Texas Snake Safety- What you need to know before hitting the trails
Snakes. It's what we Texans might get most worried about on our outdoor adventures. The good news is, the likelihood of someone being bitten is very rare.
* Much of the information below is from various sections of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Snake Bite Statistics
From Texas Department of State Health Services
- Only 0.2% (1 out of 500) venomous snakebites result in death.
- On average, 1 to 2 people in Texas die each year from venomous snakebites.
- Roughly half of all venomous snakebites are “dry.” That is, the snake does not inject venom into the victim.
To give you some perspective, look at this chart that shows you the statistics of outdoor related deaths: As you can see, snakebites are very low on the totem pole. It's lightning that is more dangerous!
Venomous Snakes in Texas:
The State of Texas is home to 15 potentially dangerous snake species or subspecies. Despite this, each year, there have been more deaths in Texas attributed to lightning strikes than to venomous snakebites.
Pit vipers are venomous snakes that have an opening on each side of the head between the eye and the nostril. In Texas, we have 3 groups of these snakes: Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and Rattlesnakes.
- Copperheads- These snakes are found in rocky areas and wooded bottomlands and are rare in dry areas. In the spring they can be found along streams and rivers, as well as in weed-covered vacant lots.
- Cottonmouths- Cottonmouths can be dark brown, olive-brown, olive green or almost solid black. They are marked with wide, dark bands, which are more distinct in some individuals than in others
Western massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus tergeminus), light gray, with brown oval blotches along the middle of the back and smaller blotches along each side. They are two feet in length and found through the middle of the state in grasslands, marshy and swampy areas.
Desert massasauga (S.c. edwardsii), lighter in color than the western massasauga, smaller and more slender. Found in the Trans-Pecos, western Panhandle and the lower Rio Grande Valley.
The brightly colored Texas coral snake is the state's only member of the Elapidae family, which includes the cobras of Asia and Africa. The coral snake is slender with a small indistinctive head and round pupils, and is usually is 2-1/2 feet or shorter. Its distinctive pattern is a broad black ring, a narrow yellow ring and a broad red ring, with the red rings always bordered by the yellow rings. Several harmless snakes are similarly marked, but never with the red and yellow touching. 'Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack,' is a handy way to distinguish the highly venomous coral snake from nonvenomous ringed species. Coral snakes are found in the southeastern half of Texas in woodlands, canyons and coastal plains.
Safety Around the Home
As our population continues to grow, and people continue to move into 'pristine' and 'untouched' areas, encounters with venomous snakes are going to occur. Many of these encounters occur around the home, with the result that incidents of bites close to home are statistically high.
Snakes in general, occur around a home for the specific purposes of seeking food and shelter. Keeping these things in mind provides us with guidelines to help prevent snakebite around the home.
Keep wood piles, brush piles, trash dumps and livestock pens as far as possible from the residence. When working in these areas, exercise caution. Never put an arm or leg into something if you can not see the bottom.
Keep storage areas and livestock sheds/barns as neat as possible. Treat tools and materials stored on the floor as possible snake shelters. Treat overturned boats, tarps and similar objects as potential shelter for transient snakes moving through the area.
Remember snakes are adept at finding their way through small openings. Keep this in mind when entering crawl spaces, basements, garages and similar areas.
Call the below number for snake removal help in your area:
Fort Worth: 817-945-3371
San Antonio: 210-579-4727
First Aid for snake bites can prevent disability, disfigurement or death if it is applied effectively. The recommendations have changed drastically over the years, and remaining informed on effective first aid should be a priority of everyone working in snake habitat.
Assume envenomation has occurred even before symptoms appear.
Identify the species of venomous snake with care. This could help with the medical treatment but do not endanger yourself and become another victim.
- Keep the victim as calm as possible. Keep yourself calm as well.
- Know and treat for any symptoms of shock.
- Wash the bite area with a disinfectant soap.
- Remove restrictive clothing or jewelry in the area of the bite.
- Prevent movement of the bitten extremity.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible.
- Under no circumstances should you cut between the punctures, or suck the venom out or apply electric shock.
What to Do
- Assume envenomation has occurred, especially if initial symptoms are present. Initial symptoms of pit viper bites include fang puncture marks; in addition, they almost always include immediate burning pain at the bite site, immediate and usually progressive local swelling within five minutes, as well as local discoloration of the skin. Initial symptoms of coral snake bites include tremors, slurred speech, blurred or double vision, drowsiness or euphoria and a marked increase in salivation within four hours; however, life-threatening effects from coral snake envenomation may not be evident for 24 hours or longer.
- Identify the species of venomous snake that inflicted the bite, if possible, taking care to avoid another person being bitten. Identification is not necessary, but may be helpful.
- Keep the victim as calm as possible. This helps reduce the spread of venom and the onset of shock.
- Keep yourself and any other members of the group calm as well. This will help reassure the victim and ensure that the appropriate first-aid measures are followed, as well as preventing anyone else from becoming injured.
- Know and be alert for the symptoms of shock, and institute the proper treatment should it ensue. Difficulty in breathing and/or kidney failure are frequent symptoms of envenomation.
- Wash the bite area with a disinfectant if available.
- Remove jewelry such as rings and watches, as well as tight-fitting clothes, before the onset of swelling.
- Reduce or prevent movement of a bitten extremity, using a splint if possible; this helps decrease the spread of venom. For the same reason, position the extremity below the level of the heart.
- Get the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible and begin treatment there with intravenous antivenom, crystalloid solutions and antibiotics. Antivenom treatment is generally most effective within the first four hours of envenomation, and is ineffective after 8-10 hours.
What NOT to Do:
- Do not make incisions over the bite marks. This can result in significant damage to already traumatized tissue, and can damage intact structures such as nerves and blood vessels, enhance bleeding caused by anticoagulant components of venom and increase the rapid spread of venom throughout the body if the circulatory system is compromised. A suction device, such as the Sawyer ExtractorTM, may be used without making any incisions. This device may remove significant quantities of venom, although its efficacy has yet to be conclusively determined.
- Do not use a tourniquet or other constricting ban except in extreme cases of envenomation, and then only if properly trained in the technique.
- Do not use cryotherapy (including cold compresses, ice, dry ice, chemical ice packs, spray refrigerants, and freezing) for the same reasons that the tourniquets should be avoided, and also because it can increase the area necrosis.
- Do not drink alcohol, as it dilates blood vessels and increases absorption from the circulatory system, and thus helps spread venom faster.
- Do not use aspirin or related medications to relieve pain, because they increase bleeding. A pain reliever not containing aspirin, however, may be used.
- Do not use the pressure/immobilization technique, which consists of firmly wrapping the entire limb with an elastic bandage and then splinting, especially for pit viper bites. The theory behind this treatment is to confine the venom to the area of the bite until reaching a medical facility, but studies have shown the technique to be ineffective or worse with venoms which produce local swelling and tissue damage.
- Do not administer antivenom in the field unless properly trained in the procedure, unless evacuation to a medical facility will take many hours or days, or unless envenomation has been extreme.
Cristina's Personal Tips for Snake Safety:
- Do stay on wide trails when you are hiking if possible
- Do stay on designated trails( especially in Spring season!)
- Do wear high ankles boots if possible
- Don't treat snake bites( get emergency help)
- Do train your dog by taking a snake safety class
- Do make sure you have emergency numbers and give someone your hiking plan if hiking solo
Hope this was helpful and happy spring hiking season!
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