Nothing quite inspires instantaneous rage, extreme fear or bizarre curiosity like the sudden appearance of a snake. For too many people, the initial impulse is kill or cradle.
The correct response, of course, is none of the above. Do not mess with snakes. They’re not looking for a fight. You are not the target of a crazed reptilian jihad. And they don’t want your love. Unless startled, provoked or attacked, snakes customarily leave humans and their ophidiophobia alone.
But sometimes people get bit by snakes. In Connecticut, home to 14 species, only the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead are venomous. The copperhead is found across a large swath of the state’s southern region. The timber rattlesnake’s turf bisects the center of the state.
The copperhead, reddish or gold with waves of hourglass bands in alternating colors, can range up to 3 feet long. It eats mice and other rodents, frogs, insects and small birds.
The timber rattlesnake, a state endangered species, is even bigger than the copperhead, up to 54 inches long with a distinctive rattle at the end of its tail. (See the featured photograph of a coiled timber rattler spotted last week on the Blue Hills Trail in Glastonbury.) Its diet is similar to the copperhead’s. Neither, it should be noted, dines on humans.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates about 8,000 snakebites each year. In Connecticut, a snakebite is rare.
Hollywood’s portrayal (“Snakes on a Plane”) and vast interest human in snake encounters has stoked the national fear factor. A couple years ago, for instance, a Texas man spotted a rattlesnake while doing yard work. Instead of retreating, slowly and calmly, he hacked off the snake’s head with a shovel. It killed the snake, but the man was still bitten by the severed head. (Why didn’t you think of that, Hollywood?) The man experienced seizures, lost vision and internal bleeding. He required 26 doses of antivenom — snakebite victims usually require between two and four doses.
A kayaker in South Carolina, meanwhile, pulled a rattlesnake from the water with this astounding rationale: He thought it was an alligator! Either way, wrong move. The snake bit him three times, sending the man to intensive care.
Most snakes in Connecticut are harmless. The gartersnake, frequently found in backyards throughout the state, eats earthworms, toads, frogs and salamanders. The smooth greensnake, also found statewide in fields and pastures and along the fringes of wetlands, eats spiders and insects. The eastern wormsnake, found everywhere in the Connecticut except a small pocket in the northwest corner, actually looks like a worm — the perfect disguise for this reptile that eats earthworms.
The bite of a copperhead or timber rattlesnake — they’re classified as pit vipers, venomous snakes that have a heat-sensitive pit near each nostril that helps find warm-blooded prey — doesn’t always release venom. Those types are called dry bites.
But if bitten, depending on the type of snake, you might experience:
- Instant pain.
- Two puncture marks at the wound.
- Low blood pressure.
- Change in skin tone.
- Nausea, vomiting.
- Swelling in the mouth.
- Numbness in mouth, arms and legs.
- An odd, metallic taste in your mouth.
- If you or someone with you is bitten by the snake, the CDC says:
Note the snake’s color and shape. This can help when a medical professional treats the bite.
- Remaining still and calm can slow the spread of a venom.
- Get medical assistance as soon as possible. Call 911.
- If you can’t reach a hospital, lay or sit down so the bite is below the level of your heart.
- Pick up, antagonize, startle or try to capture a snake.
- If bitten, do not apply a tourniquet.
- Do not suck out the venom.
- Do not apply ice or soak in water.
- Do not use alcohol as a pain reliever.
- Do no drink any beverage containing caffeine.
In Connecticut, at least, the diminutive deer tick is much more likely to bite you and cause health problems. Would you rather be bitten by a snake or tick? It’s sometimes too much to contemplate.
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