As temperatures rise, snakes taking shelter from the heat can be more dangerous.
Warmer weather draws snakes from hibernation in the spring because snakes are cold-blooded creatures that need external heat sources, Parker County AgriLife Extension Agent Jay Kingston said. In extreme heat, however, snakes are looking for shaded places.
“This is a dangerous time for us and our pets as the snakes are still very active and now they are hidden from sight,” Kingston said.
Snakes usually emerge in late March and stay active until November’s first freeze, Kingston said. In summer, snakes may be basking in the sun, in firewood or rock piles, in garages, sheds or carports. The scaly creatures are most active during night hours, like late evening and early morning.
“Snakes are looking for a meal so if you have a barn that has a mouse problem then you can assume the snakes will find it,” Kingston said.
Not all snakes are venomous, and Kingston said Parker County residents are most likely to see the non-venomous earth snakes, blind snakes, garter snakes, rat snakes and water snakes. The county also has four venomous snakes, which are rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths or water moccasins and coral snakes.
“The majority of snakes are harmless and do provide an important role in the ecosystem,” Kingston said.
Medical City Weatherford and Texas Health Willow Park reported numbers under 10 of patients with snakebite injuries in the past few months. In the month of July so far, Medical City Weatherford has treated two patients with snake bites — which is down from six patients in June — and Texas Health WP treated one, down from four in June. Last year in July, Texas Health WP treated three snakebite patients and one patient in July 2017.
If bitten by a snake, Texas Health Willow Park Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Erik Ledig said the wound should bleed freely for 15-30 seconds, then the wound should be washed and all jewelry or tight-fitting clothes near the area should be removed. The injured person should go to an emergency room as soon as possible.
“Knowledge of what type of snake or description of the snake can be helpful, but do not risk putting yourself or others in harm’s way to obtain that information or capture/kill snake,” Ledig said.
Snakes with triangular heads are venomous, and venomous snakes usually have slim vertical pupils, like cats, with the exception of the coral snake, Kingston said. Non-venomous snakes usually have round pupils. While snakes can be identified by the color pattern — the coral snake has red and yellow banding — Kingston suggests researching differences in snakes as there’s a lot of variation in color patterns.
“And of course the rattles on a rattlesnake give it away every time,” Kingston said.
Ledig also said those bitten by a snake should not incise fang marks or apply mouth suction, drink alcohol or take medications, apply a tourniquet, use hot or cold packs or eat or drink before evaluation.
Medical City Weatherford emergency medicine staff also offered tips for those bitten by a snake, recommending avoiding panic and keeping the wound even with the heart because raising the wound circulates venom to the heart faster while lowering it can create more swelling and pain. The professionals advised against icing the wound, cutting an “X” on the wound or sucking on a wound, all of which can add further damage.
Medical City Weatherford staff also recommended tips for snakebite prevention, like wearing long pants and boots in places that have snakes, keeping yards and campsites well-manicured and watching steps and hand placement.
“Most snake bites happen because people accidentally get too close to or step on a snake,” staff said.
Both Kingston and Medical City Weatherford staff recommend staying away from snakes once spotted, not handling or playing with one.
“First rule is to avoid snakes and leave them alone,” Kingston said. “If you need to remove a problem snake then seek out a professional. Even dead venomous snakes pose a risk so stay away from those as well. If you plan on roaming out in pastures and woods wear protective clothing like shin guards.”