An autumn nature hike is enriching and relaxing, but keep in mind… you’re not alone!
August and September are two of the most beautiful months to explore the great outdoors. The weather is perfect and nature during this time of year is awesome.
All is calm and serene with insects buzzing, a bird chirping here and there, and maybe a light breeze or the cheerful sounds of a bubbling stream. What could be more enjoyable?
Yet in this seemingly peaceful environment you must be attentive and prepared for any encounters with wildlife. The great outdoors is the home to many creatures, small and large, and you are traversing their native space. Animals are generally shy and reserved, preferring to go about their business and keep to themselves. But sometimes contact is unavoidable, and this includes running into poisonous (venomous) snakes.
Snakes are very remarkable animals. They have adapted to live on the land in the trees, grasslands, and desert areas and they are also found living in water, including the oceans. They eat meat so will prey on insects, birds, small animals and other reptiles, and sometimes even other snakes.
Being cold-blooded animals they are unable to regulate their own body temperatures, so they are most active when it’s warm and less active as it gets cold. Snakes like to come out when it’s sunny, but not scorching. Sensitive to temperatures exceeding 80 degrees, they are most likely to be seen early in the morning, in the evening, and during the nighttime when it’s warm.
Preventing snake bites
A nice thing to know is that snakes only bite if they are provoked or startled. Most snakes do not act aggressive toward humans without provocation and by simply leaving them alone, you should be okay. Despite a sinister reputation, snakes are almost always more scared of you than you are of them. If you spot a rattlesnake or other venomous snake, you should stop, watch it and let it leave before continuing on.
Avoiding snake bites is not difficult as long as you take precautions. Educate yourself about the types of snakes in your area before venturing out, and then stay aware of your surroundings. Wear the appropriate clothing for outdoor activities too, like long pants and hiking shoes. Although these may not stop every bite they can help deflect a bite.
Venomous snakes have modified salivary glands that they use to inject venom. During a bite the snake passes the venom into a duct into their fangs, and then into its prey. However they can regulate whether or not to release venom, and don’t necessarily inject venom with all bites. A bite without venom is known as a “dry Bite” and will occur between 25-50% of the time. This varies with different species; pit-viper bites will be dry about 25% of the time while coral snakes will be dry up to 50% of the time.
Only a small number of people experience snake bites. On average about 7,000 people in the United States report being bitten by venomous snakes each year. As reported by the Rapid City Journal, the curator of reptiles at Reptile Gardens south of Rapid City, snake expert Terry Phillip says that the No. 1 reason people in this country are bitten by venomous snakes is because they were “trying to catch, kill ‘em or tease ‘em.” Further, of those bitten by venomous snakes, 89 percent are men between the ages of 16 and 30 years.
Phillip further states that if bitten by a venomous snake, make wise choices. None of the common field treatment myths are effective, like the cut-and suck method, tourniquets, nor applying ice or alcohol. He says to remain calm and remove jewelry or anything that will restrict movement from the affected limb, and then seek medical emergency treatment immediately. If you get bit call your local poison control center, then the center will call a hospital in advance for treatment.
Poisonous (venomous) snakes in the United States
There are about 25 species of poisonous (venomous) snakes in North America, with at least one or more species found in each of the 50 states. The most notable venomous snakes in North America are comprised of two groups; the Pit Vipers which include Rattlesnakes, Cottonmouth, and Copperhead snakes, and the Coral Snakes.
The Rattlesnakes are probably the best known venomous snakes, and this pit viper is found all across the United States. They are so named for the “rattle” at the tip of their tail, which when sounding, strikes fear into the heart of the intruder. Their primary method of protection is their camouflage rather than the rattle, so you know they are riled if you hear it sizzling.
There are 32 recognized rattlesnake species in the genus Crotalus, all bearing a large pair of fangs. Though none of these snakes are considered aggressive, if threatened they are known to hold their ground. A few familiar species include:
- Western Diamondback Rattlesnake C. atrox
The Western Diamondback, ranging from California to central Arkansas and south into Mexico, has gained much of its notoriety due to being featured in Western Movies.
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake C. adamanteus
The Eastern Diamondback is the largest of the rattlesnake species and is the heaviest, though not the longest, venomous species in the United States. It has large range from North Carolina to Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
- Sidewinder C. cerastes
The Sidewinder is a well known snake from the Midwest deserts where is slithers sideways across the sands leaving a zigzag pattern in its wake. It ranges from Utah and Nevada, then south through Arizona and California and into Mexico and down the Baja.
- Timber Rattlesnake C. horridus
The Timber Rattlesnake C. horridus is an abundant snake, and the most populous of rattlesnake in the northeastern United States. It ranges from the northeast south through Florida and into Minnesota and Texas. It is commonly found on wooded hillsides and rocky outcrops.
The Copperhead Agkistrodon contortrix is also a pit viper with 5 recognized subspecies. It is widespread throughout the Eastern and Southeastern United States. It is responsible for most of the bites from venomous snakes, and although the bites are quite painful they rarely life threatening. Still a victim should still get medical attention.
The Coral Snakes comprise a large group of venomous snakes, and they are not restricted to just the Americas. However the New World has the largest number, with 65 recognized species in 3 genera. These snakes are extremely toxic. Their venom is a powerful neurotoxin that requires prompt snake bite treatment. A bite from one of these fellows will shut down your nervous system and stop your heart.
Coral snakes are identified by the colored bands ringing the entire length of their body and a blunt black snout. The bands alternate in red and black, with a thinner yellow in between. They can easily be confused with the harmless King Snake, as their body colors are similar looking, though the King Snake has a red snout. It is the arrangement and size of the colored bands that distinguish the two. A rhyme that can help distinguish them goes like this, “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow (Deadly Coral snake). Red touch black, friend of Jack (Harmless King snake).” Three species encountered in the United States include:
- Eastern Coral Snake Micrurus fulvius
The Eastern Coral Snake typically ranges from North Carolina through Florida and along Mississippi.
- Texas Coral Snake Micrurus tener
The Texas Coral Snake typically ranges in Texas, but is also found in Arkansas and Louisiana.
- Arizona coral Snake Micruroides euryxanthus
The Arizona coral Snake, also known as the Western Coral Snake, typically ranges in Arizona and south to Sinaloa in western Mexico
The Cottonmouth Agkistrodon piscivorus, also called the “water moccasin,” is another species of pit viper with a serious bite that can be fatal. Although this snake’s aggression is somewhat exaggerated, it is a fast fellow and an occasion male can be aggressive and cranky. It has a thick, heavy body that’s brownish or olive/gray in color and a flat topped head. It is known to stand it ground when annoyed and may gape repeatedly, exposing the cotton-looking lining of its mouth, thus its common name. It ranges across the east, Mideast and southeastern United States.
The beauties of autumn season are yours to fully enjoy when you are aware of the venomous snakes in your area and ready if one should cross your path. Fully prepared, your hiking experience will be fun and relaxing!
Clarice Brough is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.