Thursday, June 5, 2008

Snake season

For the last couple of months or so, snakes and other reptiles have been coming out from their winter dormancy in response to the warmer weather. As the temperatures increases through the spring and into the summer, so does the chance for an encounter with a rattlesnake. However, this does not mean that people need to take an alarmist approach to rattlesnakes. These non-confrontational reptiles are a great benefit to the ecology of our natural environments, as with other snakes; and with a little awareness on the trails and/or in homes adjacent to or near open space, everyone can enjoy spring and summer in the hills.

Snakes are often unjustly viewed as scary and dangerous, but in fact they are one of nature’s greatest allies in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Snakes serve as a great means of natural pest control through their consumption of rodents and insects that are otherwise often treated by people with poisons that are harmful to other wildlife. Biologically, snakes serve as important regulators in their complex food web by controlling the populations of rodents, insects, and other reptiles.

The Puente Hills is home to approximately 10 to 12 snake species, though only two of those species (both rattlesnakes) are venomous. Of the rattlesnakes, the most common is the western rattlesnake, though the red-diamond rattlesnake is also present. Several weeks ago I happened upon my first rattlesnake of the season (a western rattlesnake) coiled up in the hollow stump of an old avocado tree. For residents of the hills (particularly those immediately adjacent to open space) it is fairly common for people to get snakes of all kinds in their yards, on their driveways, and perhaps even in their garages.

For those on the trails, a rattlesnake encounter is always a possibility, but the likelihood of actually getting bitten by a venomous snake is very low, particularly if you hike safely and responsibly.
  • Be sure to stay on the open trails. The chance of encountering a snake greatly increases if you wander off the trail into the brush or rocks. Avoid areas where you cannot see the ground around you.
  • When hiking, wear long pants and appropriate shoes. Do not wear sandals or other open or thin-material shoes that make it easier for a snake to bite you.
  • When on the trails be sure to watch where you are stepping. Always watch the ground for several paces in front of you, since rattlesnakes will sometimes be stretched out or coiled up on the trail.
  • If you do hear the distinct sound of a rattlesnake, be sure to avoid its location. Hike away from the sound of the snake. A rattlesnake is very unlikely to strike unless it is provoked, and if you leave the snake alone it will leave you alone. If you have a close encounter with a rattlesnake, freeze or back away slowly to allow the snake to get away.
  • Do not turn over rocks or otherwise put your hands where you cannot see what is hidden.
  • And of course, do not try to touch or pick up a snake. Do not throw objects at snakes, or otherwise do anything else that might provoke them.

Here are some steps to minimize the chance of snake encounters around your home if you live adjacent to or near open space:

  • Clear planters, hoses and other objects from around the house.
  • Don't leave your garage door open or leaky faucets running. Snakes often are seeking water or a shady place to rest.
  • Never let your children or pets play in the yard without first checking to make sure there are no snakes around.
  • Don't go outside barefoot.
  • Be especially careful when stepping out of the light into a shady area.
  • When walking at night or dusk always use a flashlight. Snakes and other reptiles will lay on warm roads, sidewalks and driveways after dark to absorb heat left over from the daytime.

If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, the most important thing is not to panic. Do not run or otherwise get excited, as that will speed up the circulation of the venom through your system. Calmly seek immediate emergency assistance, including calling 911 if you are unable to get yourself to a hospital. If possible, wash the bite area with soap and warm water. Keep the bitten portion of your body below the level of your heart, and remove any constrictive jewelry or clothing around the bite area.

If you have any other questions or concerns about snakes, feel free to contact us at the Puente Hills Habitat Authority.

1 comment:

Jay Anderson said...

When I encounter a rattlesnake on the trail, I just stop and talk to it a little bit. After a little bit, they get annoyed or alarmed enough to crawl off the trail - without any raised tempers.