The Altons at Doom and Bloom Medical have an article up – Snakebites: First Aid and Prevention. As rattlesnakes are fairly common, venomous, pit vipers in our area, it behooves us to be prepared to treat and avoid bites.
Of the 3000 species of snakes on planet Earth, only about 400 are venomous. In North America, those that inject venom into their victims are either pit vipers or elapids. Pit vipers include species of rattlesnakes, water moccasins (cottonmouths), and copperheads. One species or another exists everywhere in the U.S. except for Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii. Elapids include coral snakes, found mostly in the South.
A word about venom: Notice I don’t say “poison”. Poisons are absorbed in the gut or through the skin, but venom must be injected into tissues or blood via fangs or a stinger. Strangely, it’s usually not dangerous to drink snake venom unless you have a cut or sore in your mouth. Having said that, please don’t try this at home.
U.S. PIT VIPERS
Pit vipers account for most snakebites in North America. The “pit” refers to a heat-sensing organ located between the eye and nostril on each side of a triangular head. The eyes have slit-like pupils. Pit vipers include:
Rattlesnakes: Of all pit vipers, rattlesnakes contribute the most to snake bite statistics in the U.S. They get their name from a structure at the end of their tails which makes a loud rattling noise when shaken. The “rattle” serves as a warning to discourage nearby threats.
Copperheads: The copperhead looks similar to a rattlesnake but without the rattle. As the name suggests, it is often copper-colored or pinkish-tan with darker bands.
Water Moccasins: These snakes are very comfortable in water. This snake has no rattle, so is relatively silent, as if walking in “moccasins”. Its response to threats is opening its mouth wide and exposing its whitish oral cavity before biting. This behavior gives it the nickname “cottonmouth”. The water moccasin may have a pattern when young, but as an adult is almost black in color. Its thick body differentiates it from other water snakes, which tend to be slender.
Coral Snakes are related to the king cobra. They’re brightly-colored but unassuming creatures that are rarely aggressive. Their small fangs are less effective in delivering venom than pit vipers. A coral snake tends to deliver venom by holding on and “chewing” on its victim, unlike vipers, which strike and let go quickly.
The marks left by venomous snake bites have a distinct appearance due to the hollow fangs at the front of the mouth. This differs from non-venomous snakes, where the bites have a more uniform appearance.
Not every bite from a venomous snake transmits toxins to the victim; indeed, 25-30% of these bites will be “dry” and seem no worse than a bee sting. This could be due to the short duration of time the snake had its fangs in its victim or whether the snake had bitten another animal shortly beforehand…