Beware: Expert says rattlesnakes now awake, active

JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers READY TO STRIKE-Experts predict a busy season for rattlesnakes this year. The extended cold winter kept the critters in hibernation longer, meaning that when they wake up they'll be highly active.

JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers READY TO STRIKE-Experts predict a busy season for rattlesnakes this year. The extended cold winter kept the critters in hibernation longer, meaning that when they wake up they’ll be highly active.

A winter that lasted longer than usual will lead to an extra busy rattlesnake season this year, experts say. As a result, residents should learn all they can about the dangers of poisonous snakes and what to do in case of a bite.

Bo Slyapick, the self-proclaimed “rattlesnake wrangler” for the region, said cold weather forced snakes into a longer hibernation period and caused them to awake from their winter sleep even hungrier than usual. Additional seed on the ground after rains means that mice, rats and rabbits will be available to draw snakes out of hiding.

“Since Easter, it’s really picked up. The kids were finding more snakes in the bushes than Easter eggs,” Slyapick said.

Snake-proof your home

Families, especially those with pets, should begin rattlesnake-proofing at home.

Cut away overgrowth and generally tidy up yards. Clear away debris and pick up toys, gardening tools and, especially- -fruit that has fallen from trees. Fruit on the ground attracts small rodents, and they in turn attract rattlesnakes.

According to Slyapick, bushes should be clipped to at least 10 inches off the ground, making them less available as hiding spots for rattlers.

The general rule here is to remove anything that would obstruct your view of places where your hands and feet may go. For example, stacking a set of five or six potted plants next to each other in a corner of the patio is not a good idea.

Rattlesnakes are “ambushers,” Slyapick said, but they can’t surprise you if you don’t give them hiding places from which to attack.

“What I always say is you want to give your place a ‘butch’-cut it back as much as possible,” he said. “Keep all bushes and shrubs from encroaching onto the sidewalk or walking paths. You want to be able to see where your feet are going at all times.”

Don’t get bit

while getting fit

Whether hiking alone or walking a pet, it’s best to stay in the middle of trails; rattlesnakes are notorious for setting up shop right next to a path and waiting to strike.

If you do go it alone in the outdoors, make sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. Always bring a cell phone. If you are bitten and have walked or hiked too far to walk back on your own, you will want to call for help as soon as possible.

According to Slyapick, most outdoor enthusiasts don’t get bitten by rattlesnakes when engaged in physical activity. They get bitten when they’re taking a break.

“Sitting down or eating lunch-that’s when people get bit,” he said. “When they relax, they take their guard down.”

For this reason, it’s best to closely examine the area you’ve chosen to catch a breather.

Head for help

If you or a friend is bitten by a rattlesnake, don’t panic-you have at least six hours to be treated before you risk any serious long-term damage. But don’t think you can solve the problem yourself, either. The old “suck out the poison” method doesn’t work in reality.

“You don’t cut, bite or suck- that’s all Hollywood,” said Slyapick, who says he’s never been bitten. “Do not do anything but call 911 and go for help.”

The best thing to do is head for help as quickly as possible. Go to a major medical facility. Some smaller clinics don’t have antivenin available. Protect your pets

Riders on horseback need to be especially careful. Rattlesnakes have a particular dislike of hoofed animals and an encounter almost always leads to a bite. Again, keep your horse to the center of the trail and if the animal is bitten, call a veterinarian immediately. Snakebites can kill horses, especially if they are bitten on the head.

The same goes for cats and dogs, neither of which has a natural aversion to rattlesnakes. Dogs might mistake a rattlesnake’s threatening movements for a desire to play, said experienced dog trainer Patrick Callaghan.

“The dog has no bloody idea what’s going on. All he sees is this rattlesnake with its tail wagging, and to him, he thinks ‘God, this looks like fun,'” Callaghan said.

Callaghan, who teaches a 30minute course that trains dogs to avoid rattlesnakes, said it’s the responsibility of pet owners to be vigilant whenever they’re walking their dogs in rattlesnake territory. And it’s good to keep them on a tight leash.

“People just have to be alert and be aware of things that are happening around them,” Callaghan said. “They can’t have tunnel vision.”

Slyapick suggests surveying the yard with a rake or broom in hand before letting pets or children go outside.

“You need to physically go out and look,” he said. “Don’t just send them out there.”

What if I find one? If you happen upon a rattlesnake in your home or yard, you have several options: call police, the fire department, animal control or an expert such as Slyapick. But first and foremost, keep track of the snake-don’t lose sight of it. Whoever arrives at your house to dispatch a slithery intruder needs to know exactly where it is.

Your remaining option would be to take care of the snake yourself. If you’re brave enough, get a trash can and tip it over in front of the snake. Then sweep or shovel it inside as fast as possible and cover it, Slyapick said.

All experts agree

Rattlesnakes are just as afraid of us as we are of them. If you see one, rule No. 1 is, head in the opposite direction.

Slyapick said, “It’s always best to call an expert.”

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