Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
Everyone seems terrified of snakes. It seems like when the average person encounters any snake it is a certain death sentence. That is real troubling to me as a nature lover. I realize there is little factual basis for this fear. Leave a snake alone, and they will leave you alone. I have a fair number of snakes around my home that serve useful purposes like rodent control, and they don't bother me a bit. I pick up the black snakes and just move them along. Mostly I don't see any snakes.
What prompts me to write this entry is an encounter last night with a smallish timber rattler. I went outside to gather eggs and noticed the chickens standing around something staring at it intently. When my eyes moved to what they were looking at, and it was a nice 3 1/2 foot timber rattler. They are chunky and really a beautiful snake with a characteristic black tail. (Last year I photographed one nearly 5 1/2 feet long.) Mind you, the snake didn't coil, strike, rattle, or even act aggressive. They were just kind of looking at each other.
Rattle snakes are much maligned. People get bit generally when they step on one, try to kill it, or fuss with it. Mostly the snakes will just wander off. My experience with timber rattlers has been that they are docile. Yup, docile. I don't handle them, and they don't chase me, but really it is damn hard to get one to even coil or form that "S" striking pattern for a nice picture. On the Snakes of Arkansas website (big time snake fans), they note that they have never been bitten or even struck by timber rattlers. This should cause you to rethink your rattle snake killing policy.
To cut to the bottom line on this bite and fatality business. First, only about 50% of rattler bites even result in the transmission of venom. Second, in 7000 snake bites, from all kinds of snakes (per year), there are only 5.5 fatalities in the US. This compares to deaths from wasp and bee stings at 30-120 a year, dog attacks at 10-20, lightening at 75 to 300 deaths, and heat exhaustion at 175-200 deaths a year. Heck spiders kill only 4 people a year. This is a reality check.
What to do if bitten? Forget the snake bite kit, they do more harm than good. Stay calm. Get to the hospital as soon as possible. Visit Snakes of Arkansas for more information, it is a superb site with much concise, factual information. Any outdoors person should study this website.
I followed this rattler around for over an hour and got some pretty nice pictures. It was never once aggressive, not once. It was out hunting in the evening. Snakes often hunt in the cool times of the day, including the night. You should always use a flashlight to check your path in the dark.
Timber rattlers are a threatened species. They are protected in 17 states. The statistics show that most of the people bitten by any snake are male, and in their 20s. Most bites will occur if you are messing around handling or trying to kill a snake. Let them live.
Arkansas Timber Rattlers