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Snakebite Season

August 08, 1993

Hot weather spells rattlesnake season and although the venomous reptile has never posed a big problem for Orange County, bites to humans and animals have been recorded in recent years. So far this summer, 12 snakebites have been recorded. A single bite can kill animals and make an adult human extremely sick for several days.

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Fast Facts:

Average length: Five to six feet

Habitat: Rocky areas, especially in deserts and foothills

Hibernation: Late November to February

Habits: Like to bask in sun; won't bite unless threatened; young rattlers tend to release all their venom when they bite, making them more dangerous than older snakes.

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The Rattle

The rattle is the single feathre that distinguishes rattlesnakes from other snake, which also vibrate their tails when alarmed. the loosely interlocked rattles are composed of keratin, the same substance the forms human hair and nails. When shaken the rattles rub against each other, producing the hissing sound audible up the 100 feet away.

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Whence the Venom?

Snakes open their mouths wide when they bite and venom is released through a canal in their hollow fangs. Venom attacks primarily the nervous system, but some venom affects the heart and circulatory system.

Nostril

Fang

Venom canal

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Six Local Species

Western Rattlesnake

The Southern Pacific rattler, a subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake, is the most common rattler in this area. Western rattlesnakes are one to five feet in length and have dark blotches on their necks that become bands toward the tail. Habitat ranges from pariries to evergreen forests.

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Speckled Rattlesnake

Has dark rings on its tail and faint designs ranging from hexagons to hourglasses to diamonds. Colors vary as well including cream, yellow, pink and brown.

* Mojave Green

Considered to be among the world's most poisonous rattlers, it is greenish and has well-defined, light-edged diamonds or hexagons down the middle of its back.

* Sidewinder

A desert species found in areas with fine, windblown sand. Noted for moving by swinging its body in a distinctive S shape.

* Western Diamondback

From three to seven feet long, it favors dry prairies brushy deserts and rocky foothills.

* Red Diamondback

Tan, pink or reddish relative of the Western diamondback. Likes rocky brushland on coastal and desert sides of the mountains.

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Avoiding rattlesnakes * Clear brush from around buildings. * Don't keep stacks of wood outside. They make great snake nests. *Repair leaky outdoor faucets (snakes occasionally take a drink.) * Keep trash in containers with secure lids. * Wear high boots and long pants in grassy areas and carry a stick to beat the brush. *Install molding on door bottoms, particularly on garage doors, to seal off potential entrances. * Teach children to identify rattlesnakes.

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Typical Victim

* Many bites occur because of carelessness or ignorance, such as when a hiker steps on a sleeping rattler or a child plays with one.

* 10% occur on the foot or lower leg.

* 85% of all bites are on the hand or arm.

* In one out of three cases, the victim is drunk.

* The vast majority of people bitten are males between the ages of 17 and 27.

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If You Are Bitten

* Summon help

* Stay calm and remain motionless if possible

* If possible, position youself so that bite is kept below heart level

* Do not make an incision across the bite and suck out the venom unless help is a few hours away

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Calling for Help

* Human bitten: Call the Regional Poison Center (800) 544-4404 for first-aid instructions and the location of the nearest poison center.

* Pet/other animals bitten: Call the Orange County Animal Shelter (714) 935-7419. Call the same number to have a snake removed from a yard or home. After 5:30 p.m., call (714) 935-7158. This is a message number, but someone monitors all calls and can dispatch an animal control officer within minutes.

* Dialing 911: Acceptable in cases of rattlesnake bite.

* Source: Orange County Health Care Agency, Los angeles Animal Regulation Department, "A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians," Encyclopedia Americana: Researched by STEPHANIE STASSEL and CAROLINE LEMKE / Los Angeles Times

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