Venomous snakes inhabit Fort Sill ranges
June 7, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Late winter and spring rains have brought new growth and new life back to the wilds of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, all this may increase chances of encountering some of Oklahoma's less than savory critters, perhaps even some of the state's 46 native snake species.
Before becoming unglued by this number, relax. Only seven are considered harmful, or venomous, to people. Of that number, four are confirmed to exist on post.
Those "fanged four" and their preferred habitats are:
* broad-banded copperhead -- rocky mountainous areas and near water;
* western diamondback rattlesnake -- arid areas, rocky outcrops and bluffs;
* prairie rattlesnake -- rocky outcrops or canyons, open grasslands, prairie dog towns;
* and western massasauga -- hillsides prairies and grasslands, may be found near water.
Periodically, hikers or outdoor recreationists report seeing western cottonmouths on post. Chris Deurmyer, Fort Sill Natural Resources Office wildlife biologist, said natural resources personnel do not have any data or photographs to verify these reports.
"If people see a snake they suspect is a cottonmouth, let natural resources know so we can investigate and confirm the sighting," he said.
For those traveling further beyond post, the other three venomous snakes are the cottonmouth (until confirmed), the western pigmy and timber rattlesnakes.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is another popular destination for seeing Oklahoma wildlife. Consider a stop at the visitor's center before hitting the trail or exploring the pathless wilderness. Volunteers at the center are often avid hikers and can provide information, such as the possibility of meeting up with rattlesnakes.
Knowing which snakes are venomous and recognizing their characteristics can go a long way toward keeping people safe when outdoors in Oklahoma. The best way to avoid snakebites is to learn more about the venomous snakes here and where they can be found.
A surprising number of people are bitten each year, because they picked up a snake they thought was not venomous. When in doubt, do not take a chance: Do not pick up any snake you cannot identify. To aid in the identification process, there are four features common to Oklahoma's venomous snakes.
First, all Oklahoma venomous snakes have a facial pit. This is a depression on the side of the face just below a line between the eyes and the nostrils. This pit can be seen from a safe distance if you know what to look for. If you're not sure what to look for, the best option is to stay a healthy distance away.
Second, head shape can help to identify venomous snakes; in Oklahoma these snakes all have diamond- or triangular-shaped heads. Harmless snakes have narrow heads, however, this characteristic is not always obvious since snakes flatten their heads when threatened to make themselves look bigger. Thus, nonvenomous snakes could be mistaken for venomous ones.
Third, vertical eye pupils, or cat's eyes, are a strong sign that a snake is venomous. A few harmless snakes have vertical eye pupils and may be mistaken as venomous on this basis. Keep in mind though vertical eye pupils are often hard to see in dim light or shade.
Fourth, rattles on the tail positively identifies a snake as being venomous. Be certain the rattles are seen, because other harmless snakes will vibrate their tails when they are nervous or frightened. They may rustle their tails in dried leaves or grass to produce a sound that can be mistaken for a rattle. Still, the lack of a rattle does not exclude the possibility that a snake is venomous. In fact, copperheads don't have rattles and are certainly venomous. Looking for a combination of these characteristics will usually help properly identify a snake.
Proper precautions such as what to wear and how to act can go a long way toward ensuring a safe excursion into snake country. Proper clothing can further reduce the risk of snakebite. Leather high-topped boots are sufficient to stop the fangs of most venomous snakes. Heavy canvas pants and protective leggings can provide added protection in high-risk areas.
Regardless of what is worn, always avoid placing hands or feet in a location that cannot be safely seen, such as stepping over a log. Finally, do not wander outside at night without a light or protective covering for legs and feet.
Snake bite treatment
Regardless of precautions, people still get bitten by venomous snakes. If bitten, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm. Then, get to a hospital quickly for advice and treatment from a medical professional. Snakebites are not usually fatal, but are sure to be painful. Currently, 6,000 to 7,000 people are bitten each year, but on average only 15 people die per year. This is less than the number of people that die each year from bee stings or lightning strikes.
There is a little agreement, even among medical personnel, regarding the proper method of snakebite treatment. To help keep bite victims calm, refrain from giving them caffeine, cigarettes or alcohol. In most cases doctors can administer an antitoxin that will help reduce damage caused by the bite. Antivenin kits can be purchased through local physicians, but the kits are expensive, may not keep indefinitely, should be administered by trained personnel and can be dangerous if not deadly. Modern snakebite kits are also available at outdoor equipment stores but again should be used by trained people. Never try to suck the poison out of the wound like in the old movies.
Living near snakes
Some types of snakes actually thrive near homes. Many people who fear or dislike snakes seek to kill them. This may temporarily reduce the number of snakes, but it can never eliminate them. As long as food and habitat are available, there will always be snakes.
Removing brush piles and scattered refuse will reduce cover for small mammals and snakes, and keep both populations down. Placing feed and grain in rodent-proof containers will reduce rodents and snakes. Snakes can be kept out of houses by sealing cracks in foundations, around windows, air conditioners and doors. (Some information courtesy of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service)