A Snake in the Grass

By Scott Coltharp, PA-C

The chance of being bit by a venomous snake in Texas is rare. Only 15 of the 113 species/subspecies of snakes in Texas are venomous. There are four species of venomous snakes in Texas: rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins (cotton mouth), and coral snakes. The first three are in the pit viper family, which typically have a triangular head. The venom from pit vipers is hemotoxic, causing destruction of tissue and blood when bitten. The coral snake, with markings of red on yellow bands, are neurotoxic in which the venom effects the neurological system and can lead to paralysis of the respiratory system.

Most venomous snakebites happen to people who deliberately come in contact with snakes by hunting, catching, or studying them. Otherwise venomous snakebites occur when a snake is stepped on or when moving brush, rocks, or logs. If you find yourself in a situation in which a venomous snakebite has occurred, here are a few tips you can do to help the situation:

1. Move away and stay calm. If possible take a picture. Do not catch the snake.

2. Call 911

3. Remove restrictive items like rings, watches, etc.

4. Loosely immobilize the affected extremity in a functional position

5. Keep the effected area elevated above the heart

Things not to do:

1. Do not take anything by mouth, apply ice, heat or use electricity on the bite.

2. Do not attempt to cut the wound and suck out the venom or use a venom extraction device. These efforts have been shown to cause more damage to tissue.

3. Do not apply a tourniquet or a constriction band to the affected extremity.

Snakes are an invaluable part of our ecosystem by lowering the rodent and insect populations. There are resources online to help you identify snakes, including Texas Reptile and Amphibian Identification Group. You can send them a picture to help you the snake. Given a choice, snakes want to avoid you just as much as you want to avoid them. Stay aware of your surroundings and look before you reach into areas where snakes like to hide.