ON OUTDOORS: Tips on rattlesnakes

Published 10:24 pm Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Recent local television media reports of rattlesnakes on Galveston beaches have gotten an amazing amount of attention on social media.
Via Facebook and e-mail, I have fielded questions on the subject and have some interesting facts and observations.
First off there is a sizable western diamondback population on Galveston Island. In fact, there are some areas that have warning signs. These snakes have always been on the island and due to some close encounters with people they are getting lots of attention.
It was believed Galveston was the easternmost extent of their range, however three years ago on these pages we ran a photo taken by local meteorologist Greg Bostwick of a 4.5 foot western diamondback near Winnie.
“The snake was captured alive about one mile south of my house in Chambers County and was about 4.5 feet long,” he said.
Additionally, prior to that, the late local naturalist Mike Hoke found a similar-sized diamondback on an expedition at the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge. Looking through my achieves, I found note of a man who reported killing a diamondback near the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Have they always been here or did Hurricane Ike push some from the Galveston area our direction with the massive flooding that took place?
There is no clear answer on that.
But I do know there are more around than many people would like to think. Last week I watched a cell phone video of someone who found one near Crystal Beach (in the dunes at the end of the beach) at night.
This does not mean you should become afraid of going to the beach or hiking. Even if we did not have rattlers, cottonmouths are present in these areas so there have always been venomous snakes there.
The main thing to do is to practice some common sense and teach children playing at the beach and any other area for that matter to do the same.
Be especially careful at night as snakes are more active after-hours. Snakes on the beaches in particular will be more abundant near the dune areas and along the vegetation lines so avoid those areas.
When beach-combing, do not pick up driftwood with your hands or dig through any trash or vegetation. Bring a stick along to pock and prod before using your hands in these areas. Many snakebites are from people gardening or clearing trails in the woods. The snakes are not out to get people but they do occasionally bite because someone treaded on their habitat.
And finally do not mess with the snake. Simply leave it alone. A good portion of snakebites are people trying to catch them or move them. Leave the snake alone and it will leave you alone.
I reached out to world renown snake expert Austin Stevens of “Austin Stevens’ Snakemaster” TV fame and here is what he had to say about rattlesnakes.
“Firstly, let me say, I really like rattlesnakes. They are amongst the most interesting and unique of all venomous species of snakes found on this planet. Certainly, for the most part, they are potentially dangerous to humans, but so are many other species. What sets rattlesnakes apart, however, is the rattle; a feature specifically designed to afford warning of their presence to any creature not considered prey.”
Whereas other venomous snakes might more easily be stepped on, and so entice a retaliatory defensive bite, the rattlesnake gives loud and clear warning of its presence. Very considerate, I feel,” he said.
Stevens said vipers (of which rattlesnakes belong) possess the most advanced venom injection system, incorporating large, curved, retractable hollow fangs, and a fast strike.
“Rattlesnakes have the added advantage of heat-sensitive pits situated between the eye and nostril, used to locate warm-blooded prey. This means they can even detect prey in the dark. In Central and South America, the fer-de-lance, a snake much like a rattlesnake without a rattle, is prolific and is responsible for most bites to humans in those regions,” Stevens said.
Stevens noted that all snakes play an important role in the environment by keeping rodent populations in check and that by remaining aware of your surroundings while moving through snake habitat you can greatly reduce any chance of snakebite.
Anyone with photos of rattlesnakes in Southeast Texas can email them to chester@kingdomzoo.com. We would like to run them in our “Critter Cam”.
(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at chester@kingdomzoo.com. You can hear him on “Moore Outdoors” Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at www.klvi.com.)

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