This past week I got a phone from a frantic friend asking me to identify a small snake they had killed outside their house; worried it might be a poisonous creature she quickly sent me a few snapshots via her cell phone (isn’t technology wonderful). After a quick evaluation of the photos, it was easy to identify the reptile as your typical garden variety garter snake….but how do you tell the difference? How many varieties of snakes inhabit the commonwealth? I did some research and decided this would be a great opportunity to share some information on a common reptile that is often misunderstood and feared since the days of Adam and Eve.
Kentucky is home to 33 species of snakes of which only four types are venomous (considered poisonous). These are the Northern copperhead, Western cottonmouth (more commonly known as the water moccasin), timber rattlesnake and the pygmy rattlesnake. Unlike my mother who I will always remember screaming and running up the hill after a close encounter to a small black snake, I respect snakes but do prefer to be a distance away. The majority of snakes are harmless and actually very beneficial to local homeowners because their main diet consists of mice and other small pesky rodents. So before you go and starting killing every snake in site you might refrain and try to coexist with this usual gentle creature.
Geographical Snake Distribution
• Rattlesnake live throughout the continental United States: they are native to all states except Alaska, Hawaii and Maine
• Water moccasin or the commonly known as the cottonmouth are found in the southeast and south, from Virginia to Texas
• Copperhead are common in the Eastern-half of the continental United States, from Massachusetts to Texas
Snakes are classified as a cold blooded reptile that have honestly taken a bad rap for many years. The majority of the species are nonvenomous with the few snakes that possess venom use it primarily to kill and subdue pray rather than self-defense.
Each year over 8,000 venomous snakebites are reported in the United States of which no more than 8-12 fatalities are reported annually. The typical victim range from ages 17-27 with 98 percent of all bites occurring on the extremities of the arms or legs. Statistics also show that the majority of snake bites occur during the months of April (peak breeding season) through September with alcohol intoxication a factor in many envenomations.
Current research has shown that over 25 percent of these bites do not result in actual envenomation or discharge of venom into the subject, so even if you are unlucky enough to receive a bite you have a 1-4 chance of not receiving venom.
The last reported fatality from a snake bite in Kentucky occurred two years ago in Middlesboro when a man was bitten in the right hand during a church service. He was then driven home where he refused medical treatment saying it was inconsistent with his religion and later died at home.
Snake handling or serpent handling churches have been outlawed in the state of Kentucky since 1942 (KRS 437.060). It’s considered a misdemeanor with a fine of $50-$100 but it still exists today with several who I personally believe tempt faith and continue this practice/ritual with their “freedom of religion rights.” In talking with one law enforcement officer he admitted when it comes to religion and law you are walking on touchy ground!
Quick Poisonous vs. Non-Poisonous Snake Identification
Rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and the copperheads (all common to Kentucky) are members of the family Viperidae or commonly known as pit vipers. This refers to the heat sensing pit located behind the nostrils which if close enough will allow you identify the snake as poisonous although personally I prefer not to be that close unless at a local zoo.
While the copperhead is the most widely dispersed snake throughout the state of Kentucky they possess a relatively low potency (seldom requiring anti-venom treatment)when it comes to venom. Almost 95% of snake bit deaths in the nation are the result of a rattlesnake bite.
One key to identifying if a snake is venomous is to look at their eyes. Pit vipers all have elliptical eyes but again I prefer a little bit more distance between me and a possible poisonous snake. But the fastest way to identify a venomous snake is a quick look at the shape of their head. A large flat triangular shaped head is a dead giveaway…an old ER Nurse saying goes like this: “Big head …you’re dead!”
So if you are one of the chosen few that actually gets bitten by a poisonous snake what action/reaction do you need to take? The first thing is don’t try and be a Hollywood Hero or do something from a John Wayne movie. We’ve all seen those scenes where he grabs his handy bowie knife, makes an incision and starts sucking out the poison….nope that only works in the movies, plus it will expose you to the same snake poison. That means if you have a loose filling, crown or cavity (which will be an avenue for the position to get into your body) you might get admitted to hospital with your buddy which is not a good plan.
The most important thing is safety, put some distance between you and snake, don’t panic… try to stay calm, minimize your activity and seek immediate medical help. Remove all restricting clothing, watches, rings or other jewelry near the bite mark. If possible (without endangering yourself or the victim) try to get a good look at the snake for a proper identification, this will help determine the snake type and whether it’s a venomous species.
Call Poison control! Antivenins are available but normally stored or stocked at Regional Trauma Hospital centers such as UK, UT, UL or the Louisville Zoo . A proper medical evaluation by a physician will determine if such treatment is necessary.
Localized pain from the bite is the first symptom with the most common reactions being nausea, vomiting and increased heart rate and a cold, clammy skin. Other characteristics from a pit viper bite might include presence of one or more fang marks, swelling at the site and ecchymosis (darkening of the skin) at the site, usually this will occur within 30-60 minutes.
If a non-venomous snake bites you (yes they also have teeth not fangs) seek medical help. The ER physician will usually check your tetanus shot status and obtain a battery of blood tests. Standard treatment in both cases call for an overnight observation of 12-24 hours at the local hospital with skin marking of the site to measure/determine possible swelling. Antibiotics, IV fluids and other adjunctive treatment may be required depending on the reaction caused by the reptile wound.
Snakes in Southeastern/Central Kentucky Area
If you’re wondering what type of venomous snakes are most typical in your area the first thing I’d say is the copperhead. These are the most common but having been raised on a small 20 acre farm in Laurel County I’ll admit to only seeing a lot of black and garter snakes on our property. In talking with some members of the community who actively snake hunt they have admitted that Laurel County and the surrounding areas has an active rattlesnake population.
Where are these large rattlesnake dens? Most are situated out in the Daniel Boone Forest area although reports have these species breeding actively in large rock formations and wooded sections throughout the surrounding counties. Water moccasins or what is known as the cottonmouth snake are also distributed throughout the state but more commonly seen at lakes, rivers or near water.
Spring being in full bloom I noticed on my Facebook page that a lot people are getting out, hiking or exploring as the weather gets warmer, so do various snakes. April is the active breeding season for snakes so this is the time of the year you have to be extra careful. Make sure and follow the trails and don’t veer off the paths. Keep a watchful eye out for mother nature’s beauty along with her variety of pets and pest. Wear long sleeves, pants and boots, in addition to being a protective barrier for snakes it can also shield you from the blooming poison Ivy plants through our parks and forests. Snakes are actually pretty harmless and the majority will slither away when confronted by a human. The key is not to harass or attempt to catch a snake….this is when it becomes dangerous.
What to do and not to do for treatment of snakebite
• DO minimize the patient’s activity level.
• DO seek medical attention
• DO remove all tight-fitting or constricting clothing.
• DO place the affected limb in a neutral position.
• DON’T constrict blood flow with tourniquets or bands.
• DON’T administer ice, alcohol, stimulants, or electric shock.
• DON’T suck venom from the bite site.
• Do contact Poison Control (1-800-222-1222)
Precautions against a snake bite
• Always wear protective clothing when hiking (Long pants and boots)
• Wear gloves if possible
• Don’t stick your hands under rock ledges, logs or stumps
• Stay on paths or trails and watch where you walk
• If you discover a snake don’t try to harass or catch it, move away and let it pass
The Kentucky Outdoorsman in Corbin is holding a contest for a pair of gift certificates. A $100 certificate will be drawn for the youth and a $200 certificate for the adults. No purchase is necessary and to register simply bring in your confirmation number when you bag a gobbler this spring and they will place your name in the hat for an end of turkey season drawing.
Biggest Gobbler Contest
Hawk Creek Armory in London is sponsoring a biggest bird contest with a 50 percent pay out. Turkeys will be weight based and must be taken during the 2016 season with hunters required to enter before opening day (April 15).
The cost is $20 and for a complete copy of rules/regulations go by the Armory during normal business
Bull Elk Tag Drawing
The Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Foundation is holding a raffle for a fully guided Bull Elk Hunt/Tag on May 27 with the proceeds going to benefit the Kentucky Conservations Camps for Kentucky youth. The cost of tickets varies from $25 for 1, $100 for 6 or $250 for 15 with all proceeds being tax deductible.
The foundation helps fund statewide conservation camps including Camp Earl Wallace, Camp Robert C. Webb and Camp John Currie. As a child I attended Camp Earl Wallace and have a lot of fond memories of fishing swimming along with an assortment of safety and outdoors activities.
The drawing with be held at May 27 at the Salato Wildlife Education Center with entries must be postmarked by May 18th. For more information you can contact Chad Miles at (502) 229-7578.
April 23 Trooper Jason Vanhook Bass Tournament
April 23 Knox County UNITE Fishing Tournament
April 23 KHSAA High School Region 3 Championship
April 28 1st Battle of the Bass Fishing Tournament
May 13-14 National Archery School Tournament
May 15-24 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits
If you have feedback or something in the outdoor field you would like to share feel free to email me through the sports editor and I’ll contact you directly.