It’s not snake season (they hibernate in the winter and generally don’t emerge until March), but you may see a snake on the trail if the weather is warm or if it has been raining a lot (they may move onto the road to get out of a damp depression.) Just carefully walk around them. Stay on the marked trails. Don’t put your feet or your hands in places you can not see.
If you are bitten by a venomous snake (you won’t be, we’re just being pro-active), call 911 immediately, especially if the area changes color, begins to swell or is painful. If possible, take these steps while waiting for medical help:
- Remain calm and move beyond the snake’s striking distance.
- Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell.
- Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
- Clean the wound, but don’t flush it with water. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing.
- Don’t use a tourniquet or apply ice.
- Don’t cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.
- Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol, which could speed the rate at which your body absorbs venom.
- Don’t try to capture the snake. Try to remember its color and shape so that you can describe it, which will help in your treatment.
Most of the snakes in the San Antonio area are harmless, but there are the four to watch out for:
Both “water moccasin” and “cottonmouth” are common names for Agkistrodon piscivorus. The name ‘cottonmouth’ comes from the white coloration of the inside of the snake’s mouth. Water moccasins are pit vipers, like copperheads and rattlesnakes. They may be found swimming in swamps, marshes, drainage ditches, and at the edges of ponds, lakes and streams. On land, they’re found near water and fields. They like to sun themselves on branches, stones and logs near the water’s edge. Water moccasins have a reputation for being aggressive, but in reality, they rarely bite humans.
The western diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox, is a venomous pit viper. Adults commonly grow to four feet in length. The color ranges from brown to gray to pinkish, depending on the shade of its habitat. Its back is lined with dark diamond-shaped blotches outlined by lighter-colored scales. The spade-shaped head is distinguished by two dark stripes, one on each side of its face. Its tail is circled by several alternating black and white bands, like the pattern of a raccoon’s tail. The snake has “rattle” on the end of the tail that it uses as a warning sign.
The brightly colored Texas coral snake, Micrurus fulvius tener, is the state’s only member of the Elapidae family, which includes the cobras of Asia and Africa. The coral snake is slender with a small indistinctive head and round pupils, and is usually is 2-1/2 feet or shorter. Its distinctive pattern is a broad black ring, a narrow yellow ring and a broad red ring, with the red rings always bordered by the yellow rings. Several harmless snakes are similarly marked, but never with the red and yellow touching. ‘Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack,’ is a handy way to distinguish the highly venomous coral snake from nonvenomous ringed species.
Copperheads, Agkistrodon contortrix, another variety of pit viper, have chestnut or reddish-brown crossbands on a lighter colored body. These snakes are found in rocky areas and wooded bottomlands and are rare in dry areas. In the spring they can be found along streams and rivers, as well as in weed-covered vacant lots. Bites are rare and are usually the result of the snake being handled or accidentally stepped on.
Some people LIKE snakes. If you want to get upfront and personal with a pit viper, there is an excellent reptile house in the San Antonio Zoo, which is on the route of the 23K walk on Sunday. Or, if you have a car, drive 30 miles north on IH-35 to the Snake Farm in New Braunfels. It’s like a trip back into the 1950s.