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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jun 1, 2014

DianneErskineHellrigelIt’s the time of year when rattlesnakes start coming out and scaring the uninitiated hikers on the trail.

If you know what to do, there’s no need to be nervous. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be on the trail, and the less likely you’ll end up with a bite.

All of the local rattlesnakes you see will be Southern Pacific rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are part of a group of venomous snakes. They are predators that hunt small prey such as birds, mice, small rabbits and rats.

No matter what you’ve heard about rattlesnakes coming after someone and pursuing them, it’s not true. A rattlesnake would rather not tangle with a human. They become nasty, threatening and defensive when they feel threatened by one of us. If you poke them with a stick or throw a rock at them, they will coil and defend themselves. If you get close enough, they will strike at you.

And no matter how much beer you’ve had and how fast you think you are, the rattlesnake is faster. The largest group of people reporting to hospitals with rattlesnake bites are men aged 18-40 who have been drinking beer … and most of those bites are on or near the hand or wrist.

I repeat: You are not smart enough or fast enough to grab a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes rarely bite unless they are provoked or feel threatened.

deh_rattlesnake-cmkudijaMy best advice is to stay clear of the snake. Don’t throw anything at it. Don’t dilly-dally. Just get out of there and away from it as soon as possible, and put as much distance as you can between yourself and the snake. You’ll see that the snake was also happy to avoid confrontation and will be gone when you are on your way back. And if you’re out on a hike, please refrain from drinking before you go. The beer will make you think you are smarter than you are. Save the beer for a post-hike treat when there are no snakes around.

Rattlesnakes are known for the titular noise they make. It comes from the “rattle” at the end of the tail. However, not all rattlesnakes will rattle. The rattle itself is brittle and can break off. Baby rattlesnakes have only a little button on the end of their tail and no rattles.

Rattlesnakes are also beginning to evolve away from making a rattling sound as a warning because too many of them die at the hands of humans when they rattle. So you might not always hear that familiar rattle.

The other way to make a quick identification is the triangular shape of the head. If the head is oval, it’s not a rattlesnake. Gopher snakes and rattlesnakes have similar markings to most people who do not know the snakes well.

Even though you might not like snakes, they play an important role in the ecosystem. They eat rodents … lots of them. You don’t want mice and rats running rampant all over the place, so just put up with a few snakes. Please don’t kill them. Not even the rattlers. If one is in your shed or backyard, call someone to come get it and make sure your children and animals are secure and far away. All snakes are an important link in the ecosystem, and you’ll probably be more in danger of the diseases that rodents carry than from getting a snake bite. And compared to cobras, rattlesnakes are considered demure.

If you happen to get bitten, get treated at the local hospital as soon as possible. Do NOT slit it open, do NOT suck out the venom, and do NOT apply a tourniquet. What you DO need to do is call 911 immediately for transport. Take a Sharpie pen and mark the time of the bite on the skin, and then mark the progression of the swelling and redness every 15 minutes. This will help the medical personnel determine how quickly the venom is traveling and the amount of venom that was in the bite.

Rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal. The most important thing is to get to a hospital quickly. You will need to be given the antivenom preferably within two hours after the bite. Recovery with quick antivenom therapy is 99 percent. Some rattlesnakes might deliver a lot of venom, some might deliver none, and in the case of juveniles, they will not be able to control how much they deliver.

If you or a friend are bitten by a rattlesnake, remain calm, retreat away from the snake, and arrange for transportation to a hospital as soon as possible. Call 911 as soon as you can. Loosen all clothing and remove anything that might restrict blood flow such as rings, watches and headbands. Keep the bitten area below the heart, if at all possible. Keep the victim warm. Use a blanket or jackets if it is cold. Do not throw blankets or jackets on someone if it’s 105 degrees out. You don’t want them also to suffer from heat exhaustion.

Keep your friend calm and quiet. Talk to him or her in a soft, reassuring voice. Don’t get the bite victim excited. If you happen to have a camera with you, take a photo of the offending snake. This will make species identification easier for the professionals.

If you have been bitten and injected with venom, you will probably experience swelling, severe pain, tingling, weakness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, hemorrhaging, profuse sweating – and if you don’t go into a hospital for treatment, you’ll eventually have heart failure. The localized pain by the bite is usually intense, and that pain increases as the area begins to swell. Symptoms can be more excruciating in children.

deh_Rattlesnake1Knowing the types of habitats where you can expect to find a rattlesnake will help you to avoid them. They come out when it warms up in spring. Because they are cold blooded, they rely on the warmth of the sun to get them going. They will not be found on a trail when it is cold. Once they are sufficiently warm, they don’t hang around to bake. At this time of day, usually the afternoon, they will be in the tall grasses.

Snakes do not have ears. They depend upon vibrations to tell them someone is approaching. So, don’t tip-toe around. You’re better off stomping around so they can feel you coming and take off before you get there. They have more fear of you than you do of them.

Stay on the trail, and don’t walk through thick brush. Don’t walk on the edge of the trail. You’re better off in the middle. Keep your eyes open and make sure you check the trail, the sides of the trail, and the nearby brush for snakes. A hiking stick is a great snake locator. Rustle the stick around, and if there is a rattler with an intact tail, it will rattle back. Don’t climb around rocks or logs in the spring and summer without looking first. Snakes love to hide in rocks, woodpiles, and under bushes. Look where you step.

Finally, never try to handle, jump over or move a snake. Just leave it alone, and it will leave you alone. Go around it and have a nice, safe hike.

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

 

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39 Comments

  1. Bill Boyd says:

    Back in the 70’s, I was a victim of that terrible disease; “Young Man on Alcohol Catching Rattlesnakes”.
    And as fate would have it, I was bitten. When I was at the hospital, the nurse asked me how did this happen? When I told her she yelled out at the top of her lungs “HE JUST FLUNKED THE INTELLIGENCE TEST”.

    I immediately wanted one of those machines that the coyote used in the old roadrunner cartoons that kicked you in the butt real hard when you make a stupid mistake.

    After three days in the hospital and two weeks of a reaction to the antivenom, life got back to normal. My friends had a lot of fun making prank phone calls to me while I was in the hospital which added to my embarrassment.

    To this day I still have a deformed thumbnail. I will never forget lifting up the rattlesnake (of which I had pressed real hard into the sand with a pole) and realized that instead of holding him by the head, I was about two inches behind the head. It was like a slow motion replay I was powerless to move and he just turned around and bit me.

    My immediate thoughts were: “you Dummy. You are not only a Dummy, you are a Big Dummy”.

    Anyway, it is a funny story for another day. When I finish it, I will share it with you

    • So glad the bite was only on your thumb. It could have been much worse! And it’s great that you’re willing to share your story with others who might think about trying to pick one up!

      • Bill Boyd says:

        Hi Dianne
        It was one of those lessons in life that I had to learn the hard way. But I learned it well. I have trouble even saying “Rattlesnakes” and “Alcohol” in the same sentence.

        What most people do not realize is that the venom affects your nervous system. I was at the hospital in about an hour and a half from when I was bitten. My mind told me that I could just walk in to the hospital but my body could not walk.

        Imagine if your were way out in the woods and you could not walk

  2. The writer of this post is ill informed.

    • Bill Boyd says:

      As the writer of the above post, how could I be ill informed about a true story that happened to me and my humorous thoughts of my experience.

  3. Omar Vargas Omar Vargas says:

    What are they ill informed about Zachary Daniel White?

  4. Dwayne Pine Dwayne Pine says:

    They have no intentions of scaring anyone…they are just as afraid of you as we are of them….that little rattle will warn you

  5. There is also a dark-green variety of rattle-snake that is migrating from the Antelope Valley west into the Santa Clarita area. The brown and green ones can be encountered north of town from Castaic through the Frazier area and west of Palmdale towards Canyon Country….

    • Bill Boyd says:

      That is the Mojave Green. It is very prevalent in the east side of The Antelope Valley. Their bite is 10 times as potent as other rattlers

    • You are so right, Dwayne Pine. They do not want to engage with you….they would rather just leave, which is what they will do if you don’t throw rocks at them or do other stupid things that will only make them defensive.

  6. Ckay Walker Ckay Walker says:

    I believe the writer intended they scare the uneducated. Which they do. Just leave them alone, don’t poke or throw rocks at them. They eat mice and rats. I personally like rattlers.

  7. Tracy says:

    All my neighbors kill them….Not me, I scoop them up in my long handle pool net, hang them out the back of my truck and drive them back up into the hills and release them. Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but i just can’t hurt a living creature. I vaccinate my dogs against them as well.

  8. Cathy says:

    I’m with you Clay. The snakes are a vital link in nature. They take care of all those disease caring rodents.

    • Cathy says:

      I’m with you Clay. The snakes are a vital link in nature. They take care of all those disease caring rodents.

  9. Megan Happ Megan Happ says:

    Shannon Etheridge – for hiking :-)

  10. Jim Lewis Jim Lewis says:

    If I’m out and about and run into a rattler, I slowly back away and let him continue on his course. He is more afraid of me than I am of him. Yet I had one outside my house the other day about to square off with the cat. It was harder to get the cat away from the snake than vise versa. Had to put the snake down tho, don’t have an extra $1300 for anti venom if it bites any of my animals.

  11. Jimmy Grise Jimmy Grise says:

    bash their heads in with a stick.

  12. Alicia Ellen Alicia Ellen says:

    Had one near front door.took head off.scared for my kid and dogs.rattlers are too dangerous to mess with.

  13. I like my Rattler with a nice citricy IPA.

  14. SCV has Pacific Blacks and Western Diamondback. Palmdale and desert u see the Mojave green

  15. Jim Hawkins Jim Hawkins says:

    Working outside in the desert and mountains for 30 years I can tell you that the baby snakes are out as early as the first week in April. And… Most of the time they’ll NOT warn you with a rattle.

  16. Kim Sloan Kim Sloan says:

    Remember to get your dogs vaccinated against snake bites too. I found out there was a preventative vaccine after two of my dogs were bitten about 8 years ago & $3000 in vet bills later.

  17. Kim Sloan Kim Sloan says:

    Remember to get your dogs vaccinated against snake bites too. I found out there was a preventative vaccine after two of my dogs were bitten about 8 years ago & $3000 in vet bills later.

  18. Jeanette White says:

    Important to know… Thanks!

  19. I live in Acton/Agua Dulce and we have so many snakes out right now its crazy

  20. E Liz Abeth E Liz Abeth says:

    Went for a hike by placerita canyon saw about 10 of these my hike only lasted 10 minutes ☺️ be safe !

  21. Alicia Ellen Alicia Ellen says:

    Yes Danielle me too in agua dulce.babies don’t warn..!!

  22. Dina Caddy Dina Caddy says:

    I HATE SNAKES…THEY ARE EVIL. Sorry to all the snake lovers out there….

  23. Dina Caddy Dina Caddy says:

    I HATE SNAKES…THEY ARE EVIL. Sorry to all the snake lovers out there….

  24. Rattlesnakes out here in Texas – a .410 and my dog. Don’t need anything else and Benadryl is all you need for your dog. Even the vets out here will tell you that. Grew up in CA hunting them in the San Jose foothills and mess with them here in my TX backyard – good on the BBQ too. :)

  25. The vaccines only give you more time to actually get to the vet. You’ll still require antivenom but the effects will be less lethal than usual. Just an FYI. Still looking at a large vet bill but upping the chance of your dog living through it.

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