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The Herps of La Crosse

Living With Herps

Easy Herp Monitoring

Herps as Pets

General Herp Info

Suggested Reading and Bibliography


About Me and Contact Info

Avoiding Snake Bites

        Let's get something straight:  snakes do not want to bite people.  I'm not sure where such a myth arose from, but it's silly.  This is even more true in the case of venomous snakes.  Remember, venomous snakes have venom for the purposes of hunting.  It is energetically and ecologically costly for a venomous snake to waste its hard-produced venom on defense.  It would much rather save that venom and use it for hunting rodents.  If you don't believe me, look at the facts; a large percentage of rattlesnake bites are "dry".  This means that these particular snakes have bitten someone to deter that person from harming them, but have chosen not to use their venom in the process.  While this is an interesting and reassuring hypothesis, it is one that I strongly suggest you do not test.

What do I do if I see a snake?

        Remember, there are over 20 species and sub-species of snakes found in Wisconsin.  Of these, only two are venomous.  One, the Massasauga, is so rare that you will probably never see it.  The other, the Timber Rattlesnake, is uncommon and tends to stay within the vicinity of bluffs.  During the summer, males and non-gravid females will come down from the bluffs and into the lands surrounding to hunt.  Because they are so uncommon, it is unlikely that a snake you encounter will be a rattlesnake.

            Once startled, most snakes will do everything in their power to get away from you.  If you see a snake, keep your distance and it will probably slither off.  If it does not move along, try to determine what species it is (while remaining at least 3 to 5 feet away).  Remember, venomous snakes in Wisconsin have elliptical pupils, arrow shaped heads and rattles on their tails.  They also have heat-sensing pits below each nostril.  You should also keep in mind that many non-venomous snakes, if cornered, will vibrate their tails against dried leaves.  This sound may resemble a rattlesnake.  However, even at a distance, you should be able to tell whether the snake has a rattle or is just vibrating its tail.

        After you have determined whether or not the snake is venomous, you can plan your course of action.  If you need to walk past the snake, keep at least 5 feet between you and it.  If this is not possible, take a very long stick (at least five feet) and GENTLY nudge the snake.  Eventually, it should move on its way.

NOTE: If you are hiking with dogs or on horse-back, make sure to restrain your animals.  Dogs are very inquisitive and this may result in a bite on the nose.  Likewise, if on horse-back, make sure your horse does not lower its nose towards the rattlesnake.  In addition, make sure the horse does not become startled.  If it rears up or walks to close to the snake, it may also risk being bitten.

Where Might I see Venomous Snakes?

Pictured above: These are typical habitats where Timber Rattlesnakes can be found

            Venomous snakes are harmless if you leave them alone and stay out of their habitat.  Unfortunately, we (as humans) can't seem to stay away from areas snakes love.  We build houses along the bluffs, we build golf courses in the lowlands where they hunt, and we like to hike right through areas that snakes call home.  Thick forests, bluffsides, wetlands, prairies.  These are all habitats where snakes exist.  Venomous snakes tend to be located near bluffs and the adjacent lowlands, and occasionally in wetlands.

        If you are hiking in an area known to have rattlesnakes, always wear loose fitting jeans and hiking boots with thick leather that covers the ankles.  ALWAYS be aware of where you are placing your hands and feet.  Accidentally stepping on a rattlesnake it a great way to getting bitten.  Try to avoid going off of a path already designed for hiking.  Timber Rattlesnakes blend in very well and it's much harder to see them in thick vegetation.

REMEMBER: Rattlesnakes hunt by remaining hidden and waiting for prey to come to them.  Therefore, they will not always rattle to warn you that they are near.  This is because when they rattle, not only does this alert you to their presence, it also alerts any potential prey in the area as well.

What do I do if I am bitten by a snake?

        First, determine if it was a venomous species.   Venomous snake bites usually consist of one or two puncture wounds.  Later, these wounds will start to burn and the skin around the effected area will swell.  Non-venomous snake bites usually consist of a series of smaller puncture wound (like pin pricks).  Often, they do no even break the skin.

        If you have been bitten by a venomous snake:  

1) Remain calm.  Slowly, back away from the snake.

2) lie down, keeping the bitten extremity level, or below you heart  

3)Apply a constriction bandage between the bit-site and your heart, remembering not to apply too much pressure.  

3) Immediately contact a medical facility and warn them that someone with a rattlesnake bite is coming in so they have time to prepare the anti-venom and send an ambulance.

A commonly used Rattlesnake anti-venom is the Wyeth Crotalidae Antivenom.

Both Gundersen Lutheran Hospital (782-7300) and Fransiscan Skemp Hospital (785-0940) are reported to carry anti-venom.

DO NOT cut the wound site

DO NOT attempt to suck out the venom

Report all rattlesnake encounters or sightings to the DNR by calling 1-888-74SNAKE  

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