Snakes Not So Charming in the Wild
Keep your eyes open
"Snakes, harmless or venomous, hide under things where they
have shelter," King says. "They don't like being stepped on by people
or deer, so they tend to lie under the edge of logs or rocks."
If you live in an area with snakes, King suggests learning to
identify the venomous from non-venomous species. And forget the myth that all
venomous snakes have triangle-shaped heads or oval, cat-like eyes.
"Coral snakes don't," he points out. "There simply
is no other way of doing it than getting familiar with the snakes."
The University of Florida Museum of Natural History has put
together an online field guide
(www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/fl-guide/onlineguide.htm) of the state's
snakes. "We put in a key to identify snakes, and it is written for the
layman," he says.
If you see a snake and can't identify it, don't handle it, King
warns. If you do and are bitten, try to kill the snake and bring it to the
hospital for identification. If the snake is poisonous, your prognosis and
therapy will depend on the type of snake.
"Obviously, don't get bitten twice more trying to find the
snake," says Craig S. Kitchens, MD, a professor of medicine at the
University of Florida in Gainesville.
A hematologist, Kitchens has been treating snakebites in
Florida for 20 years. He sees between 30 and 40 victims a year. From that he
has learned that the vast majority of snakebites are the result of someone
poking, teasing, or cornering a snake.
"Snakes don't fall out of trees and bite your behind,"
Nor does Kitchens feel that people hiking or camping in the
wilderness need worry about snakebites. He's often asked to provide snakebite
kits for people planning to walk the Appalachian Trail.
"I tell them you don't need a snakebite kit," he says.
"Just don't mess with snakes."
But if a snake does bite you, Kitchens recommends forgoing
field remedies like ice, tourniquets, or the cut-and-suck method made famous in
movies. It's not that they don't work. It's just that if not done properly, he
says, they can cause more harm than good. Instead, head for the nearest
"Antivenom works pretty damn good," Kitchens says.
"Usually you walk away with [no injury] at all. Most people bitten repair
Antivenom ideally should be administered within six hours after
a bite, and no more than 12 hours. But most snakebite victims don't receive
antivenom, Kitchen says. In fact, only 40% of those bitten by venomous snakes
are given the serum. That's because most snake venom isn't that toxic.
For instance, Kitchens says, pygmy rattlesnake or copperhead
bites aren't usually treated.
But antivenom is a lifesaver for the 10-15% of the people
bitten by the highly toxic Eastern or Western diamondbacks. Still, the
traditional horse-blood antivenom serum has its drawbacks.