I’ve nearly stepped on rattlers before – and would have trampled at least one if I had been listening to music and not heard the rattle alarm.
This time, however, I was in no danger whatsoever. I first noticed that the tip of the tail – though it was shaking back and forth exactly as a pit viper would – had no rattles. I observed the round, black eyes so wholly unlike a rattler’s cat eyes, and the narrow head, unlike a diamondback’s triangular shape.
What I had nearly stepped on was a bull or gopher snake doing its best to convince me that it had a gland full of deadly venom stored in its mouth.
Gopher snakes are good. They eat mice, for one thing – those pesky, filthy, disease-ridden creatures that even park rangers (who love all animals!) trap and kill them to keep them from infecting everything. They also keep rattle snakes away if only to avoid competing for the same food sources.
Then again, rattlers are also good, for pretty much the same reason. They’re not aggressive like East Coast cottonmouths, so count your blessings! Give them a wide berth and they’ll probably leave you alone.
If you ever do get bit by a rattle snake, DO NOT:
- – Cut it open and suck the venom out like you learned from those old western movies. You don’t want that poison in your mouth, and you probably won’t get that much of it anyway.
- – Apply ice, which thins the blood.
- – Drink alcohol or caffeine, which open blood vessels and increase circulation.
- – Apply a tourniquet. You’ll probably do more harm than good.
- + Get away from the snake (no reason to let it bite you twice!)
- + Remove jewelry or tight clothing (in case of swelling)
- + Note the snake’s appearance so you can describe it at the hospital and get you the right remedy. A photo would be great, but don’t risk another bite.
- + Lie down and keep the bite below heart level. But get to the hospital. How can you do both? Maybe call 911 and get someone to carry you out.
- + Move as little as possible to avoid circulating the venom, and get to the hospital ASAP for a dose of anti-venom and antibiotics!
If things haven’t started swelling by the time you reach the hospital, then you probably only got a “dry” warning bite without venom, but you still need antibiotics or a tetanus booster because snake mouths are filthy.