Snakes instill an intense fear in people. It is the fear of a snake striking, then sinking their fangs into your skin and injecting their poisonous venom. As extreme panic overtakes the body the thought now what do I do overtakes your mind?
Snake bites are often not deadly, however, getting bitten by a snake can be lethal if you’re on your own on a remote trail. Each year, about 8,000 venomous snake bites occur in the US and about 5 of those people die. You’ve got a good chance of survival if you seek medical attention immediately. The only effective treatment for a snake bite is the right anti-venom to neutralize it. Each snake venom and the needed anti-venom are different so try to remember the color and characteristics of the snake to relay to the medical personal. Under no circumstances try to kill the snake and bring it to a medical facility, this can just cause the snake to bite you multiple times injecting more and more venom into your body.
If You See a Snake……Stay Calm!
The old saying is true snakes are more afraid of you then you are of them. When was the last time you tried to bite a snake? Snakes strike when they feel threatened. If you back a snake into a corner or surprise a snake they will feel threatened. If you see a snake, don’t approach. If you are close “slowly” back away, no sudden movements.
How Far Can a Snake Strike?
Is that coiled snake trying to kill me? Can it strike at me 10 feet away? These are generally the questions running through your mind when you see a snake.
Striking Distance: Snakes can strike 1/4 to 3/4 of their body length. However, snakes can “Move and Strike” very quickly. The industry “Minimum Safe Distance” is considered 10 feet.
A snake can strike from any position and in any direction!
What Type of Snake is It?
Luckily most snakes aren’t poisonous. It’s a great idea to be able to identify which snakes to watch our for while on the trail. Below are pictures of the 4 most common poisonous snakes in North America and a few pieces of information about them.
There are several different types of Rattlesnake located through the United States.
TIP: Rattlesnakes don’t always “rattle” before striking. In the cold Rattlesnakes are less active and will rarely rattle before striking.
Copperheads generally employ a warning bite and inject the least amount of venom of the Pit Vipers (Rattlesnakes, Cottonmouths, Copperheads) listed in this article. If bitten medical treatment should still be sought out immediately. Copperheads easily blend in with dead leaves and brush and are hard to see.
Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin)
While death is rare the venom of the Cottonmouth can destroy tissue, leave scars and on occasion require amputation. The juvenile Cottonmouth will be more colorful with easily noticeable rings (pictured) while the the mature cottonmouth can be almost a jet black.
When confronted Coral Snakes always attempt to flee, let them! Their venom is very deadly and they release a neurotoxin which can inhibit the nervous system and can severely effect breathing. The Coral Snake and the King Snake look very similar and are often confused by the untrained professional. The song goes: Red touch yellow kills a Fellow, red touch black friend of Jack.
What Do I Do if I Get Bitten?
- Try with all your might to stay calm & sit down. Elevating your heart rate just spreads the toxin faster.
- Call 911, the local emergency number or Poison control (1-800-222-1222) immediately. If you do not have cell coverage send a friend to get help or move slowly towards a trailhead looking for help.
- Remove anything tight. The area will swell and circulation will be cut off.
- Clean the area gently with soap and water if possible.
- Note the time of the bite. Document your swelling. Use a sharpie, pen, etc. Circle the original bite mark and as the swelling moves draw larger circles. Due this at regular intervals (every 30 minutes). This will help the medical personal.
What NOT to Do for a Bite Victim
- Give them anything to eat or drink
- Try to suction the bite with your mouth or a device
- Apply an ice pack
- Cut or slit the bite marks
- Put the affected limb above the heart
- Have them engage in strenuous movement
- Never apply a tourniquet or a wrap that will stop the flow of blood, it causes more damage
- Never try to kill them snake
- Give them medication
Are Snakes More Aggressive at a Certain Time or Season?
Yes they are. Snakes have patterns just like we do.
- The beginning of warmer weather in March is the beginning of snakebite season as they come out of hibernation.
- They like the sunny side of a rock area, cliff edge or rock wall. Be careful when you sit on the edge of a sunny cliff and dangle you legs down.
- Snakes also tend to be near water, especially if it’s an otherwise dry environment. If you’re in an area near a spring keep an extra eye out.
- They are nocturnal predators except in the southeast. They are likely on the edge of a sunny patch in the morning due to the mid-day sunlight being too much. (Watch out on those early morning runs)
Snake Facts and Tips:
- The colder it is out the slower they move, the warmer the faster.
- Never step over a log, step on it or walk around
- You can out walk ANY snake.
- Venom can effect you in a few minutes to up to 1-2 days.
- Never put your hands or feet where you can’t see with your eyes
What do you do if there is a snake on the trail and you can’t go around?
Stomp your feet and wave your arms. Snakes can’t hear but can see you and fell the vibrations from your stomping. This will let them know to go the other way.