Warmer weather brings out snakes

Every year when the whether turns warm, hundreds of Arizona rattlesnakes slither out from their hiding places and venture out into the world around them.

Although these venomous reptiles don't go looking for trouble, statistics show that many will have an encounter with a human that may end up badly for one or the other.

Twelve people were treated for snakebites at Kingman Regional Medical Center in 2001, said Michelle Hall, a registered nurse and education coordinator at the hospital.

"We should start seeing them at the end of this month.

When the nights start to warm up they become active," said David Boyd, Region 111 Information Manager of the Arizona Game and Fish Department."

Most snakes are shy, and try to avoid people, but in the spring they come out of hibernation to venture out in search of food and the males in search of females, Boyd said.

Because snakes have no concept of boundaries, they sometimes end up sharing their habitat with humans and domestic animals, but Boyd said a chance encounter with a snake does not have to end in disaster.

"Most people who are bitten are males, usually bitten on the arm or hand.

This is likely due to the fact that they are trying to grab the snake or harass it.

Almost all those bites can be avoided," Boyd said.

Boyd's golden rule regarding snakes is to just leave them alone.

"A lot of people forget that if a rattler bites someone it is because they are scared.

… They use it as a defense.

Rattlesnakes want to avoid humans as much as humans want to avoid the snake," he said.

The problem is that when a human or an animal comes close to a snake, the snake has no way of knowing if it is an accidental meeting or if there is real danger.

The snake's natural reaction is to defend itself.

Venomous snakes bite hundreds of people a year in the United States, and 12 to 15 people a year die as a result of the bites.

Rattlesnakes have retractable fangs where venom comes out.

One out of four bite are dry bites, where no venom, or a minute amount of venom is injected, but one out of two bites are severe enough to require antivenin.

About 20 percent of bites would be fatal if no antivenin were administered,

Boyd said.

"Don't bother looking for the snake, if someone is bitten just get them to the emergency room of a hospital as soon as possible," Boyd said.

"And forget about giving someone first aid.

It may only aggravate the situation."

Boyd said dogs get bitten a lot more than humans and must be trained to avoid snakes.

All rattlesnakes share some common physical characteristics including a triangular shaped head, a facial pit, elliptical pupils and foldable fangs, according to information from the Arizona Poison Control System.

There are several species of venomous rattlesnakes in Mohave County, and one venomous lizard.

• The Mohave (green) rattlesnake – The most feared of all venomous snakes, rumors abound about this snake.

"People say that this snake will chase you, which is not true.

If a snake is cornered it will try to escape, but it will not go after someone unless it is harassed," Boyd said.

There is an added danger to this snake, however, because it carries an additional type of venom – a neurotoxin that affects the nervous system.

This snake is found in flat desert areas such as Bullhead City and Valle Vista.

• Western diamondback rattlesnake – This snake is found in rocky areas and is two to three feet long, although it can reach a length of six feet.

• Speckled rattlesnake – A pinkish color, this snake is anywhere from two to three feet long, and lives in rocky desert areas.

• Sidewinders – These four-foot snakes have been seen in Golden Valley, Boyd said.

• Black-tailed rattlesnake – Black and yellow, this snake is found in foothill areas.

• Arizona black rattlesnake – All black, this snake habitats the tops of mountains.

• Coral snake – Although the chances of getting bitten by this small snake are remote because of its small mouth and fangs, this snake does carry venom.

It has been found in the Hualapai Mountains and So Hi.

• Gila monster – The only venomous lizard in North America, this reptile has been spotted in many locations in Mohave County.

"When left alone they are harmless to humans, but once they sink their fangs into someone it is hard to dislodge them," Boyd said.

These lizards have large beaded bodies with a distinctive orange and black pattern.

"All snakes are unique and important to the environment," Boyd said.

"They are important to the desert ecosystem and should be respected and left alone."