Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Venomous snakes and Snake Bite

Venomous Snakes are reptiles and are considered “cold blooded” animals, which means that they maintain body temperatures at approximately that of their environment. When environmental temperatures drop below 50 degrees F, Venomous snakes seek shelter in areas where the temperatures are maintained above freezing. Suitable shelters may include spaces under rocks or rock piles, in holes, below ground, in or under tree stumps, dense shrubs or trees, wood piles, debris, or many man-made structures. These locations can be used for temporary shelter or for winter hibernation. Some Venomous snakes will use the same sites annually to hibernate. Several hundred snakes may also occupy the same denning sites. Some snakes lay eggs (oviviparous), while others give birth to live young (viviparous). All Utah rattlesnakes bear live young which are left to fend for themselves after birth.

shelter or for winter hibernation. Some snakes will use the same sites annually to hibernate. Several hundred snakes may also occupy the same denning sites. Some Venomous snakes lay eggs (oviviparous), while others give birth to live young (viviparous). All Utah rattlesnakes bear live young which are left to fend for themselves after birth. All snakes shed their skin as they grow. A snake
may shed it skin several times throughout the year. When shedding their skin, snakes will become temporarily blinded until the old skin splits at their head and they are able to crawl out of it. Venomous Snakes have forked tongues which contain receptors similar to taste buds. They use their tongues to sample odors in the air. Venomous Snakes can also use their tongue to “sense” their way in the dark as well as locate prey. Pit vipers have an additional sensory mechanism, the pit located between their nose and nostrils can detect heat which helps them locate prey.

Venomous Snakes’ hinged jaws allow them to consume food that is larger than their body. Snakes will eat any live animal or eggs small enough to swallow. Common prey items of venomous snakes include insects, rodents, birds, eggs, and other Venomous snakes. Their prey is injected with venom to immobilize it, relocated after it dies, and then swallowed whole. The venom consists of enzymes that actually start to break down the food item before it is swallowed. Venomous Snakes store food as fat and can live off this fat reserve for extended periods of time.

Rattlesnakes have two large movable fangs in the front of their upper jaw. Their fangs are hollow and are used to deliver venom into their victims. When biting, the fangs move forward from their folded position of rest, puncturing the victims fur or skin, and the venom is injected.  As mentioned previously, rattlesnakes are often heard before they are seen. When alarmed they make a rattling sound by rapidly moving their tail. Volume of the rattle may vary due to the size of the snake. The rattle acts as a warning to let the intruder know that the snake is present. If you hear a rattlesnake “rattle,” stand still until you can locate where the sound is coming from. DO NOT TRY TO JUMP OR RUN. If you do this, you may end up within the snake’s biting range.

Rattlesnakes can be found throughout Utah in sagebrush, pinon-juniper woodlands, sand dunes, rocky hillsides, grasslands, and mountain forests. They occur at elevations that range from sea level to timberline.

Venomous Snakes are classified as non-game animals and are protected by Utah state laws.A person cannot collect or possess a live wild snake without receiving a Certificate of Registration from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. With human or domestic pet and livestock safety concerns, a venomous snake may be killed without a certificate.

Probably the best method of control for snakes around Utah homes, farms, and ranches is to make the area unattractive to them. Snakes require food and shelter, if these elements are not present, snakes will not be attracted. Keep lawns cut, weeds and other vegetation thinned, and remove wood piles, rock piles, and other debris piles. Removing these and other potential snake or rodent hiding
places will also help to reduce food supplies. If rodent populations (ground squirrels, rats, and mice), are high, a rodent reduction program can be considered. Contact your local Utah State University county extension office for assistance in planning and conducting these programs.

Snake Bite
Non-venomous snake bites are harmless. The only concern may be for potential infection. If bitten, clean and sterilize the wound much like you would a cut or abrasion. Bites from venomous snakes will almost instantly show signs of swelling and discoloration of the surrounding tissue. Other symptoms will include a tingling sensation, nausea, rapid pulse, loss of muscle coordination, and
weakness. Also, bites from pit vipers (rattlesnakes) will show two characteristic fang marks (punctures) as well as other teeth marks.

WHAT NOT TO DO. When someone has been bitten by a venomous snake there are several things that should not be done:

• Do not allow the person to engage in physical activity such as walking or running. Carry them
if they need to be moved.
• Do not apply a tourniquet to the area above the wound.
• Do not apply a cold compress to the bite area.
• Do not cut into the bite.
• Do not give the victim stimulants or pain medications unless instructed by a medical physician.
• Do not give the victim anything by mouth.
• Do not raise the bite area above the level of the victim’s heart.
• Do not try to suction the venom—doing so may cause more harm than good.

FIRST AID. All venomous snake bites should be consider life-threatening. When someone has been bitten by a venomous snake, time is of the essence. If possible, call ahead to the emergency room so anti-venom can be ready when the victim arrives. Do the following:

1. Keep the victim calm, restrict movement, and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
2. Wash the bite area with soap and water.
3. Remove any rings or constricting items; the affected area will swell.
4. Cover the bite with clean, moist dressing to reduce swelling and discomfort.
5. Monitor the vital signs (pulse, temperature, breathing, blood pressure) of the victim. If there are signs of shock, lay the victim flat and cover with a warm blanket.
6. Get medical help immediately.
7. Bring in the dead snake if this can be done without further risk of injury.


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