Source: Santa Barbara County Fire Department
Warm weather brings out rattlesnakes, which are widespread throughout Southern California. Our recent rainy winter has provided more grassy habitat and rodent prey to help boost the local rattlesnake population. In Santa Barbara County, March through November is a time to be especially aware of your surroundings. Rattlesnakes are an important part of our ecosystem, keeping rodent populations in check. They are commonly found in wilderness areas, on and near trails. However, rattlesnakes can also be found in our communities – in parks and close to homes on doorsteps, under bushes, near rocks, on driveways, under wood piles, and even on sidewalks.
Rattlesnakes are not typically aggressive, and they often – though not always – rattle to warn of their presence. Still, rattlesnakes will strike if startled or provoked. Rattlesnakes are venomous and their bites can be dangerous or even fatal. While rattlesnakes are the cause of most snakebites, the vast majority of bites do not cause death. You can help prevent snake bites with these rattlesnake safety tips:
Be alert. If in a wilderness area, use a walking stick and stay in the middle of well-used trails. Avoid walking through tall grass or brush. Always keep your children near you and your dogs on a leash. Watch where you are walking and learn to recognize the sound of a rattlesnake. If you hear a snake’s warning rattle, move away and do not make sudden or threatening movements. If you see a snake, stop and keep your distance (at least 10 feet from the snake) to give the snake space to get away.
Check your surroundings. Because rattlesnakes do not always rattle before they strike, it is important to always look for hidden snakes before picking up leaves, rocks or firewood. Check carefully around stumps or logs before sitting. Only step or put your hands where you can see, especially when climbing as rattlesnakes can climb walls, trees, and rocks. Also check your porch or step before crossing your door’s threshold, as snakes like to crawl along building walls.
Wear appropriate footwear and clothing. If hiking, wear boots and long pants to protect from rattlesnake venom. Do not go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through habitat areas, or when playing in areas where there could be rattlesnakes – even if it’s just in your own backyard.
Never disturb, handle or touch a rattlesnake. If you see a rattlesnake, do not attempt to move or kill it. Rattlesnakes will generally leave an area if left alone.
Even baby rattlesnakes are poisonous as soon as they hatch. If a snake appears dead, do not pick it up as freshly killed rattlesnakes can still inject venom- even if they have been decapitated! Rattlesnakes can swim, so never reach for something that looks like a branch or a stick in the water.
Keep your yard free of clutter and debris. Rattlesnakes camouflage with their surroundings and hide to strike prey by surprise. Keep shrubs well-trimmed and consider removing birdfeeders, which can attract rodents, which in turn attract snakes.
Never hike alone. Hiking partners can assist each other in the event of a snake bite or other type of emergency. Always have a safety plan in place.
Teach children to respect snakes, but never touch them. Children who are curious and handle rattlesnakes are often bitten. Children should be taught to leave snakes alone, the behaviors to avoid snake bite injury, and if they see a snake, to notify the adult supervising them.
What to do in the event of a snake bite
If you or someone you are with is bitten, call 9-1-1 and seek immediate emergency medical attention.
Getting to an emergency room as soon as possible is very important as rattlesnake bites can be deadly if not treated quickly. Children especially are at higher risk for death or serious complications due to their smaller body size. All rattlesnake bites require attention in an emergency department.
Rattlesnake bite symptoms can be severe and include difficulty breathing, blurred vision, changes in blood pressure and pulse, extreme pain and swelling at the location of the bite, excessive bleeding, nausea and vomiting, weakness or collapse, shock, and tissue damage.
In the event of a bite:
- Remain calm, and move away from the snake.
- Immediately call 9-1-1 or send someone for help and safely transport the snake bite victim to the nearest emergency medical facility for treatment.
- Remove wristwatches, rings or anything constrictive.
- Gently wash the area with soap and water. Keep the bite at or below heart level.
- Try to remember what the snake looked like (but do not attempt to kill or catch it!).
- Do not apply ice to the wound, do not restrict blood flow by applying a tourniquet, do not try to suck out the venom, do not cut or slice the bite site, and do not let the victim drink alcohol. These techniques can cause additional harm, resulting in amputation or other serious complications.