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Warmer Weather Brings Out Rattlesnakes In Northern California

Sara Greensfelder

Sara Greensfelder

Already this year, two children have been bitten by rattlesnakes in Northern California, including a young boy in Folsom. Both have survived.

The warmer weather is bringing out snakes, including rattlesnakes, in mountain and foothill areas. Some rattlesnake bites won't kill you, but others can be deadly.

"Rattlesnakes pose the biggest risk to the public during the warmer parts of the year, so we start to see more of them in the spring, particularly in the summer and even into the fall in California," said Brian Todd, Associate Professor of Conservation Biology at UC Davis, about how to avoid rattlesnakes and what to do if you're bitten.

Todd said if you encounter a rattlesnake, the best thing you can do is just go the other way.

"The animals would prefer to be left alone, they're not aggressive, but they don't want to be bothered by us," Todd said.

He said that "snakebite kits" and many other methods suggested to use after someone is bitten are "urban myths."

"None of these urban myths about sucking out the venom or using a tourniquet have ever really been that helpful," said Todd. "The best thing you can do is stay calm and get someone to drive you to the hospital."

Todd said in California, only a couple of the species of rattlesnakes are "particularly dangerous."

"The rest of them if you're bitten, will cause quite a bit of pain, discomfort, some bleeding, but are generally treatable and rarely fatal," said Todd.  

The California Poison Control Center notes that rattlesnakes account for more than 800 bites each year in the U.S., causing one or two deaths. Most bites occur between the months of April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors.

"You're most likely to encounter rattlesnakes in the foothills, up in the mountains, along riparian areas near rivers, they're not real common down in the valley," said Todd. "They do tend to be more active on warmer days. They like to be left alone and they're generally harmless as long as you can see them and steer clear of them."

Todd said the greatest risk of encountering a rattlesnake is  when walking or hiking in very dense brush or areas where you can't see where you're placing your feet.

"Staying on trails will help minimize your risk of being bitten because you're more likely to see the animal before you step on or near it," said Todd. "A lot of us like to hike with our dogs, and if we're keeping our dogs on trails we're more likely to see the rattlesnake before the dog comes into contact with it."

Todd said, "the best tool for snakebite treatment is a set of car keys."

From the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: 


The do's and dont's in snake country 

Rattlesnakes are not confined to rural areas. They have been found in urban areas, on riverbanks and lakeside parks and at golf courses. Startled rattlesnakes may not rattle before striking defensively. CDFW recommends the following safety precautions to reduce the likelihood of a rattlesnake bite:

  • Wear hiking boots and loose-fitting long pants. Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through wild areas.
  • When hiking, stick to well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
  • Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see, and avoid wandering around in the dark. Step on logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use.
  • Never grab "sticks" or "branches" while swimming in lakes and      rivers. Rattlesnakes can swim.
  • Be careful when stepping over doorsteps as well. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.
  • Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
  • Do not handle a freshly killed snake, as it can still inject venom.
  • Teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone.

Keeping snakes out of the yard: 

The best protection against rattlesnakes in the yard is a "rattlesnake proof" fence. The fence should either be solid or with mesh no larger than one-quarter inch. It should be at least three feet high with the bottom buried a few inches in the ground. Slanting your snake fence outward about a 30-degree angle will help. Keep vegetation away from the fence and remove piles of boards or rocks around the home. Use caution when removing those piles - there may already be a snake there. Encourage and protect natural competitors like gopher snakes, kingsnakes and racers. Kingsnakes actually kill and eat rattlesnakes. 

What to do in the event of a snake bite: 

Though uncommon, rattlesnake bites do occur, so have a plan in place for responding to any situation. Carry a cell phone, hike with a companion who can assist in an emergency and make sure that family or friends know where you are going and when you will be checking in.

  • Stay calm.
  • Wash the bite area gently with soap and water.
  • Remove watches, rings, etc, which may constrict swelling.
  • Immobilize the affected area.
  • Transport safely to the nearest medical facility.
  • For more first-aid information, please visit California Poison Control at www.calpoison.com.

What you should NOT do after a rattlesnake bite:

  • DON'T apply a tourniquet.
  • DON'T pack the bite area in ice.
  • DON'T cut the wound with a knife or razor.
  • DON'T use your mouth to suck out the venom.
  • DON'T let the victim drink alcohol.

More information about rattlesnakes:

Photos and natural history: http://goo.gl/BAoabO 

UC Davis Integrative Pest Management: www.californiaherps.com/info/rattlesnakeinfo.html 

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