What You Need to Know About Snake Bites This Summer
Many families head outdoors during summer, whether it’s to one of Texas’ many state parks, local parks and hiking trails, or just to the backyard. Even though you won’t always be able to see (or hear) them, you might be sharing your outdoor adventure with a snake. So, we’ve compiled some helpful information on what species of snakes call Texas ‘home’ and what to look for, how to prevent snake bites, and what to do if a snake bites you.
Everything is Bigger in Texas…
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas is home to about 115 species and subspecies of snakes—the highest number in all of the United States. Luckily, only 15 percent of the total number are venomous.The Texas Department of State Health Services reports that about 2,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States annually, and, on average, one to two people in Texas die each year from venomous snake bites.
Venomous snakes can be grouped into four basic categories: coral snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths (water moccasins) and rattlesnakes.
Coral snakes are related to the cobra family. They have the second-strongest venom of any snake, but account for less than one percent of venomous snake bites in the United States. These snakes are around one meter in length and are identifiable by their red bands followed by a thinner band of yellow and then bands of black.
Copperheads are about two and a half feet long and have a chestnut coloring with dark brown cross bands, kind of like an hourglass shape, which helps them blend in with the rocky areas they call home.
Cottonmouths, or water moccasins, can be up to 4 feet long and have a distinctive blocky, triangular head with a thick body and a dark band running through their eye. They are almost always black and have a white mouth when opened, like it’s full of cotton. Just as “water moccasin” suggests, they live in or near swamps, rivers and lakes.
Rattlesnakes are related to the viper family and can be more than two meters (6 feet) long. These snakes are easily identified by the rattle at the end of their tail and the hissing sounds they make.
How to Prevent Snake Bites
Although most snakes can be found in Central, South and West Texas, that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t be on the lookout for snakes in the North Texas region. Knowing where snakes like to hang out can greatly lower your risk of being bitten. Snakes are often found under rocks, stone pavers and fallen limbs, and in wood piles and leaf litter. They can also hide in tall grassy and brushy areas. If your outdoor trip takes you hiking, camping or walking along natural areas, always look where you step and never reach under rocks or into holes or other blind spots.
It’s also a good idea to wear boots, thick jeans and gloves if you know you’re going to be traversing snake-ridden areas. Carrying a stick can help you in many ways; if you have to move a rock or log, use the stick to push it away instead of your foot or hands. Also, beating the stick on the ground as you’re walking can help warn snakes that you’re in the area. Most snakes will try to get away from the vibrations, but if you see a snake, remain still and then slowly move away. If you hear a rattlesnake, listen closely to what direction the sound is coming from so you don’t move that way!
Children and the elderly are much more susceptible to the effects of snake bites. Since children are small and generally close to the ground, they are more likely to be bitten on the face and arms. Teaching children not to approach or touch a snake and how to safely get away from one can help prevent their being bitten by a snake.
What to Do If a Snake Bites You
Like we mentioned earlier, most snakes are not venomous, but if you receive a snakebite and are concerned that it may be venomous, some telltale symptoms are:
- Dizziness or fainting
- Two puncture wounds
- Localized pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
If applied effectively, first aid can help prevent disability or even death. If you can’t identify the snake as venomous or not, always assume envenomation has occurred. Call 911 immediately, even if symptoms have not started to appear, and try to get a photo or a good look at the snake so you and/or emergency services can decide on appropriate treatment. If you cannot safely identify the snake or the snake has retreated, do not chase after it or put yourself in harm’s way.
- Keep the victim as calm as possible, including yourself.
- Wash the bite area with disinfectant soap.
- Remove restrictive clothing or jewelry in the area of the bite.
- Prevent movement of the bitten extremity.
Remember, the closer the bite is to the heart, the more dangerous it is.
- Attempt to suck the venom out of the wound.
- Allow the victim to take painkillers or raise the wound above heart level.
- Cut around or between punctures.
- Let the victim drink alcohol or caffeine.
What to Expect if You Go to the Hospital
Go to the nearest Emergency Department if you think you or someone else has been bitten by a venomous snake.
Treatment could involve:
- Caregivers obtaining vital signs and basic medical information, including information about the snake and circumstances about the bite.
- A bite wound will be examined, cleaned, and swelling or other signs (bruising, blistering, nausea, vomiting, fast heart rate, etc.) will be monitored as well as blood testing for those with signs of envenomation (those who actually received the poison).
- Continued monitoring until the snakebite victim is stable and signs and symptoms stop progressing.
- One important thing to remember is: Not all bites by venomous snakes require antivenom; only those with bites to the head or neck or with signs of moderate, severe, or rapidly progressing envenomation need antivenom. This is determined by vital signs, symptoms, extent of swelling and other signs as well as blood work results.
Don’t Let Snakes Take a Bite Out of Fun
Even if you’re afraid of snakes, don’t let that fear ruin moments spent outdoors with friends and family. Being informed on the venomous snakes in your area or the area you will be traveling to, and knowing what to do if you see a snake or an emergency happens, can help keep your vacation from biting the dust.