Hikers are out on the trails, and so are the snakes.
As the weather warms up, snakes come out of hibernation and one misstep can lead to an emergency room visit.
According to Arizona Game and Fish, there are 13 species of rattlesnakes in Arizona – including the Western diamondback (responsible for more bites and deaths to humans than any other rattlesnake species in the U.S.) and the Mohave rattlesnake (otherwise known as Mohave Green, widely considered the most toxic rattlesnake in the U.S.) – more than any other state.
Some of them can grow to more than 60 inches – about the size of a young teenager. They prey on small mammals, birds, other reptiles and even centipedes – all of which are probably scurrying through your backyard right this minute.
Rattlesnake venom is toxic, but according to Arizona Poison Centers, less than 1 percent of snake bites are fatal.
Reptile enthusiast Nicole Cofer-Butler and her husband, Ryan, are proud owners of numerous reptiles, including 15 nonvenomous (poison is ingested whereas venom is injected) snakes. Nicole travels to schools throughout the county educating the public about snakes and said there are plenty of misconceptions.
Snakes don’t actually chase people, but it may seem that way when they’re slithering towards shelter behind you. Snakes don’t create their own burrows but use empty burrows and other holes to hide. If you have holes in your yard, keeping them filled will deter snakes.
Rattlers don’t always warn before striking, so if you feel something thump your boot while bushwhacking between hiking trails, it could be an errant weed or a snake making a beeline for cover.
Don’t handle dead rattlesnakes. Reflex bites can inject venom hours after their death, Butler said.
“It’s good to know your native species,” she said. “The common kingsnake and gopher snake will keep down the rodent population that would otherwise attract rattlesnakes.”
Antivenin and Bite Myths
The Kingman Regional Medical Center pharmacy carries CroFab (Crotalidae Polyvalent Immune Fab) to treat the effects of local rattlesnake bites, but it’s no quick shot in the arm.
“The drug is very expensive and we carry a minimum 36 vials, as an average full dose could be 18 vials, although more can be given based on severity of bite or envenomation,” said pharmacy services director Bruce Latimer. “It’s a bit tedious to dilute and mix and takes the pharmacy about 30 minutes to prepare the dose for administration.”
KRMC spokeswoman Teri Williams said the hospital treated 83 snakebites (the oldest victim was 87, the youngest was 2) in 2016, none fatal. She had one important bit of advice: Do not bring the snake to the ER. If possible, note the snake’s color, size and head shape and describe this to the 911 operator or ER technician. This also applies to other venomous creatures such as spiders and scorpions.
“There’s an urban myth that says to bring the snake to the ER so that we can match the correct antivenin,” she said. “That’s not a safe thing (to do).”
Dogs, often hiking and hunting partners, are notorious for taking a shot to the muzzle when they sniff up a snake. The best safety measure is to keep them on a leash, but the whole point of taking Mr. Fangus out in the sticks is to let him frolic through nature.
Stockton Hill Animal Hospital Veterinarian Kristen Andrews said next to leashes, vaccination against the Western diamondback venom is the next best precaution.
“I would recommend it to pet owners in areas with snakes,” she said “I’ve had pets come in with bites that have been vaccinated and they have much less severe reaction. I’ve found it to be very effective.”
Open rural areas such as Golden Valley, Meadview and Dolan Springs are rife with the venomous reptiles and the vaccination (only for Western diamondbacks, not other rattlers) will buy a dog some time until an emergency vet visit.
“There’s not much as an owner you can do and that’s why the vaccination is important,” Andrews said. “Be prepared, and if your dog does get bit, it is an emergency, so don’t wait.”
Andrews often refers dog owners to Viper Voidance, a New River, Arizona-based company that “snake-proofs” dogs throughout the state. They’ll be making stops at the Kingman area Arizona Game and Fish office, 5325 Stockton Hill Rd., April 8 and 29.
The classes are $80. For more information visit www.vipervoidance.com or call 480-215-1776 for an appointment.
Butler and her husband have removed rattlesnakes from homes and yards in the past. They currently aren’t licensed to remove snakes (you can get a wildlife service permit through AZGF) and certified snake removal businesses are few and far between. Mohave County Animal Control won’t touch them. Game and Fish will take action on special occasions. Kingman Police Department’s Neighborhood Services will respond, remove and relocate snakes.
Danny Asplin, owner of Pesty Pest Control, said his company will do it. The prices range from $85 to $200.
“We can do it, but don’t do a lot of it. It’s not a cheap thing to do,” said. “It depends on the condition and situation it’s in.”
For more information on how to deal with venomous snakes, visit https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/livingwith/rattlesnakes/.
5 Tips To Avoid Snakes
• Snakes are usually out after the sun goes down when they are hunting. Be sure to use a flashlight when you go outside.
• Keep your yard as tidy as possible. Don’t give snakes a place to hide near your home. Trim your plants and keep vegetation short.
• Do not leave food scraps outside; this will attract other animals such as rodents, which will attract snakes.
• Always keep an eye out for snakes, especially while walking or hiking.
• If you see a snake in the desert, leave it alone and do not approach it.
Source: Mohave County Supervisor Jean Bishop