By Douglas W. Motley
Typically, the first rattlesnake sightings in the mountaintop area occur around Mother’s Day. Like clockwork, one was discovered last Friday, just two days before Mother’s Day, by a Crestline resident who was using a weed trimmer to create defensible space around his home.
Most worrisome is the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, which happens to be the most common species found within the San Bernardino National Forest. It’s also one of the world’s deadliest snakes, according to herpetologist Frank Indiviglio, who describes its venom as “highly neurotoxic in action. This venom kills by paralyzing the nervous system, as is commonly seen in cobra bites.”
Noting that snakes commonly come out of hibernation as soon as outdoor temperatures rise above 70 degrees for three or four days in a row, Dr. Bill Hayes, a reptile biologist at Loma Linda University, told The Alpine Mountaineer that the Southern Pacific Diamondback Rattlesnake is extremely dangerous and is best left alone.
According to Hayes, the Southern Pacific’s fangs inject a neurotoxin that causes extreme pain and rhythmic contractions in the victim’s muscles. “This neurotoxin is good for the snake because it helps it gather food, but it is very bad for humans.”
Hayes said snakebite symptoms usually appear after about two to three hours but could take up to eight hours. Suggesting that most snakebite kits are useless, Hayes said, “The best snake bite kit is a cell phone and car keys.” He said most area hospitals should have rattlesnake anti-venom in stock for treatment.
Dispelling a common misconception that baby rattlesnakes are more deadly than full-grown adults because they can’t control the amount of venom they inject, Hayes said, “That is not correct. They do not have as much venom to inject. Adults are definitely more dangerous.”
Medical authorities point out that most rattlesnake bites contain hemotoxic elements that damage tissue and affect the circulatory system by destroying blood cells, causing internal hemorrhaging. Venom also contains neurotoxins that immobilize the nervous system, affecting the victim’s breathing, sometimes stopping it.
Hayes advises anyone treading through snake territory to wear sturdy boots and long clothing. “Denim can reduce the amount of venom injected,” he said.
Noting that heart-rate studies indicate snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them, Hayes said, “Respect them and give them space.”