Rattlesnake season is here: Protect yourself and your pets

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By Carl Person,
Loma Linda University

With the arrival of spring, we love to be outdoors and take our pets with us to explore and enjoy the beauties of nature. Trails and parks abound in Southern California and offer a wide array of different habitats, from low deserts to high Alpine forests. Daily, people and their pet companions converge on these sites by the droves. The exhilaration of being in these pristine outdoor environments often makes us forget that within these treasured getaways, there is a potential for disaster.

Rattlesnakes also come out in the spring to begin their endless search for food. Locally, there are six species of rattlesnakes and they are almost perfectly designed hunters.

Rattlesnakes are a pit-viper, and as such, have a highly sensitive infrared-sensing pit between the eye and the nostril. This organ gives the snake a three dimensional infrared image of its surroundings, and gives them the ability to “see” very well at night—even in the forest under the darkest of conditions. It’s a huge advantage if you’re hunting warm-blooded prey. Pit-vipers also have very long fangs that are folded up against the roof of their mouth that are rotated 90 degrees forward delivering a large amount of venom deep into their victim. The venom is a great advantage to the snake; when they bite, they release their prey immediately, preventing the snake from being scratched, bitten or otherwise harmed from their own food source. The venom also provides a tracking tag. The long, forked tongue that snakes “flick” in and out is part of an extremely sensitive chemosensory system by which the snake can track the scent of its victim. So, the venom is designed to first immobilize the prey, and then kill it and finally, provide tracking; venom is primarily a way of getting food—defense is secondary use.

Avoiding snakebite is on the minds of many as they plan their retreats in rattlesnake country. There are some measures that you can take to reduce your risk. The first thing to keep in mind is that the snake wants nothing to do with you; it hopes to avoid you as much, if not more than you do! With this in mind, if you see a snake, take two steps back, and you will be out of striking range and safe. If you hear a rattlesnake, stop, locate the animal, then back away. Be sure to stay on the open trails and, if crossing over a rock or log, step on top of it first, and check the other side. A good set of hiking boots and long pants are also a help, though their fangs can penetrate both, it will help reduce the amount of venom delivered.

For more information visit AnimaliaHerp.com or call (909) 406-1203.

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