Staying Safe Around Rattlesnakes and Avoid Being Bitten
What Is A Rattlesnake?
Rattlesnakes are a group of venomous snakes in the Pit Viper family.
They are a common hazard in warmer months, across most of the United States, southern Canada, and parts of South America.
Although most people survive being bitten - particularly if they receive antivenom quickly - you definitely want to avoid them if you can!
How to Identify a Rattlesnake
There are many different species of rattlesnake, and the patterns and coloring vary a lot. If you really want to be sure, look up which species live in your area, and study the appearance. There are a couple of features common to most rattlesnakes, however.
- The rattle - this is the obvious one. All species of rattlesnake except for the Santa Catalina island rattlesnake have hollow segments on the ends of their tails, which they can rattle together when threatened. However, sometimes the rattles do break off - if your snake's tail has a blunt end, instead of tapering off, it may have lost a rattle.
- The head - Rattlesnakes have a triangle-shaped head, which enables them to dislocate their jaws for swallowing prey
- The "pits" on the face - to either side of the rattlesnake's nose, there is a small hole. These are sensory organs used for detecting body heat, when the snake is hunting, and they give the Pit Viper family its name.
Unfortunately, many harmless snakes lose their lives every year to a case of mistaken identity. The Gopher Snake, for instance, has a very similar pattern to the Pacific Diamondback Rattlesnake, but it has no rattle, and its bite is harmless.
Where You'll See Them
If you know where you are most likely to encounter a snake, you can take precautions to reduce your chances of being bitten.
- Rattlesnakes are most common in warm weather.
- They tend to avoid spaces where they can't hide
- You'll often find them in brushy or rocky areas, or under the porch steps
- Anyplace with thick, tall grass potentially has snakes hiding within it
- They are attracted to warmth when the air starts cooling, so you will sometimes find them basking on roads in the evenings.
Tips For Avoiding Danger
With a little common sense and preparation, you can keep yourself safe. Most snakebites are the result of reckless or careless action.
Here are a few tips to keep yourself as safe as possible:
- Wear tall boots when hiking - if a snake strikes at your ankle, chances are it'll just get a mouthful of your boot, not your skin.
- Don't put your fingers or feet anywhere you can't see, especially in rocky ground. Snakes often hide in holes and gaps in the rocks.
- Realize that they do not always rattle a warning before striking. Don't count on that to alert you to the snake's presence.
- Learn to recognize the sound of a snake's rattle. It's called a "rattle" but it often sounds more like a hissing buzz. Sometimes people mistake the noise for the sound of a sprinkler running, or a broken water pipe.
- If you see a snake, give it a way to escape. Like most animals, they will prefer to avoid a confrontation, and only attempt to attack when frightened, injured, or threatened.
- If you're walking in heavy grass or brush, carry a stick to probe the area in front of you before you walk through it. This will help alert the snakes to your presence.
- Remember that rattlesnakes can still thrash around and bite for up to an hour or two after death. Take great caution even if you believe the snake is dead.
- If you see a rattlesnake, MOVE AWAY FROM IT. It seems ridiculous to even have to say this, but studies have shown that around 43% of all rattlesnake bites occurred in cases where the victim recognized the snake but made no attempt to get away from it.
- Don't ever try to pick one up. No, not even on a bet. Or if you're drunk. This is an important rule to remember, and many people seem not to follow it.
What to do if someone is bitten
- DO NOT cut the bite, or attempt to suck the venom out, no matter what the movies say. This will only make the injury worse, and add the dangers of bleeding and infection.
- DO NOT tie a tourniquet. This will disrupt blood flow and damage tissue, and could result in the loss of the limb.
- IF you cannot get to a hospital within an hour or two, you can tie a constricting band around the limb that has been bitten. You should still be able to slip a finger under it easily - do not tie it tightly.
- Try to keep calm, and keep the victim's heart rate down - but not at the expense of getting to the hospital quickly.
- Immobilize the limb, if possible, and try to keep it below heart level.
- Head to the hospital as quickly as you can.
Keeping Pets Safe
Don't forget that your pets are also vulnerable to rattlesnakes - particularly dogs, who will often try to challenge or attack the snake.
- Keep dogs leashed when walking through any area that might have snakes, and keep them from sniffing at holes.
- Clear brush and tall grass out of your yard, to make it less inviting for snakes. Try not to leave clutter they can hide in.
- Find a way to keep rodents away. They will draw in the snakes, which hunt them.
- Get veterinary help right away if a pet is bitten. Don't wait to see if it develops symptoms - by the time the symptoms appear, it may be too late to save your pet.
- Pay attention if your pets start stalking, barking at, or chasing something. They don't know the danger they're putting themselves into.
- If you live in an area with a lot of snakes, consider purchasing pet insurance. Antivenom treatments can be very expensive.
What To Do If You Find One
So what should you do if you find a rattlesnake?
- If at all possible, walk away and leave it be. Unless it's on your property, where it represents an immediate danger to your family and pets, it's best to take the live-and-let-live approach.
- If it must be removed, it's safest to call a professional to deal with it.
- Remember that some species of rattlesnake are endangered. Depending on your state, attempting to kill one may or may not be illegal.
- Do not attempt to kill one unless you're sure you know what you're doing. You greatly increase your risk of being bitten.
- If you must try to kill it, use a long-handled tool such as a shovel blade.
- Remember that snakes can strike from a distance of several feet away. Do not get within striking distance!
Rattlesnakes As Food
If you must kill one, don't waste it. Rattlesnakes make tasty eating, if properly prepared.
- Cut off the head, using a long-handled implement like a shovel. DO NOT touch the head - bury it safely. It can still move its jaws, and will try to bite you, even after it has been detached.
- Skin and gut the snake.
- Cook it by your preferred method. I've had it made into a stew, and breaded like fried chicken, and it was very tasty both ways.
- And, yes. It tastes pretty much like chicken. Doesn't everything?