Rattlesnakes out and about in Southern Arizona; time to stay vigilant

2013-04-15T00:00:00Z 2013-04-15T14:30:40Z Rattlesnakes out and about in Southern Arizona; time to stay vigilantDoug Kreutz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The weather is warming, the desert is blooming - and there's another, somewhat more sobering sign of spring: Rattlesnakes are out.

And they're biting.

"We have had two reported rattlesnake bites so far this year in addition to one on New Year's Day that was an anomaly," said Keith Boesen, director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center in Tucson. "As the weather warms back up again into the 90s and above, we fully anticipate we'll see more and more rattlesnake bites."

Randy Babb, a biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said that "rattlesnakes are definitely out and about at this time of year," and he gave one graphic example.

"Right here at the Mesa office (of the Game and Fish Department), we've had two diamondback rattlesnakes on the front steps in two consecutive weeks" this spring, Babb said.

Babb and Boesen provided the following information on rattlesnakes and other desert dwellers that bite or sting.

RATTLERS ON THE MOVE

• Arizona is home to 13 species of rattlesnakes. Eight or nine species live in Southeastern Arizona, depending on how the region is defined.

• Rattlers typically come out of their winter dens in March or April. They remain active until October, but can be out at any time of year.

• Snakes sometimes slither a mile or more from their dens to places where they spend the summer.

ABOUT THOSE BITES

• Last year, 154 rattlesnake bites were reported to the Poison and Drug Information Center, which covers all Arizona counties except Maricopa County, where another center keeps track of bites.

• About 150 bites are reported to the center in Tucson each year.

• Snakes sometimes rattle before striking, but not always.

• About 15 percent of rattlesnake bites are so-called "dry bites" in which no venom is injected.

• Deaths from rattlesnake bites are rare. In a recent 10-year period, poison centers reported 1,912 bites that resulted in only four deaths, Babb said. There have been no recent snakebite deaths in Southern Arizona, Boesen said.

AVOIDING BITES

• "First and foremost, watch where you put your hands and feet," Babb advised. "Don't reach into areas obscured by brush."

• Don't approach or harass rattlesnakes. "If you come across a snake, take one or two steps back and you should be out of striking range," Boesen said.

• Some fire departments will remove rattlers from a house or confined yard. Check with the department covering your area for information.

TREATMENT

• If you get bitten, don't try techniques such as cutting, sucking or applying a tourniquet. Those are likely to do more harm than good.

• The best response to a bite, Boesen said, is to go immediately to a medical facility for an examination and possible treatment with antivenom. Plenty of antivenom is available this year, he said.

MORE THREATS

"The bite and sting season is not exclusive to rattlesnakes," Boesen said. "We usually get about 2,500 scorpion stings a year.

He said the center also provides information to fewer than 10 people a year who are bitten by Gila monsters - and many people who are bitten by spiders or stung by bees.

bite info

Call 1-800-222-1222 any time of the day for information on snakebites. The line is operated by the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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