Make Sure the Snake is Dead Before Picking it Up

Gregory Pauly, Ph.D. assistant curator, Herpetology, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, safely shows the fangs of a venomous snake, a male adult about two feet long Yellow-bellied sea snake found wash ashore dead last Saturday on the 12th by a volunteer during a beach cleaning with Surfrider Foundation at Bolsa Chica State Beach. This is only the third documented record of a Yellow-bellied sea snake washing ashore in California.
Slug: seasnake.1219
Project: B64859985Z.1
Summary: A rare tropical sea snake was found last weekend at Bolsa Chica — dead. This is only the third documented record of a Yellow-bellied Sea Snake washing ashore in California, and only the 7th or 8th found north of Magdalena Bay, Baja according to Gregory B. Pauly, Ph.D. from the Natural History Museum
of Los Angeles County.


A Texas man was nearly killed after being bitten by a diamondback rattlesnake in his backyard, and he’s still not out of the woods yet.  The freak accident occurred while his wife was working in the garden and stumbled on the snake.  She screamed, the husband came over and whacked the snake with a shovel, and the head detached from its body.  He waited until it appeared that the snake was dead before picking up the head to discard it, but it sprung back to life once his hands got too close.


Fast-Developing Symptoms

The snake bit deeply, injected a significant amount of venom, and then died soon thereafter.  Within minutes, the man started to develop life-threatening symptoms that required immediate treatment.  Fortunately, his wife is a nurse, and she immediately sprung into action.  She put him in the car and called 911 to ask where the nearest hospital with appropriate anti-venom was located.  The operator indicated that it was about an hour away.


At about the same time, the man’s symptoms began to worsen.  He drifted in and out of consciousness, his vital signs were erratic, and he thought he was going to die.  Paramedics arrived to render aid until a rescue helicopter was able to take him to the distant medical center.  However, due to the amount of venom that the snake injected, as well the time that it took for him to reach the hospital, he was in critical condition.


His vital organs started to shut down, he slipped into septic shock, and doctors put him in an induced coma in the hope of stabilizing the victim.  He needed dialysis, along with an array of other intensive treatments, and a lot of anti-venom to counter the effects.  It’s still unclear as to the extent of damage the venom did to the body.


Why So Much Venom?

Any snakebite from a poisonous species has the capability of killing the victim.  However, snakes normally do not release all of their venom at once unless they’re in dire straits.  As it turns out, once the head was decapitated, the snake went into autopilot and injected all of its venom as a last-ditch effort to stay alive.  What’s scary is that this is not all that uncommon.  In fact, snakes that have been decapitated can live for hours after the fact, and this is something that the unwitting victim had to learn the hard way.


Protecting Ourselves

There are a couple of important things that we can take away from this emergency.  First, don’t handle a snake, even if you’re convinced that it’s dead.  If you need to touch it, wear thick gloves and long pants,  consider using a shovel or some kind of grabber, and put the snake in a box.  It’s also important to be able to identify the snake so that appropriate medical intervention can be sought, and the snake species should be relayed to the 911 operator and first-responders as well.  This will help them to determine what steps to take and where to bring the victim.  We should also be mindful of what first-aid techniques will be the most appropriate based on the species of snake in question.


Take some time to learn about what poisonous snakes are present in your area, and consider coming up with a snake bite response plan.  Remember that snake bites can come without any warning, and you won’t have time to think things through in the heat of the moment.  While severe attacks are rare, every second counts when they do occur, and preparing for that possibility now can mean the difference between life and death later.









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