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Enjoy your summer...and watch for snakes!

As the temperatures continue to rise and the final bells ring at the local schools, releasing all the students for their highly anticipated summer vacation, it is safe to say that the number of outdoor activities will certainly increase. What will also increase, however, is the number of snakes that will be ‘out and about’ during the warmth of the summer season.

A camera shy cottonmouth (water moccasin) makes its retreat to the other side of FM 905 in southeast Lamar County. Snakes are often seen on roads 'sunning', due to the warmth of the asphalt and direct sunlight. (eParisExtra photo by Josh Allen)
A camera shy cottonmouth (water moccasin) makes its retreat to the other side of FM 905 in southeast Lamar County. Being that they are cold blooded creatures, snakes are often seen on roads ‘sunning’, due to the warmth of the asphalt and direct sunlight. (eParisExtra photo by Josh Allen)

While there are far more nonvenomous snakes than those that are venomous, it is best to stay on the safe side and stay away from them altogether, while also being well informed of the difference in each type of snake.

So, as you do enjoy your fun in the sun, you can adequately stay on the lookout and be cautious in the areas where snakes may likely be.

This article is not meant to scare, but to inform. It should not change any of your summer plans or make anyone worry, but, like my momma always said, ‘better safe than sorry’.

Believe it or not, people are actually bitten by venomous snakes a lot less frequently than you’d think. It’s even far more rare for one of these venomous bites to result in a death. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says that bites tend to occur most often between March and October, when snakes are most active.

Let’s take a look at some snake bite statistics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 people receive a venomous snake bite each year in the United States. On average, 1 to 2 people die each year from venomous snake bites in Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The number of deaths would rise greatly if people did not seek medical care, so if you are bitten, it is very important that you act immediately and get help.

There are two different categories of venomous snakes found in the United States. They are pit vipers, which are most common and coral snakes. Pit vipers, which include cottonmouths/water moccasins, rattlesnakes and copperheads, get their name from the infrared radiation receptors located in a ‘pit’ on each side of the snakes face. This gives their head the commonly seen ‘V’ shape.

Both of these categories of venomous serpents, which includes all four of the different kinds of snakes, make our great state of Texas their home, and — although some more commonly than others — all of these can be found in Lamar County.

Now for a little bit of information about each of these venomous creatures so that you will hopefully know which one you’re dealing with when (if) you see it. Although, as previously stated, it is best to just steer clear of any and all snakes that you come across just to be on the safe side, whether poisonous or not.

Rattlesnakes — likely the most well known snake, and possibly the most dangerous (not most toxic), due to it’s size and tendency to stand its ground — is the largest of the venomous snakes and can accurately strike at up to one-third its body length. Their bite can be very serious, and possibly deadly if help is not sought out immediately. On their tail is a ‘rattler’ — which is the reason for their name — that they will use as a warning if they feel threatened. If you ever hear that distinct sound, you are too close, however, it is just a warning and your chance to put some distance between the two of you. There are several varieties of rattlesnakes, which can be found in habitats including prairies, mountains, deserts and beaches across the United States. They are often found ‘sunning’ themselves where there is ample sunlight, near logs, large rocks or open areas.

Cottonmouths (pictured above) got the name because of their white, cotton-colored open mouth. They are also known commonly as water moccasins because of their tendency to spend much of their time in or around water. They grow to an average length of roughly 50-55 inches. Adult cottonmouths’ skin is brown, dark tan or nearly black, with vague black or dark brown crossbands, while younger cottonmouths have a bold crossbranded pattern of orange or brown with a yellow tail. Unlike others who usually only bite when provoked or unknowingly stepped on or near, these snakes do not scare easily and will defend themselves. They are known to be aggressive.

The copperhead is responsible for a vast majority of the venomous bites each year, which is most likely due to the abundance of the species, their very effective camouflage, and that their geographical location is throughout much of the United States. Their bites are rarely deadly, but would be very painful and would still require medical attention. Adult copperheads grow to be 18-36 inches long. They vary in color depending on region, but are usually a reddish color to golden tan, or ‘copper color’. They have colored bands on their skin that are typically hourglass-shaped. Copperheads are not usually aggressive, but are known to freeze when threatened, which results in many bites due to people unknowingly stepping on or near them. They are often found in rocky areas, among fallen leaves, in forests, swamps or near sources of water.

The coral snake has the most toxic venom of all the poisonous snakes in Texas and the United States, and its bite is very deadly if proper medical attention is not immediately obtained. They are the most rarely seen of the venomous snakes in Texas, however. They are known to hide in leaf piles or burrow into the ground, and will usually be in sandy, wooded or marshy areas. Coral snakes have a very distinct color combination of red, yellow and black bands covering the length of its body. Often confused with a king snake, or milk snake, which is completely nonvenomous and harmless, the two share a similar color combination of the bands covering its body, but in different order. The poisonous coral snake will always have a red band, then a thinner yellow band, then black. If the red and yellow bands are touching, it’s a coral snake and you should remove yourself from its area. The king snake will have the same bands, but the red and black will be touching. The coral snake also has a black snout, which is an easy way to identify them. An easy way to remember is this little poem:

Red and yellow, kills a fellow
Red and black, poison lack

Now, as mentioned before, the previous information is not intended to scare anyone, it is simply so that you can be informed and know what to look out for with venomous snakes. No one should change any plans or do anything differently than they normally would, except maybe, keep an eye out for any of these snakes. They are especially dangerous to outside workers, those doing outdoor activities: camping, hiking, biking, picnicking, gardening, painting, farming, landscaping, as well as children playing outside. Snakes can even be dangerous to your pet if you’re out on a walk, so keep the following snake bite prevention tips in mind during these activities.

The CDC’s snake bite prevention tips are:

  • Do not try to handle any snake
  • Stay away from tall grass and piles of leaves when possible
  • Avoid climbing on rocks or piles of wood where a snake may be hiding
  • Be aware that snakes tend to be active at night and in warm weather
  • Wear boots and long pants when working outdoors
  • Wear leather gloves when handling brush and debris

Symptoms of a snake bite may vary depending on the snake, but may include (CDC):

  • A pair of puncture marks at the wound
  • Redness and swelling around the bite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Labored breathing (in extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether)
  • Disturbed vision
  • Increased salivation and sweating
  • Numbness or tingling around your face and/or limbs

If you are bitten you should (CDC):

  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible (dial 911 or call the local Emergency Medical Services)
  • Try to remember the color and shape of the snake, which will help with the treatment of the snake bite
  • Keep still and calm; this will slow down the spread of venom
  • Apply first aid: Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of your heart if possible, wash the bite with soap and water, and cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing

Do NOT do any of the following (CDC):

  • Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it
  • Do not wait for symptoms to appear if bitten, seek immediate medical attention
  • Do not apply a tourniquet
  • Do not slash the wound with a knife
  • Do not suck out the venom
  • Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water
  • Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages

Okay, now you have the information and tips you need to be prepared and prevent a venomous snake bite. Remember, death by snake bite is very rare, as are snake bites in general, but IF it were to happen, as long as you quickly seek medical help and follow these tips, you will likely be fine. As we get closer to the summer months and the warmer temperatures, snakes will be more active and it is best to be prepared and proactive when it comes to your safety while doing outdoor activities.

Enjoy your summer…and watch for snakes!

By Josh Allen, eParisExtra

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