Snakes are found in many parts of California and may pose a hazard for those working outdoors.  Although snakes generally avoid humans or animals, they can attack if they’re surprised or provoked.  Some snakes are considered ‘harmless’, but others release venom when they bite.  If you’ll be working or walking where snakes are found, be aware of their habits, dress for protection, and know what to do if you encounter or are bitten by a snake.

Poisonous snakes commonly found in California are rattlesnakes.  A bite from one of these snakes should always be considered a medical emergency.  Although deaths from snakebites are relatively rare, people who are bitten can’t always positively identify the snake so, a bit person should get prompt medical care.  Even a bite from a ‘harmless’ snake can cause an infection or allergic reaction.

Avoiding snakebites

The key is to be familiar with snakes’ habits and by staying alert.  Snake season includes spring, summer, and early fall.  Snakes like places that offer a rich supply of food (rodents, frogs, and insects), a place to sun, and a place to hide.  They favor abandoned structures, irrigation ditches, tree holes, ground holes, and rock piles.  Snake activity depends on the species, environmental temperatures, food source activity, and predator activity.  Their predators include hawks, owls, possums, raccoons, foxes, and other snakes.  The safest action is to always presume that snakes are active when you are in their territory.

If you’ll be working or walking in snake infested areas, wear protective clothing such as long pants, leather boots, and gloves.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Be cautious in tall grass and watch where you step.  Walk in areas where the ground is clear so you can see where you step.  Don’t reach blindly into rock cracks, wood piles, animal burrows, or under bushes or piles of leaves.  Some snakes use camouflage to hide in plain sight.  Look before your sit.

Most snake bites occur when a snake is accidentally stepped on, surprised, or harassed.  Many bites occur when a person tries to get a closer look or tries to kill the snake.  Just leave snakes alone!  If you encounter a snake, stay calm and freeze in place; the snake will often move away.  If the snake doesn’t move, then you should slowly walk away, keeping it as far away as possible.  Snakes are not aggressive and don’t chase people.  Snakes would rather escape from noise and commotion or remain quiet and hidden.

Symptoms of a poisonous snakebite

Symptoms vary depending on the species, the amount of venom released, the bite location, and the victim’s age and underlying medical conditions.  If you suspect that the snakebite is poisonous, call 911 or the local emergency number immediately.  Leave specific treatment to trained medical personnel.  Never cut the wound, apply suction to the wound, apply ice to the wound, apply a tourniquet, or apply an electric shock.  The American Red Cross suggests a few basic First Aid steps while waiting for medical care:

  • Keep the bite area still and below the victim’s heart. The victim should walk only if absolutely necessary.
  • Check and note changes in skin color and temperature near the bite area.
  • Remove rings, bracelets, boots, or other tight clothing before swelling begins.
  • Clean the wound, but don’t flush with water. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing.

Use common sense when you’re in areas known for snake activity.  Keep in mind that an unprovoked snake doesn’t want trouble any more than you do.  Caution and respect are your best weapons against snakebites.