It’s Rattlesnake Season; The Truth is Out There

sssssSSSSS….Snakes.  Are you scared? Don’t be.

Southern California is home to ten species of snakes, but there’s only one you need to worry about – the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake – and that critter is shy recluse reptile that’s happy for seclusion, shade and a stash of fresh mice meat. Think of them as the Howard Hughes’ of reptiles.

But, this is the time of year we are apt to see rattlers in our gardens, hiking trails and open fields which can cause panic (“HELP!”) or bravado (“Hey, watch me pick it up!”) with us humans. According to the California Poison Control Center, about 800 people are bitten each year with most bites being reported between April and October.

Indeed, with the (somewhat) wet winter of a few years ago, rattlers have put on a little more weight from the abundance of rodents and then got snuggly with their mates which resulted in a (somewhat) larger population of sliders in the Southland.

Indeed, with the recent report of an infant being bitten by a rattler in San Diego (the youngster is doing fine after anti-venin treatment), snake prevention is top on the media sensational list of “What’s Dangerous This Week?!”

But chill, SoCal. Just chill.

“Snakes have always had a bad rap,” says the Ian Recchio, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the Los Angeles Zoo.  Their devil association is far from the truth, especially snake species we find here in Southern California. “They just want to be left alone to eat their mice and rodents,” he explains. “If you try to collect them, show them off or kill them, you can get in a lot of trouble.”

Myths about snake, snake bites and snake bite remedies are plenty. The truth is simple: snakes will not chase after you for a nibble, baby and adult snakes have the same venomous bite and, if bitten, the best advice is to call 911 or a friend.

Cyrus Rangan, Assistant Medical Director for the California Poison Control Center, has his own list of don’ts for the unfortunate bitee — and many of these are perpetuated by Hollywood. Don’t engulf the bitten area (like a hand) in ice water, don’t tie a tourniquet to “stop the flow of venom,” don’t use a knife to cut away the bitten area, and for goodness sake, don’t try to “suck the poison out of flesh.”

“All of that is pretty useless,” Rangan says describing a rattler’s venom works on digesting the tissues around the infected area. Poison will not get to anyone’s brain. “We don’t see a lot of deaths with a rattler bite, but it’s possible for people to lose a finger or a toe,” he says.

All in all, Recchio would like people to stay clear of snakes if they see them out in the wild – but also appreciate them for what they are – nature’s most effective pest control. He does admit, however, that with the current spotlight on the use of rodenticide which is affecting the area’s bobcats and mountain lions, it’s more than likely that rodent-eating snakes are also being poisoned. “There’s not a lot of data on the subject,” he says. “But I’m sure snakes are being affected.”

Brenda Rees


Southern Pacific rattler - Photo by Ian Recchio
Southern Pacific rattler – Photo by Ian Recchio