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Bites increase during rattlesnake birthing season

Arizona is in the middle of rattlesnake birthing season, leading to an increased risk of snakebites, according to poison control experts.

“We have about 300 rattlesnake bites every year. We are right on track right now,” said Maureen Roland, a registered nurse for Banner Poison and Drug Information Center.

Some slither in glass cages at the Phoenix Herpetological Society, which handles about 500 snakes rescued from homes, turned in by local shelters or seized by animal control.

Arizona has about 30 types of non-venomous snakes and 15 types of rattlesnakes, said Daniel Marchand, executive curator for the Herpetological Society. A rattlesnake bite can lead to hemorrhaging or even death.

August and September are the prime months for rattlesnake births, Roland said.“This is the time of year we get calls for baby rattlesnakes,” he said. “We go to a resident’s home and we may find anywhere from one to 20 depending on how recently the mom has given birth.”

Rattlesnakes and non-venomous snakes have distinct characteristics.

“The tail of a rattlesnake is relatively thick at the end and rattles at the end of the tail,” Marchand said “A non-venomous snake has a very long and very thin, pointed tail. You don’t have to see much of the snake to know if it’s dangerous or not really.”

The best way to prevent a snake bite is to stay alert and understand they won’t bother people who don’t bother them.

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“Make sure you are staying three feet back from any rattlesnake so you are out of their strike range,” said Joe Hymes, volunteer manager for the herpetological group, which offers summer camps, education programs and accepts snakes people drop off at the facility.

“The great thing about snakes is they are down on the ground, they don’t have legs,” Hymes said. “If you’re not putting yourself in their reach, they are not going to bite you or hurt you in any way.”

Tucson Fire Department has not removed snakes from people's property for many years, but there are several local businesses that specialize in safely removing and relocating rattlesnakes.

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Carla Kishinami/Flickr

A diamondback rattlesnake coiled near a cactus near Tucson.

Avoiding venomous bites

  • Beware of active times. Reptiles in Arizona are more active during the warm months: April through October. During hot months, reptiles prefer the cool night air.
  • Watch where you step or put your hands. Reptiles hide from the heat in crevices or under rocks and other debris. Be sure to wear shoes or boots after dark.
  • Leave them alone. About 70 percent of bites were provoked.
  • Don’t handle dead reptiles. Snake reflexes can still result in a bite several hours after death.
  • Install outdoor lighting; snakes like to come out at night to enjoy the cooler temperatures. If you are concerned about dangerous reptiles in your yard, then seek professional assistance in removal.

If bitten

  • DO try to stay calm.
  • DO contact the nearest poison control center.
  • DO pay attention to how you are reacting.
  • DO have someone else drive if possible.
  • DO realize that you have time.
  • DO NOT try to suck the venom out.
  • DO NOT ice the wound.
  • DO NOT create a tourniquet.
  • DO NOT wait to see how your body reacts.
  • DO NOT assume that having no symptoms means no venom.

— Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center