boots, and loose-legged pants when you are in rural or brushy areas.
More information on precautions to take at home or in the field can be found in the book Venomous Snakes of Texas by Price or online at www.utexas.edu/utpress/excerpts/exprivep.html.
Call 911 or go to the nearest health care facility if you or anyone else is bitten. DO NOT use a tourniquet, make an incision, use ice or any type of cold compress, take aspirin, or use alcohol. Any of those actions may cause an increase in bleeding or a quicker spread of the venom in the body.
A little common sense and respect for snakes as a valuable part of our environment can keep you safe from snakebites. And remember that very few people who are bitten actually die from the bite.