Snakes on the Trail and What to Do
There are 20 species of venomous snakes in the U.S.: 16 types of rattlesnakes, 2 types of coral snakes, and the cottonmouth (also known as “water moccasin”). Coral snakes have the most potent venom.
If you come across a snake, knowing what type it is can be a potential lifesaver should you get bitten. Informing medical professionals about the snake that struck you helps them quickly administer the proper treatment.
Rattlesnakes are common all over the continental United States, especially in the Southwest. They’re between 1 and 8 feet long, with bulky bodies and catlike pupils with no eyelids. Their heads are triangular, wide at the neck, and they have a pit between their eyes and nostrils (a distinguishing feature of a pit viper). They can be brown, gray, rust, yellow, cream,
beige and of various patterns.
The most distinguishing rattlesnake feature is the rattle at the end of their tails, but know that rattles sometimes fall off.
Also known as water moccasins, these reptiles live in the southeastern United States, including eastern Texas. They can be up to 4 feet long and have large, triangular heads with pits between their eyes and nostrils (they are a type of pit viper, like rattlensnakes).
Their bulky bodies taper to a narrow tail and are dark brown or dull black with lighter banding. When a cottonmouth opens its mouth in aggression, the sticky “spit” looks as if it just woke up after a bender and needs a Big Gulp.
These are the most lethal snakes in the U.S. but look an awful lot like the less dangerous scarlet king snake. Keep this rhyme in mind:
Red touch yellow—kill a fellow
Red touch black—venom lack
What to Do?
Regardless of the type of snake you encounter on the trail, your actions should be the same.
- Leave the snake alone
- Give it a wide berth.
- Back away calmly as quickly and quietly as you can.
- Stick your hands in crevices
- Sit on logs or craggy rocks without looking around them and inside.
- Step over a long into a shady, possible snake-napping spot.
- Provoke the snake in any way.
Thanks to trail-running/a-trail-runners-guide-to-snakes
Here is some advice from Jordan Benjamin
If you do get bitten
1. Walk, don’t run, and carefully retrace your steps to get out of the immediate vicinity of the snake and avoid the possibility of stepping on any others nearby. 20 or 30 feet should be more than sufficient.
2. Find a safe place to sit down. This is important! Viper venoms in particular contain vasodilating compounds that open up your blood vessels to facilitate rapid diffusion of venom out into systemic circulation, which means you may suddenly suffer a dizzy spell and faint because your blood pressure just dropped too low to pump all the way to your head while you are standing upright.
3. Remove any rings, watches, bangles, anklets, tight clothing, and anything else from the bitten limb because there is a good chance it is going to get a whole lot bigger than it was when you bought that toe ring…Do this because any of these items could potential become a tourniquet when swelling makes them impossible to remove, and that could cost you the limb below whatever is choking off the supply of oxygenated blood.
4. Now that you are sitting, take at least 5 minutes to calm down and put your mind to a productive task: planning your evacuation. Time to break out the two items that I highly recommend for a snakebite kit that will help you save your own hide. First up…Do you have a cell phone? Does it have service here? If not, where did it last have a connection? Since the only effective treatment for a snake envenomation is the right antivenom to neutralize it, a working cell phone is your best means of getting information out to the emergency personnel who will do everything in their power to bring you safely out of the field and into the best medical facility for your current predicament.
The second item I cannot speak highly enough of for snakebites is…drumroll…a sharpie! If you are seriously envenomated, your primary objective right now is to get to the antivenom and get the IV flowing so it can do its job. From a clinical standpoint, there are several things you can keep track of now that will prove immensely beneficial when you reach the hospital and we are assessing the severity of your snakebite to figure out if you need antivenom, how much you need right now if you do, and what other effects the venom is causing so we can treat them with the other drugs we have available and try to make your stay a little more comfortable. Here’s how this works. You are going to assess yourself from top to bottom and document significant findings on your person along with the time that you are observing it. Notes can get lost during evacuation or rescue, but your leg is coming with you to the hospital whether you like or not so get ready to mark it up! First thing is to circle the site of the snakebite with the sharpie and write down the time next to it. Draw a circle around the border of the swelling, or if the bite is on a finger or toe then draw a line at the edge of the swelling as it moves up the limb, and once again: write down the time. Write down all of the things that you are experiencing right now that are not normal for you next to or within the circle you just drew – just make sure it’s clear what time you are writing them at. Go through all of your 5 senses and write down everything that is out of place, being sure to include the following:
Metallic taste in your mouth, changes to sense of smell, sudden loss of vision, double vision, visual disturbances, ringing in the ears, headache, nausea and vomiting, bleeding from anywhere, dizziness, shortness of breath, tremors or twitching or cramping that moves up the bitten limb, pain, numbness, tingling, burning, electric shocks, and all manner of unusual sensations, loss of bowel or bladder control, excessive secretion of saliva/tears/snot/sweat, droopy eyelids that feel heavier and heavier and are hard to open, can’t stick out your tongue at your friends like you could a few minutes earlier, can’t shrug your shoulders, and anything else we might want to know about.
You are creating a timeline charting the progression of signs and symptoms as they occur and providing the critical information we medical people need to figure out how serious of a bite you are facing and what steps need to be taken to stay on top of a developing situation. In all seriousness, the importance of doing this cannot be overstated, and it is something that you should continually reassess and update every 15 or 30 minutes as the swelling moves up the limb and your symptoms develop.
5. Try make contact via cell phone if it is easily doable, calm down and carefully assess/document what you find, and if you cannot get in touch with anyone then you need to very carefully think about where you are, how you got there, and what options you have to either get yourself to help or get help to you. You will be much better off walking yourself out, slowly, via the same way you came in than you will be sitting around waiting for help if you couldn’t reach anyone and no one knows you need help. I
Don’t let fears of “raising your heart rate and increasing the speed of venom circulation” prevent you from physically moving to get to care. The venom is going to get out into circulation regardless of whether or not you sit still for 24 hours or apply a suction device like the sawyer. There is a very good chance that you will recover completely following prompt and appropriate treatment at a hospital. Tell the boy scout to put away the pocketknife, don’t kill your own limb with a tourniquet, don’t listen to the weirdo you pass on the trail who enthusiastically offers to suck the venom out with his mouth or pee into the wound because it saved his friend all those years back