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Preventing Snake Bites

Of all the dangers we face in the outdoors, there are few that instill more pure dread and abject fear than the limbless serpents. Fortunately, the odds of encountering one are as slim as the reptiles themselves, and the chances of being bitten are slimmer still. However, it’s always a good idea to hedge your bets by becoming more familiar with snakes, learning how to avoid them and what to do should the unthinkable happen.

There are four groups of venomous snakes in the U.S.: rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths/water moccasins and coral snakes. First let’s learn a little bit about them.

Rattlesnakes

Rattlesnakes are the largest and the largest group of venomous snakes, comprised of approximately 14 species. They also have the widest distribution, ranging from coast to coast and nearly border to border, though individual species have smaller ranges.

They belong to a subfamily known as pit vipers, referring to a set of heat-sensing organs or “pits” on their faces that are used to sense heat radiation and locate prey. Their most redeeming quality, from which their name is derived, is a set of rattles at the tip of their tail, which they sometimes, though not always, use as a warning when threatened.

It’s a warning that should be heeded. Rattlesnakes can accurately strike at a distance up to one-third their body length. The venom of all rattlesnakes contains a hemotoxin that destroys tissue and causes swelling, internal bleeding and intense pain. The venom of some species, like the tiger and the Mojave rattlesnake also contains a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis and other damage to the nervous system.

Most rattlers tend to avoid interactions with large mammals, including humans, as it wastes valuable energy expending toxins on non-prey species. However, some like the prairie and eastern diamondback have a reputation for being fairly aggressive. Regardless, it’s best just to avoid all species. [Read more…]