Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Famous Faces of the Desert – Rattlesnakes

In my last few blogs, I have been talking about some of the iconic flora and fauna of the Arizona desert – all of which are outside our doors here at ARBICO Organics™. We are at the base of Pusch Ridge in the Catalina Mountains, amidst miles of open desert. This makes for great views of the mountains and also makes for a great wildlife viewing platform.
Pusch Ridge in the western Catalina Mountains, Tucson AZ
In the last few years, in our parking lot at work, I have seen deer and a coyote. Not to mention all the birds – hawks, roadrunners, cardinals, quail and many more. Then there are the reptiles – a Gila Monster and endless lizards. And, of course, snakes. Twice we have arrived to find a nice fat rattler sunning itself in front of our door. They appear commonly enough in our warehouse that they keep a catch stick back there and know how to use it.

Rattlesnakes are a daily reality around here. There are 13 species of rattlesnakes that are native to Arizona; we have more venomous snakes than any other state. Our climate and terrain is a reptile paradise. Despite the number of snakes sharing a landscape with humans, there are fewer snake bites than you’d expect and fatal bites are extremely rare. Many more people die from lightning and bee
Western Diamondback snake poised to strike
Western Diamondback
stings. Effective antivenoms and proximity to emergency care keeps these numbers low. Most of the snake bite deaths that occur are due to other medical problems the victim has or from anaphylaxis (an allergic reaction to the venom) and not from the venom itself.

The best way to avoid an encounter that can have serious results, is to learn more about rattlesnakes and their behavior so that you and the rattlers do not cross paths. Additionally, there are a number of myths and misconceptions that need to be thrown out:

Myth #1: Baby rattlesnakes are the most dangerous.
Do not be fooled by this idea. Because baby rattlers are born live and need to be independent right away, they are born with venom to kill prey. While this venom is potent, their small bodies do not produce large volumes of venom. It is the large adults that can strike with enough venom to kill an adult. Don’t run away from a baby and right into the fangs of its mother!

Myth #2: If you do get bit, you can suck out the poison.
Cutting into the skin and trying to suck out poison, as well as applying ice or tourniquets, are all dangerous, time-wasting and futile. You would never want that poison in your mouth and handling the bitten area can cause painful additional damage to the tissues already affected by the toxin. Use that time instead to get to a hospital.

Myth #3: You need to kill the snake and bring it to the hospital to identify which antitoxin is needed.
Taking the time to try to catch an already agitated snake is detrimental to the victim and simply increases the chance of a second bite. It is also completely unnecessary. There is one antivenom used for all North American pit viper bites. Not only is it effective for every rattlesnake, it also works for Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins) and Copperheads. The only other venomous snake in North America is the Coral Snake and they are not pit vipers, so there is a different anitvenom for them.

Myth #4: You will hear the rattle and be warned of it presence.
Rattlesnakes are shy and non-aggressive. Remember that they are prey as well as predator and will
Well camouflaged Sonoran Sidewinder snake in Tucson Arizona
Well camouflaged Sonoran Sidewinder in Tucson, AZ
instinctively avoid you. Their preferred defense mechanism is to lie still and blend in.They will then try to flee as quietly as possible.Shaking their rattle is a last ditch effort before they strike. Never put your hand where you cannot see. People are bitten because they do not see them – although most bites occur when people handle or provoke them.

The University of Arizona’s Poison and Drug Information Center has snake bite instructions and a bite video here.

If you are sharing an ecosystem with rattlesnakes, there are a number of things you can do to keep them away from your house:
Control rodents (a favorite snake food).
Build a wall that can keep reptiles out, but make sure it is high enough. Rattlers can lift themselves quite high. Males routinely stand “on tiptoe” while fighting for females.here.
Western Diamondback snakes fighting for females
Western Diamondbacks fighting for females
Keep grass short to eliminate hiding places.
Reconsider bird feeders – snakes are as drawn to them as birds.
Dogs and cats can be a deterrent – snakes don’t like their smells. Dogs are curious, though, and can get bit This Golden Retriever puppy was curious and heroic and took a bite for his owner. Consider getting your dog snake avoidance training (there are companies out there who do this – your vet should be able to direct you).
Other smells snakes dislike include sulphur and mothballs. Spread them around the outside of your home and in your yard.
Use environmentally-safe repellents like BONIDE™ Snake Stopper.

Like any living creature, rattlesnakes should not be killed indiscriminately. Their value in rodent control alone makes them useful; those hairy little mammals carry many diseases that are a direct threat to humans.

For more information on how to live harmoniously with venomous reptiles, check out this piece from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Did you know there is a rattlesnake that has evolved to eliminate its rattle? It is the highly threatened Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake.

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