Snake S-s-safety: What To Do If You Spot a Serpent

When summer arrives, you might hear a familiar hiss. It could be the sound of lawn sprinklers or it could be an unwelcome guessssst. That’s right: snakes could be out and about in your hometown or where you’re vacationing. And while some of them might be relatively harmless, it still pays to be prepared. Should you come upon a slithering serpent — or if you want to keep them away from you and your family — here’s what you should do.

Learn to Identify Different Snakes

Every year, approximately 750,000 people receive treatment for dog bites. The number of folks who are bitten by venomous snakes is much smaller, at only about 8,000 per year. Around 10 to 15 of those bites results in death, according to the FDA. But that’s still a risk your family can’t afford to take. It may help to identify the different kinds of snakes in your area (or where you’ll be traveling), how they act, and where they like to hang out.

For example, rattlesnakes and gopher snakes are often mistaken for each other. Rattlesnakes are generally shorter (three to six feet long, on average) and have a broader body than gopher snakes. They also have a diamond-shaped head. Gopher snakes are longer and more slender. Although gopher snakes will try to imitate what rattlesnakes do (they’ll even attempt to hiss), they aren’t actually dangerous. They do have a taste for gophers — which make burrowed tunnels that reach up to 2,000 square feet — but they don’t particularly want to take a bite out of you. You’ll probably want to practice comparing photos of the two to make sure you can definitively recognize whether it’s friend or enemy in the wild.

Keep Your Property Clean

The Nevada Department of Wildlife recommends that homeowners remove brush and excess vegetation from around their homes so as not to encourage rattlesnakes to hide and wait for prey. Snakes tend to leave their homes during heavy rainfalls, so take extra caution if you’re doing any yard work during this time. And when gardening, be careful about mindlessly pulling weeds or digging around bushes; snakes tend to congregate in areas with ground cover. Keep your lawn mowed and avoid venturing into tall grasses — and always watch where you step.

Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks

Rattlesnakes are generally not considered to be aggressive. They typically strike when they’re purposefully provoked or feel threatened (often if they’re accidentally brushed). Most snakebites occur on the feet, ankles, and hands. You should take care to wear over-the-ankle hiking boots and thick socks if you’ll be in wild areas. Sandals and bare feet should be avoided outdoors. Some medical personnel point out that the most common demographic for snake bites is males ages 18 to 34 — many of whom are intoxicated at the time of the incident. For your own sake, drink responsibly and stay out of the wilderness if doing so. And if you hear the telltale sound of a rattle or see a hint of a slither, move away from the area slowly and contact police if it might be a threat to residents nearby.

Always Call For Help

If you or someone you know is bitten, try not to panic. An increased heart rate can actually cause the venom to spread more quickly. Keep the bitten area below heart-level and call 9-1-1 immediately. Use a pen to circle the area where the bite occurred so that paramedics can assess how fast the venom travels. Do not try any methods to remove the venom, as this can make the situation worse.

Although most people hope they’ll never run into a snake, the reality is that many of the snakes found throughout the country are pretty harmless. Still, you should not approach one in the wild. If you don’t bother them, they probably won’t bother you. So admire them from afar and take precautions to avoid being bitten.