OROVILLE — The last thing Bonnie Malone expected to see on her porch’s welcome mat when she opened the kitchen door was a coiled rattlesnake.
“I almost had a heart attack. My heart was just pounding. That snake was looking right at me, facing me. In the 49 years I’ve owned this house, I’ve never seen one this close to the house. On the road and at my neighbors’ but, never here,” said Malone.
While about 300 cases of rattlesnake bites are reported annually to the California Poison Control System, with additional cases managed by physicians and hospitals, Peter Tira, public information office for California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said rattlesnake bites to humans are “uncommon but, people need to be aware” of the venomous reptiles.
“It’s more common for pets, particularly, dogs to be bitten, but people do need to be careful,” said Tira.
The potential of running into a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors, said Tira, but there are steps that can be taken to lessen the chance of being bitten when out in snake country, which is just about anywhere in California. Rattlesnakes live from sea level to the inland prairies and desert areas to the mountains at elevations of more than 10,000 feet.
“With the increasing hot and arid climate of California we are seeing rattlesnakes expanding their range. So we’re seeing them where we haven’t seen them before. There are plenty of people who have spent their lives outdoors and never encountered a rattlesnake so I don’t want to scare anyone, but it is important to take precautions,” said Tira.
DFW recommends these rattlesnake precautions:
- Stay alert when outdoors hiking and at home.
- Do not put your hands or feet into places you can’t clearly see.
- Wear sturdy boots and loose-fitting long pants. Do not wear sandals or flip-flops in brushy areas. While gardening or working around your home, wear gloves.
- Stay on well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds, and heavy underbrush.
- Check rocks, stumps or logs before sitting down.
- Shake out sleeping bag and tent before use.
- Let others know where you are going, when you plan to return, and carry a cell phone. Hike with a companion when possible.
- Keep dogs on a leash.
- Keep children on well-defined trails.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but, rattlesnakes can swim. They will climb out of the water into a boat so be aware when you are boating or swimming in rivers or lakes, what looks like a stick may be a rattlesnake,” said Tira. “It’s also very important to never touch or handle a rattlesnake, dead or alive. People don’t realize that a rattlesnake can still inject venom for a short time after its death.”
The snake on Malone’s porch was coiled and “could have reached out and struck, but he didn’t,” she said.
Tira said that’s not uncommon.
“Most often a snake will get out of your way or rattle to alert you to danger so you go away. They only strike when they feel threatened, trapped or get stepped on or grabbed,” said Tira.
If you do get bit, Tira said “stay calm and act quickly.”
“Remove anything that may constrict swelling like shoes or rings, watches or shoes and get to the nearest medical facility as soon as you can. If possible, call ahead and let them know you are coming in with a rattlesnake bite so they can prepare,” he said.
Tira also cautioned what not to do if you are bitten.
“Do not apply a tourniquet, (do not) pack the bite area in ice, (do not) cut the wound with a knife or razor or use your mouth to suck out the venom,” he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fewer than 1 in 600 rattlesnake bites are fatal.