Snake behavior

I’m planning a camping trip with several friends and have recalled a rural legend that snakes will crawl inside your sleeping bag to stay warm. It’s beginning to sound more plausible since I’ve recently found that snakes are MORE active at night. See the website-

http://www.jps.net/roamer/cpsnakes.html.

The venemous snake species that I would worry about in Tennessee are the timber rattler and copperheads. Should one be concerned about the non-venemous ones and what are first-aid procedures when you’re a day’s walk and an hour’s drive from the nearest hospital? There doesn’t seem to be enough information out there.

If nothing else, you certainly have nothing to fear from the nonpoisonous varieties. The worst they could do is give you the heebie-jeebies.

If you get bitten by a poisonous snake, then you’ll want to get to a hospital, as quickly as possible. If you can get at the bite immediately, then you should use a snakebite kit, but they won’t help if the venom has had a chance to spread through your system already. By all means do not give alcohol for any snakebite, and don’t put on a tourniquette: A properly-applied tourniquette (i.e., one that allows no blood to flow past it) has a better chance of serious complications than does pit viper venom in the first place: Rattler bites left completely untreated only have about a 5% mortality rate in humans. Other than that, the only real treatment you would be able to give the victim is general treatment for shock: Keep him or her comfortable, offer a drink of water, have the person avoid heavy exertion, etc.

If you get bitten by a snake and you’re not sure whether it’s poisonous, take a look at the shape of the head. All poisonous snakes in the Eastern U.S. have triangular heads with “cheeks” wider than the “neck”, wheras the nonpoisonous ones have heads that smoothly taper from the neck. You can also look at the pattern of the bite marks: If it’s two deep punctures side by side, then it’s probably poisonous, but if it’s a semicircle of shallow punctures, then it’s not.

That’s a good rule of thumb, but there is one exception: the coral snake, which has red, yellow and black bands. (Red touching yellow can kill a fellow!") It is sometimes confused with king snakes, which are non-poisonous, and which can also sport red, black and yellow bands- just not in the same order. (“Red touching black you can pat on the back!”)

However, the coral snake is pretty timid, and besides, you’re not likely to encounter it as far north as Tennessee. So for Tennessee excursions, Chronos is right. Look for the triangular head.

Hey, don’t forget the pygmy rattler! They may be small but they can be more aggressive than other rattlers. Also, if I’m not mistaken, they have the most potent venom of any rattlesnake species.

Solid advice all the way around. Pitvipers ( which include Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, and Cottonmouths ) are pretty easy to identify ( in addition to the the triangular head, they tend to be very heavy-bodied snakes ). Get yourself a cheap field guide and briefly familiarize yourself with them. Shouldn’t really be a problem. Most won’t go out of their way to be hazard. Just remember to watch where you put your feet when you’re hiking. Although rattlesnakes will almost always let you know ahead of time if you’re getting too close :slight_smile: .

The crawing into the sleeping bag thing hashappened - But it isn’t something I’d worry about. You’re probably about as likely to get hit by lightning.

And I’ll remphasize that non-poisonous snakes are completely harmless. Well one did bite me in the eye once :wink: . But I think we can put that down in lightning strike category :stuck_out_tongue: ).

Spoke: Actually certain populations of the Mojave Rattlesnake ( Crotalus scutulatus ) are the worst in North America. They have a pretty potent neurotoxic venom (atypical for a rattlesnake ) and they tend to be pretty pissy temperment-wise.

-Tamerlane

Tamerlane replied in regard to poisenous snake’s activity at night-

“The crawing into the sleeping bag thing hashappened - But it isn’t something I’d worry about. You’re probably about as likely to get hit by lightning.”

I’ve heard this all my life but I don’t know anyone that this has happened to.

dturley

Put constrictive bands above and below the bite. Don’t apply them “tourniquet-tight,” just tight enough to restrict the flow of blood through your veins, but not your arteries. If you have only one constrictive band, put it between the wound and your heart. You should be able to slip two fingers between your constrictive band and your skin, though maybe with some difficulty. Ever have an IV administered? Around that tight. And keep your wounded part below heart level if possible. Keep movement to a minimum. And forget all about sucking the venom out with your mouth. If you’re really worried about this, just get a snakebite kit and follow the instructions. Be careful but don’t stress about this too much–snake bites aren’t as common as some people think and they’re not necessarily fatal (though they’re almost always unpleasant :)). Hope you have fun on your trip.

Camp in a tent that zips up? Keeps the skeeters out, too.

My two cents worth as an ambo from OZ…

The current recommended treatment for snakebite (in Australia) when bitten on a limb is to use a roller bandage. Start at the bite and wind around the limb, spiralling upwards to the top, applying the same pressure as when treating a sprain. If the bandage runs out halfway up, get another to complete the task.

Once bandaged the casualty should be rested, with minimal movement and constant reassurance, while medical assistance is sought.

The bite wound should not be wiped or washed, because the area can be swabbed for venom traces that may help to identify the type of snake involved.

In Australia, all hospitals maintain snakebite antivenom stocks, and a venom analysing kit, where venom swabs are tested to distinguish bewtween about five different venom types. Although a polyvalent antivenom is also supplied as part of the package, it is better to use a specific antivenom to minimise side effects (and expense).

Incidentally, the same first aid method is used for managing bites from the Sydney Funnelweb spider and the Blue-ringed octopus, both of which have rapid acting lethal venom.

I’m with DDG. Sleep in a tent, and put your fears to rest! Generally, rattlers and other snakes avoid humans. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them, so even if you do sleep outside, there’s no reason to worry that one will slither into your sleeping bag. If you really are nervous about that, though, you could try stuffing the area around the top of the sleeping bag with extra clothes other some such, to block off the entry.

And spoke-, you got the rhyme completely wrong. It’s “Red on yellow, you’re a dead fellow
Red on black, you’re all right, Jack.” Sheesh! :smiley:

Originally posted by Beadalin-

“Sleep in a tent, and put your fears to rest! Generally, rattlers and other snakes avoid humans. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them, so even if you do sleep outside, there’s no reason to worry that one will slither into your sleeping bag. If you really are nervous about that, though, you could try stuffing the area around the top of the sleeping bag with extra clothes other some such, to block off the entry.”

I’m interested in this as a rural legend also as I cannot believe that snakes, as wary of humans as they are, would like to sleep with one. Is there any documented case of this happening?

Originally posted by Beadalin-

“Sleep in a tent, and put your fears to rest! Generally, rattlers and other snakes avoid humans. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them, so even if you do sleep outside, there’s no reason to worry that one will slither into your sleeping bag. If you really are nervous about that, though, you could try stuffing the area around the top of the sleeping bag with extra clothes other some such, to block off the entry.”

I’m interested in this as a rural legend also as I cannot believe that snakes, as wary of humans as they are, would like to sleep with one. Is there any documented case of this happening?

Quoth -spoke:

I wasn’t forgetting about the coral snake, but aren’t they only found in the Southwest? That’s why I specified Eastern U. S.

Meanwhile, I’ll take DVous Means’ word for the Australian snakebites, but I’m not sure that’s applicable here: Aussie snakes are much deadlier than anything we’ve got here, so more extreme measures are required.

dturley: Not animals are equally afraid, or afraid in the same manner. For example, I’ve had a raccoon ( that I assume was semi-habituated to humans ), poke its head into my tent while I was sleeping and wake me up, presumably while looking for food ( scared the crap out of both of us, I think :smiley: ). Snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, are most afraid ( yes, I’m taking a little license and being a little anthropomorphic here for illustrative purposes ) of being stepped on by large animals. And being predated of course - But not many mammals regularly do so. And they’re not real bright. AND they’re attracted to heat sources. One of the easiest and best ways to collect snakes, including rattlers, is to cruise along rural roads right after sunset. The tarmac cools down slower than the surrounding environment which consequently attracts snakes ( and a few nocturnal lizards ) to bask. Snakes will also seek sheltered areas to den up. Soooo…

No, I don’t think it likely that a rattlesnake would crawl in while you were sleeping. People move around too much. But they might, conceivably, crawl in while you’re not. I don’t have a sleeping bag anecdote - But I do have a boot one. I was told by one of my old professors that one of his students woke in the morning after sleeping ( illegally, I believe ) at the edge of the Kelso Dune area in CA and found a juvenile Sidewinder ( Crotalus cerastes ) neatly curled up in one of his boots. Not a cause for panic - More neat than anything else, really :slight_smile: ( He was a herpetologist and not particularly perturbed by rattlesnakes ) .

But common? Hardly. Like I said, I wouldn’t worry about it. But I’d check my boots and shake out my bag just the same - A little prudence never hurt :wink: . And bugs of various sorts WILL get in your stuff, at the very least - So it’s not a bad idea to get everything out.

Beadlin, Spoke: For the sake of completeness I might mention that that “red on yellow” formula only applies in the United States. There are 54 species of coral snakes in two ( or maybe three ) genera in the New World and many of the Latin American species violate that little mnemonic device. Something to keep in mind while visiting down south :stuck_out_tongue: .

Chronos: There are two species of coral snake in the US. The Sonoran Coral Snake ( Micruroides euryxanthus ) is found in the Southwest. The Harlequin Coral Snake ( Micrurus fulvius ) is found in the Southeast.

  • Tamerlane

My original links got lost. Let me try it again.

I’m sorry that I can’t give you any more specific information regarding whether or not that’s a legend.

One account of that happening:
http://www.troop149.com/funny2.html

There is another one here: http://www.discovery.com/news/earthalert/991213/reptilesaustralia.html

However, I’d always understood that the danger lay in climbing into a sleeping bag that you’d laid out earlier without checking it first. Snakes, spiders, and other unwelcome guests will be more likely to climb in when you’re not there, as described at amazingoutdoors.com:

And while I am at it, Tamerlane, that was some great information. Thanks.

Ugh…I am so never going camping.

dturley-
I grew up in rural east Tennessee, so I feel it is my duty to inform you that, in addition to the copperhead and timber rattler, the water moccasin is fairly common and very, very dangerous.
Have fun on your trip!

Ooh, ooh, who else saw that Rifleman show where Chuck Conners wakes up with a rattlesnake in his sleeping bag? (Too bad you’re not here, I still know the tune for that show.)

I once had a ringtail cat come through the door of my tent in the Grand Canyon. And yeah, scared the s**t out of both of us. I also stupidly hung my food above where I was sleeping in the open once backpacking in the Sierras, and woke up with a raccoon standing on my chest, reaching for the bag hanging from the tree. Those things are bigger than you think. In Central America I shook a scorpion out of my shoe by the bed and while climbing in Oklahoma a friend of mine reached up on a ledge and got nailed by a rattler.

Oh c’mon, Guinastasia… please come with me next time??

(deleted Beadalin’s screwed up post above, before her repost asking for “clean up on aisle 5.” Is this what I’m reduced to?)
Jill

Jillgat: You know, all these years of kicking around and being outdoorsy ( when I can find the time and energy, which ain’t often these days :frowning: ), and I have yet to see a ringtail cat. And I’ve always wanted to! pout

I’m jealous :slight_smile: .

  • Tamerlane

Very true dturley. It should be added that there are some rather rare scorpions in some parts of Tennessee. They are rare, and not too poisonous, but you should shake out your shoes & clothing every morning anyway. And if stung, go to the hospital. After all, you never know when you’ll find a scorpion that’s an over-achiever.