In the Southeast, pit vipers include the diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, copperhead and cottonmouth (water moccasin).
Photo courtesy of Chris Funk, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Snakes may be the most misunderstood wildlife, no matter what part of the country you call home. A high percentage of people are both fascinated by and fearful of snakes.
While not all snakes are venomous, you should take caution when outside during both day and night. That’s because snakes are most active at night, especially in warmer weather.
In Alabama, six of the state’s 40 species of snakes are venomous, and five are classified as pit vipers.
Pit vipers have a depression (pit) on both sides of the face between the eye and nostril. They have vertical, cat-like pupils along with triangle-shaped heads, thin necks and heavy bodies.
The state’s sixth species of venomous snake, the coral snake, is not classified as a pit viper.
Coral snakes have oval, elongated heads with thin bodies and distinct body markings with a series of red, yellow and black bands, while their head and snout are both black.
Several non-venomous snakes resemble the coral snake, however. The easiest way to distinguish between the coral snake and its lookalikes is to remember the clue: “red on yellow–kill a fellow; red on black–friend of Jack.”
All snakes will bite when threatened or surprised, but most will avoid people if possible.
Pit vipers, however, tend to be more aggressive snakes, including the coral snake.
Rattlesnakes are the only snake equipped with a warning mechanism (rattlers) that gives notice that you are in danger and getting too close. Coral snakes tend to move away when threatened to avoid contact with predators, but not always.
Bites from any venomous snake can be deadly if not treated quickly.
However, the best way to avoid a snake bite is to avoid snakes. During warm weather months, avoid areas where snakes inhabit.
These areas include overgrown and grassy areas, woodpiles and debris, and thick woodlands.
If you’re going to be in an area where seeing a snake is unavoidable, be sure to wear appropriate clothing like long pants, snake boots or snake chaps, and gloves.
If you are bitten some of the symptoms you could experience include blurred vision, dizziness, fever, excessive sweating, fainting, rapid pulse, skin discoloration, swelling at the site of the bite, pain at site of bite, low blood pressure, numbness, nausea and vomiting, breathing difficulty and thirst.
If you find yourself in a situation where you or someone you are with has been bitten by a venomous snake, take steps to ensure you survive and make it to a hospital for the appropriate treatment.
What to do:
Keep calm. Restrict movement. Keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
Remove any restricting item from the affected area due to swelling.
Create a loose splint to help restrict movement of the area.
Clean the wound but don’t flush with water.
Wrap wound with compression bandages. Go about 4 inches above the wound, wrapping as you would a sprained ankle.
Seek medical attention immediately.
Also important is what NOT to do:
Do not allow for over exertion.
Do not apply a tourniquet.
Do not apply a cold compress to a snake bite.
Do not cut into the bite with a knife or razor.
Do not try to suck out the venom by mouth.
Do not give/take stimulants or pain medication unless instructed to do so by a doctor.
Do not raise the site of the bite above heart level.
Do not drink caffeine or alcohol.
--Contributed by Justin Monk, wildlife biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries