Two main groups in the US, coral snakes and pit vipers.
The Corals hail from Texas to the Carolinas with the exception of the Arizona Coral which inhabits its name state and New Mexico. These pretty babies bite with small teeth instead of fangs. Although there are snakes that are similarly colored, a coral can be identified by the alternating bands of red, yellow and black stripes, the red always touching the yellow. The very similar Scarlet King Snake is nonvenomous. The axiom "when red meets yella it's a dangerous fella," is one we've employed here at the valley.
|Notice the Venomous version with the red bracketed between yellow|
Pit Vipers include, rattlesnakes, water moccasins and copperheads and they can be found anywhere in the US. Their name comes (I always thought it was because they liked pits) from the tiny "pit" between their eye and nostril. The pit makes it so they can detect heat enabling them to find prey at night. These more drab looking reptiles have retractable fangs which shoot venom into their prey or an unsuspecting human. There is the possibility of receiving what's commonly called a "dry bite" meaning one without venom. Bites from old and small snakes have less venom. Some have felt that venom from smaller snakes is somehow more poisonous or dangerous however recent studies have refuted that belief.
|Notice the "Pit" and the "Rattle"|
Bites from both types can range from hurtful to debilitating to death dealing if not treated immediately. Symptoms can range from a merely a stinging pain to inability to breath due to swelling to affecting the brain and spinal cord.
Treatment, Old and New
Over the years, methods of treatment have included tourniquets, making "X" cuts at or above the fang marks and sucking out the venom (eeww) and icing the site to slow down the venom. These have proven highly ineffective and currently experts advise
- washing the bite area with soap and water
- keeping the affected limb still and placed lower than the heart
- Keeping the victim calm
- seeking medical help immediately.
Just as with other allergic reactions the site may become swollen or bruised looking and bleeding could exist. Even with a small amount of venom you may experience faintness or numbness of the tongue. These are evidence of shock and need quick attention.
When you get medical attention, a doctor will use and antivenom serum that is produced by injecting a small amount of serum into an animals blood (usually a horse) which then causes their immune systems to produce antibodies to combat the venom. The antibodies are then harvested from the animal in a concentrated form so that it can act quickly to neutralize venom in a person bitten by a snake. Many persons can have an allergic reaction to the serum itself and are usually given epinephrine to counteract the allergy.
Can Snakebite Be Prevented? How?
As with many emergencies, preparedness is the best policy. The Center for Disease Control (and some years living in snake country myself) provides these tips for prevention whether enjoying the outdoors, boondocking, camping or hiking in the wild or even in residential areas:
- Do not play with or aggravate snakes
- Keep landscape clear of brush and debris
- Wear shoes (even in your RV and house-we found a coral snake in our closet once)
- Wear boots when walking in snake country
- Develop a habit of watching where you step and place your hands (even/especially when gardening)
Live and Let Live
Whereas some may go by the adage "the only good snake is a dead snake," there are at least four reasons to just let them be.
- They will most likely just leave YOU alone
- Many snakes are non-poisonous and benefit society
- Snakes prey on rodents that can be a damaging nuisance and health risk themselves
- Snake venom, when extracted, is used for various applications including treatment of breast cancer as well as stroke victims and it can also help in heart attack treatment. Venom is also used in the medicines of blood pressure.