With the vast amount of rain Central Texas has received this spring, along with the warmer weather, our creepy, slithering neighbors are coming out of hibernation. We need to be aware of what to do should we encounter their wrath. Snake bites are not uncommon in our area. We have several species, both dangerous and non-dangerous, throughout our community. Learning how to identify them and learning basic first aid can be the difference between life and death, should one get bit.
To be clear, MOST SNAKES IN THE U.S. ARE NOT DANGEROUS! However, we have four major species of venomous snakes in Central Texas that you need to know. Here are a few easy identifiers to help recognize the danger of your encounter.
Rattlesnakes – Rattlesnakes are the leading culprit of venomous snake bites in North America. Texas has several breeds of rattlesnake. The one major thing they have in common is their rattle. It sounds like someone is playing the maraca. They use their rattle as a defense mechanism; a pre-warning as you will. If you hear the sound of a maraca and are not at a fiesta, slowly walk away from the sound and give yourself some distance.
Coral Snake – Most common here in Texas, these are identified by their rings of color. Coral Snakes have red, yellow and black bands. Coral Snakes are often confused with King Snakes that also have red, yellow and black bands. The key difference is the pattern of theses rings. Remember this old Texas saying, “If red touches yellow, you have a dead fellow. If red touches black, he’s a friend of Jack.”
Water Moccasin – Also known as the Cottonmouth, are usually found in or near water. They are darker in color and get their cottonmouth nickname by the white cotton like webbing in their mouths.
Copperhead – Although they are not too common within the city limits, they can be found in more rural areas like Bastrop and Elgin. These snakes are identified by the lighter color of their scales and alteration of copper versus light tan bands.
These are only a few minor ways to identify a venomous snake. Here is a great link to learning more about the different species of snakes we have around us: http://www.austinreptileservice.net/guide.html
Most snakes do not bite unless provoked. It is important that if you see a snake to leave it well enough alone and contact Animal Control should you fear it’s venomous. If an unfortunate incident occurs and someone gets bit, seek immediate medical attention. There is always a risk of allergic reaction and infection, even if you have identified the snake as non-dangerous.
You will most likely be aware of getting bit by a snake but sometimes they are fast and hard to see. Here is what to look for:
- Puncture wound (usually two holes, short distance apart)
- Swelling or redness at bite mark
- Mild to severe pain
In more critical situations
- Difficulty breathing
- Blurred vision
Symptoms will vary based on the type of snake that bit you. It also varies on the person’s age, size, health and mental health; plus the health of the snake itself. Keep an eye on the general symptoms above and seek medical attention as quickly as possible.
What to do
Treat any bite seriously, seek immediate medical attention and follow these instructions:
- Make sure everyone, not just the victim, is safely away from the snake.
- Try to remain calm, remember most snake bites are not fatal.
- Try to remember what the snake looked like to help identify treatment. DO NOT try to capture the snake.
- Minimize movement as much as possible to limit the spread of any venom.
- If bitten in arm or hand, remove any jewelry such as rings or watches. These can become a problem should swelling occur. If bitten in the foot, remove shoes and socks.
- Apply pressure to the wound using a piece of light clothing.
- Make note of any inflammation at bite area by tracing the edge of the swelling with a pen. Repeat if the swelling spreads. Keep track of time.
- Keep wound lower than the heart to avoid speed of venom through the body. But not too low or it will increase swelling
What NOT TO DO
These are things NOT TO DO, which are just as important!
- DO NOT give any pain medicine, such as aspirin or Tylenol, or any other medication unless otherwise instructed by a doctor.
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet; contrary to belief, this can do more damage than good. Resulting in possible loss of limb.
- DO NOT try to suck out the venom or cut into the bite. This can cause additional tissue to be exposed to the toxin.
- DO NOT apply cold and/or ice packs. Again, this can cause more damage than good.
- DO NOT wash the area, if there are venomous toxins, it can be on the skin around the bite mark. This can help emergency teams identify the bite and also help others avoid contact with the toxin.
- DO NOT try to capture the snake!! Snakes can bite and release venom more than once.
Since most snake bites are not venomous they only require basic medical attention. Because there is always risk of infection or an allergic reaction, one should always seek medical care as soon as possible. You may also require a tetanus shot if you are overdue. When treated immediately, most venomous bites can be reversed with an anti-venom. Doctors will evaluate the patient to decide on a specific course of treatment.
Stay alert of your surroundings, especially if you are beyond your backyard. Snakes like to hang out in areas they can hide, but have access to the warmth of the sun. Rock areas, wood piles and leaf piles are perfect hideouts. Tall grass is another good spot for snakes to hide. Snakes do not bite unless they feel threatened or provoked. Meaning, if you don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you. Should you see a snake, it is best to keep your distance and call Animal Control if need be.
If you get bit, seek emergency care immediately.