There me and my childhood friends were, on our Girls Weekend in New Mexico, walking along a path in Bandelier National Monument, discussing the pretty bird we’d seen (Western Tanager), crossing over water (Rio Grande), and wondering why the trees looked burnt (prescribed burns), when we turned a slight bend in the path and came across a rattlesnake!
My first thought was COOL! I wanted to stop and look, but a) more hikers were coming up behind us and b) Cindy hurried us along saying rattlesnakes can strike far. According to North Dakota Game and Fish, “Rattlesnakes can, at best, strike a distance of two-thirds their total body length. For example, a three foot long snake may be able to strike a distance of two feet.” The snake did look big. COOL!
We were on the opposite side of the path, approximately 6 feet from the rattling rattlesnake. (I’d rattle, too, if a group of giants stopped to gawk at me.) I took some quick pics and we moved on. A second later, we were wondering where Laura was. We looked back and saw her dragging a huge branch that looked like half a tree towards the snake!
“Ha! I get ‘yelled’ at for not walking quickly enough, and she’s approaching a rattlesnake with an enormous branch?!” I said.
“What in the heck are you doing?” Cindy called to Laura.
Talk about provoking an unhappy rattlesnake that was innocently cooling itself off in the shade before being discovered by a group of giants AND scraping the ground with branches and leaves!!
While Laura called back that she and another hiker were attempting to block the path as a warning to other hikers, I wondered if you can die from a rattlesnake bite (I wasn’t worried, just curious.), if you have to cut a bite out (My mini-Swiss Army Knife was confiscated years ago at the Statue of Liberty), or if you can suck out the poison (is that real)?
Most snakes aren’t dangerous to humans. Only about 15% worldwide and 20% in the United States are venomous. In North America, these include the rattlesnake, coral snake, water moccasin and copperhead. Their bites can cause severe injuries and sometimes death.
If a venomous snake bites you, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately, especially if the bitten area changes color, begins to swell or is painful. Many emergency rooms stock antivenom drugs, which may help you.
If possible, take these steps while waiting for medical help:
- Move beyond the snake’s striking distance.
- Remain still and calm to help slow the spread of venom.
- Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell.
- Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
- Clean the wound with soap and water. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing.
- Don’t use a tourniquet or apply ice.
- Don’t cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.
- Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol, which could speed your body’s absorption of venom.
- Don’t try to capture the snake. Try to remember its color and shape so that you can describe it, which will help in your treatment. If you have a smartphone with you and it won’t delay your getting help, take a picture of the snake from a safe distance to help with identification.
Who knew? If you are unfortunate enough to get bitten by a venomous snake, DO NOT drink a cup of caffeinated coffee or soda!
As soon as we returned to the Visitor’s Center, Cindy and Laura alerted the park staff.
Their reaction? YAWN.