Poisonous Snakes: How to avoid them and what to do if they bite

Rattlesnake in grass

After a Texas man’s recent post of a video showing a den of rattlesnakes under his shed, we knew it was time to pull out one of our articles from 1969. This information is still helpful today.

FROM OUR ARCHIVES:

Usually rattlesnake bites are a rare occurrence but there is no point in putting out a welcome sign. Seldom, if ever, are such bites fatal to healthy adults if the victim refuses to panic. For those who do not know snakes: assume that each reptile is dangerous and avoid it. 

To keep from putting out that “welcome sign,” watch out near heavy brush or along the bank of a dry wash with thick brush along the bank. Brush, green or dry, usually means a water source and this brings rodents. Snakes are attracted by, and feed on rodents. 

Photo of snake article CPI printed in 1969
Snake article, circa 1969.

When hiking, do not walk through brush or bushes. Walk around. Avoid stepping directly over logs or big rocks – instead step up on them. Then step away from the far side where a snake may be lurking, and where you cannot see them. Never sleep directly on the ground. Snakes come out of hibernation in March, April or May. During warm days they are out sunning themselves but, if the evenings are cool, they will retreat to their dens.

In case of a snake bite, keep the victim warm and quiet and make all possible haste to get him to a doctor.

If equipment is at hand to lance the bite, cut through each fang hole with a razor or very sharp knife, making the cut one-half inch long. (Sterilize the tool with a flame, if possible.) The cut should bleed profusely, getting as much poison out of the wound as quickly as possible. The incision should preferably be with the grain of the muscle, not crosswise to it.

The moment the victim realizes he has a snake bite, he may go into shock. He must be kept prone, warm, and calm. A tourniquet should be placed (if possible) between the bite and the heart. Release every 15 minutes and force incision to bleed. If the patient must walk, hurry him but never run him. If any venom has reached a major blood vessel, the running will only serve to increase the heartbeat, thereby hurrying the poison to the heart.

If possible, the offending snake should be killed and brought to the doctor. The bite could have been that of a non-poisonous snake, and the doctor can thus make positive identification.

Rattlesnakes belong to the pit viper family, their poison causing a breakdown in the blood. In this hemisphere, all vipers, including all species of rattlers, cottonmouths, and copperheads, have the same type of poison. The only reason one viper is more potent than another is that one manufactures larger quantities of venom than the others.

For example, the giant Diamondback of the Florida Everglades carries a spoonful of venom in each sac. This amount can kill a healthy man in an hour. The Pygmy rattler of the Carolinas, not much larger than a silver dollar when coiled, generally hasn’t enough venom in its sacs to even hospitalize the victim. 

For more tips about snake safety, watch Komatsu America’s “Morning Meeting” video about avoiding snakes

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