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Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jul 1, 2018

Crotalus scutulatus, the Mojave rattlesnake or “Mojave green,” is a highly irritable and unpredictable pit viper. By comparison, the Pacific rattlesnake you might be accustomed to is fairly tame.

The Mojave green can be found primarily in the deserts of the south and western U.S. and Mexico. This species is highly venomous and is considered to be the world’s most potent rattlesnake. It is extremely dangerous.

The head, like the head of all pit vipers, is triangular in shape. The tail of a baby will have a button on it, and adults will most likely have a rattle, although sometimes the rattle might have broken off, so don’t allow that criteria to be the only one you use.

The Mojave green has a light-colored stripe on both sides of its head. You can see it extend from the eye to the corner of the mouth in the closeup photos. The pits you can see on its head are for heat sensing. You can find these in the photos between the eye and the nostril. The pits help them to identify food in the dark.

Mojave greens are active in the mornings and into the evening during summer and can even be nocturnal during the hotter months. They will usually return to a shaded area, hole or burrow during the peak of the afternoon sun. But you should be aware of all venomous snakes regardless of the time of day, time of year or location.

It is usually recognized by its pale green color, but it can also be found in different shades of brown. This snake prefers arid, open desert space. Like most snakes, their most active times are April to September, when prey animals are also more abundant. However, it is possible they are active all 12 months of the year, depending upon the weather. They are not active when it is cold. They eat small animals such as rabbits, mice, kangaroo rats, birds, bird eggs, other snakes, rodents, toads and lizards.

I had the pleasure recently to see a Mojave green ingesting a small rabbit in the Mojave Preserve. I happened upon him quite abruptly without seeing him, even though it was 3-4 feet long and only two feet away. Its rattle warned me that I was too close. Luckily, it had the bunny in its mouth and could not strike.

Its camouflage was amazingly effective. Had it not been busy with the rabbit, I probably would have been bitten. I quickly removed myself out of striking distance as it continued to scold me with its incessant rattling.

Exposure to their neurotoxins and hemotoxins can cause loss of motor control, paralysis, leakage of blood into the bodily tissues, and death. Since their neurotoxic venom is the most debilitating and deadly of all rattlesnakes, I didn’t hesitate to move. Mojave greens are 16 times more toxic than a Pacific rattlesnake.

Snakebites from a Mojave green can produce a variety of symptoms including local pain, swelling, tissue discoloration, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, respiratory failure, vision problems, and difficulty in speaking and swallowing. If you are bitten, do not hesitate to seek medical evaluation. Bites can lead to death if not properly and quickly treated.

Symptoms can vary according to how much venom is injected by the snake. Some bites can even be “dry” if a snake has recently eaten, having used up all of its venom to disable its prey.

The current anti-venom (CroFab anti-venom) is effective in neutralizing the venom from this snake. Fatalities are uncommon with the use of the anti-venom and prompt medical intervention.

The father of a 6-year-old boy tells the story of a Mojave green bite. His son was chasing his dog around the campground when the father heard the child scream. A Mojave green had bitten him. They rushed to the local ranger station, but before they arrived the child began vomiting and foaming at the mouth. He lost control of his muscles and limbs, had a rash all over his face and couldn’t breathe. It took 42 vials of anti-venom to just stabilize him.

It is not uncommon for doctors to have to use up to 100 vials for treatment of a Mojave green, while only a few vials may be required for a Pacific rattler.

If you are in rattlesnake territory, you should teach your children about rattlesnakes and supervise their play area closely. If you’re in a location that you are not familiar with, it’s a good practice also to know where the nearest hospital or urgent care is located, and any emergency numbers that might apply to different regions. If you have been bitten by a rattlesnake, having this information close at hand can save valuable time in an emergency.

I have heard people tell stories of Mojave greens “running” after them in order to attack. While Mojave greens can be aggressive, especially when they are in a defensive posture, they will not “run” after you. If you approach them or get too close, they will most likely strike. Keep your distance.

Baby snakes do not have a rattle, so do not expect them to give you warning. Baby snakes sport a button on the end of their tail that will eventually become their rattle. But even adult snakes might not rattle. Scientists believe rattlesnakes are evolving away from using the rattle, which may make them even more dangerous in the future.

I recently attended a snakebite class in which I was told that men aged 20-45 are the most likely victims of snake bites on the hand. These victims have a high incidence of having had multiple beers prior to the bite and were showing off, trying to grab the snake.

No matter how fast you think you are, the snake is faster. If you can eliminate this behavior, your chances of being bitten drop dramatically.

For women, most bites are found on the buttocks. If possible, use the bathroom before you venture out on a hike in snake territory, rather than depending upon a bush that might be hiding a snake as well as hiding you.

If you see a snake, move away from it. Snakes don’t have ears, so no matter how long and hard you yell, you won’t frighten it away. They do sense movement and vibrations, however, so if you stomp the ground as you go along, the snake can sense you coming, and it will most likely slither away before you arrive on the scene.

Wear heavy boots if possible. Snake gaiters can help prevent bites, as well. If you’re out in the desert at night, carry a flashlight and look for snakes on and near your path.

If you are bitten, head to the nearest emergency medical facility. Try to mark the time the bite occurred near the wound with indelible ink, such as a Sharpie pen. Do not cut the wound site, and do not try to suck out the poison. Forget snakebite kits – they cause more problems and damage to the area. Do not apply a tourniquet. Call the hospital or emergency facility and warn them you are on the way with a snakebite victim. If they do not carry the anti-venom, this will give them some lead time to try to locate some. Mention the species of the snake if possible. If it had a triangular head, it is a pit viper. If you can take a photo of it without wasting time, do it. Keep the part of the body that was bitten still, if possible. If you are out hiking and cannot be carried out, then hike out. If you can be rescued in place, then stay put.

Go out, enjoy the wilderness and open space near and far – but always remember what to do if you see a snake. Be prepared and act immediately if you are bitten. Talk to your other family members about snakes. Most of all, I hope you will be safe.

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

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2 Comments

  1. Jeanne says:

    Thank you for the interesting info and the entertaining way you presented it.

  2. Scott says:

    Are you able to identify a snake by photo? I just killed a baby I thought might may be poisonous. I have pics.

    Scott

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