Rattlesnakes and Snakebite, and Wolves in Utah

I recently received an email from Marc of SouthwestPaddler.com asking about some of my Dirty Devil River writings. We have exchanged a few emails at this point and I am certain there will be more. One of Marc’s comments had to do with the Desert Explorer pages on rattlesnakes. Marc has done extensive research on venomous snakes in the US and has published it all on his website. He has actually found an expert that would answer his questions honestly and clearly, and not beat around the bush. I had serious problems getting straight answers to the questions I asked, especially the question of what to do if you are bitten way out in the bush.

Some of Marc’s email to me on venomous snakes is so important, confirming a lot of what I ultimately did find out, that I have to quote it here. For one thing, Marc’s source states he feels that

“99.5% of all medical doctors… do not understand snakebites. He went on to explain that snake venom develops to kill what they eat, and they don’t eat humans. He explained that most snakebite deaths are caused by anaphylactic shock rather than from venom poisoning. He told me at about 25-30,000 people per year in the US are bitten by venomous snakes and that only about 15-25% are envenomated. In a really bad year 8 or 9 people in the US die from snakebites and in an average year the number is 2-3 deaths, usually in very young or very old people with weaker immune systems.

He also explained that most adult snakes do not envenomate humans because they have learned to control their venom releases. They need the venom to kill what they eat, and they have a limited supply, so using venom on something they cannot eat may cause them to starve to death. Baby snakes, on the other hand, have not yet learned to control venom releases, and so they usually give you a full dose. That is why some people falsely believe that baby snakes are deadlier than adult snakes. It is technically untrue. All snakebites have equal venom potency, and the real end result is determined by human physiology and general health conditions.”

Marc goes on to comment on the Sawyer Extractor and field treatment stating that he and his source talked about

“the Sawyer and he told me that it has one major problem – it acts just like a tourniquet – it traps venom in a localized area causing severe dermal necrosis. When used according to directions it may actually cause far more damage than from allowing the venom to carry through and be diluted by body mass. He also said that once the venom goes subcutaneous there is little chance of getting it back out. Luckily, most snakes have very short fangs and they do not penetrate deeply most of the time, especially if the skin is tough. In fact, they are also very brittle and they break off easily. In some cases a pair of fairly new blue jeans may prevent a snakebite, and any kind of leather shoe or boot is impenetrable. He said that rather than using the time needed to dig out the Sawyer and use it, just place your hands in a circle around a bite area, press hard and move them toward the bite marks pushing the venom back to the surface. It will be a yellowish-clear liquid. Try not to touch it with your bare skin, but rather wipe it off with a clean sanitary wipe of some kind, safely dispose of it (I prefer burning) and then clean the wound with Betadine and a loose bandage to prevent bacterial infection. If you don’t get the venom out really quickly, then any effort is worthless, and you will never get most of it, but unlike that one doctor told you, you most likely will NOT die! That is a statement made in total ignorance.”

The last part of what Marc wrote is the most important to me, that I am not likely to die if bitten by a rattlesnake and do not receive medical attention. Of course the truth is that I want to hear that I won’t die if I am bitten. But aside from that, I do know that it would be best to seek medical attention if possible. I also know that there are different species and subspecies of venomous snakes, different types of venom and levels of envenomation, and each individual will have a different physical reaction. The question I explicitly asked the Poison Control Center people on all of my calls to them was “what do you do if you are out in the bush and cannot get to help?” No one wanted to answer that question. Well, they did, but the answer was “seek medical attention.” So I phrased it differently, asking “what have people done who have survived venomous snakebite without getting medical attention?”  Same answer, “seek medical attention.” And so on. But Marc’s source did answer that question for him. And his answer confirmed my suspicions that you are not necessarily condemned to death if bitten.

For more information on rattlesnakes, snakebite data, and first aid, please visit the Desert Explorer Rattlesnakes and Snakebite page. And be sure to visit the Southwest Paddler Snakebite Information page for even more data on all species of venomous snakes in the US as well as recommended first aid for snakebite. Please note that all information contained in this post and on the above mentioned pages is for informational purposes only. I am not an expert on any of these topics, I am not a doctor or a herpetologist. Please use the information as a catalyst for your own research and to help reach your own conclusions.

Wolves in Central Utah?
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has reported sightings of wolves or wolf-dog hybrids near Springville. For reference, this is about 130 miles northwest of Arches National Park, as the crow flies . They have plans to track and capture the animals in the next few days, taking advantage of a coming snowstorm. After capture, the animals will have their DNA tested, the only way to confirm if they are in fact wolves. For more on this sighting, and the state of Utah’s wolf policy, visit the Utah DWR website.

2 Responses to Rattlesnakes and Snakebite, and Wolves in Utah

  1. Like your info. Thanks! Have read all your info on San Juan River and know you like August for your float trips but what do you think of Sept 22 as a put in date, and is it to hot in Dead Horse Pt. Isles in the sky area to hike in early Sept, Appreciate any help as i get lots of conflicting info. Ray

    • Hi Ray,
      Thanks for the comments. August always seems to fit in best for us- that is one of the main reasons for our late season floats. Also, it is easier to get a permit then. But…as you are aware, it is always hot then and depending on the year (possibly this year for example) you might be doing a bit of dragging.
      I think the best thing to do is watch the water levels. You can also look at hsitoric level for mid- to late- september and see what things looked like. I think that a rule of thumb for the San Juan is that you need at least 500 CFS at Bluff. Of course they control the water up above, but if it as least at 500 then you can make it down. Personally I think September would work. I have talked to people who have floated in October even. But they say there is often some dragging by then.
      As for heat, it will likely be hot. I think it just depends on how well you deal with heat. For me, 100 degrees is perfectly acceptable hiking weather. Becasue of that I often find myself alone in canyons in July and August. No one else seems to want to deal with the heat- it works out well for me! Later September may be cooling enough though, and you may find it quite comfortable. Again, you can check historic weather data. There may even be something on the Park Service website about it. Finding water is another issue at that time of year. Potholes are often dry, or dark and slimy. Springs are drying up. I always find water, but at that time of year have ocassionally found myself backtracking to the last good water point when hiking.
      Hope this helps you make your decision. Have fun!

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