It’s Snake Season at the Lake
April through October is snake season.
Although they’re all around you, chances are you’ll never see a venomous snake in Canyon Lake.
Most snakes much prefer the undeveloped areas of Comal County, far away from residents and tourists. They swim freely in Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe River but are really only noticeable during floods.
And yes, snakes can climb trees along the riverbanks and may trail a boat with fish hanging in the water.
But even if you’re foolish enough to mess with a venemous snake (according to research, young, white male southerners are at highest risk,) there’s a 25- to 50-percent chance the bite may not contain venom and a 100-percent chance you’ll survive if you seek immediate treatment and receive anti-venin within three hours of the bite.
Area resident teaches snake safety
Canyon Lake resident Marilyn McFarland, RN, MS, a former trauma nurse who treated many snake-bite victims during her 40-year career, now teaches people how to avoid snakes, which actually do a pretty good job of keeping the rat and mouse population in check.
She teaches residents to identify different types of venemous snakes and understand their behavior.
“I’m giving the presentation because I’m fascinated by snakes, convinced they are crucial to our existence, and want to provide and present strategies so that we can live in harmony with snakes,” she says.
Although she’s not a herpetologist, McFarland’s a member of a herpetology group and takes regular field trips into snake-infested locations.
Dispelling common myths
In Texas, she says most snakes are active from April to October/December. “Cold” for a snake is 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Snakes don’t hibernate, they “brumate” because they have to wake up to drink water in order to survive.
All snakes can open their mouths as wide as 150 degrees, which allows them to swallow prey whole. Snakes can and do bite underwater.
It’s not true that baby snakes are more venomous than grown snakes – they’re just unable to control the amount of venom in their bite. Young copperhead and cottonmouths have a neon yellow tail used as a lure, and young rattlesnakes have a small rattle as a warning. Young coral snakes have only their coloration as a deense.
And roadrunners? They love rattlesnake for dinner. And rattlesnakes? They really don’t want to bite you.
Snake bite 101
The coral snake, also known as the infamous Texas cobra, can be found in Canyon Lake Gorge. They’re the only neurotoxic snakes in the United States. Their venom kills by paralyzing its victims.
“Flaccid paralysis is slowly or rapidly becoming unable to move,” McFarland says. “It blocks nerve impulses to muscles, and when it affects the diaphragm you die.” She warned it could take up to 12 hours for symptoms to show up.
The good news is that coral snakes are shy.
Bites by cottonmouths, rattlesnakes and copperheads are different. Hemotoxic venom causes pain, swelling and bruising. Lab tests reveal “deranged” coagulation ability, and there can be massive loss of tissue and muscle if not treated rapidly.
“Almost every person bit by a pit viper complains of the weirdest taste in their mouths,” she says. “It tastes like chewing on aluminum foil. They get sick to their stomach, anxious and confused.”
Tips on surviving snakebite
- Ignore so-called old-wives tales, avoid home remedies, and don’t waste your money on over-the-counter snakebite kits. “The best snakebite kit is a set of car keys, a cell phone, and a companion to help you get to the hospital.”
- Don’t drink whiskey or take aspirin or ibuprofen, which affect clotting.
- Don’t take prescription painkillers, which will affect your mental status.
- Don’t cut the bite or attempt to suck out venom.
- Don’t apply cold or ice, which can further damage tissue.
- Do not apply tourniquets to bitten limbs. Tourniquets can cause as much damage as venom.
- Stay calm and use common sense.
- Immobilize the bite site and keep it slightly lower than heart-level. Do not elevate limbs.
- Remove jewelry from the bitten limb. Loosen clothing before swelling occurs.
- Call 9-1-1 and wait. In West Texas, ambulances will meet you half way.
- Hunters: Sawyer extractors don’t work, although they’re good for bee stings.
“The bottom line is, you’re not going to die from it, although sometimes people have cardiac arrest caused by panic,” she says. “Maybe five people a year in the United States die from snake bites.”
“Time is tissue. The faster a victim receives antivenin, the less tissue is destroyed especially if received within three hours.”
Can’t cure stupid
You can’t cure stupid, however. She says snakebite victims (remember that young, southern male demographic?) seem fond of taking chances with venomous snakes.
One even took a selfie of himself and a rattlesnake — which, predictably bit him. . Todd Fassler, who can be easily Googled, wound up with a hospital bill of $153,161 after posing in such a manner.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife website, the majority of snake bites result from people taking unnecessary or foolish risks.
Tips on avoiding a snakebite:
- Never stick your hand where you wouldn’t put your face, whether it’s into a woodpile or brush.
- Plug holes in the house and keep pet food in mouse-proof containers.
- Snakes access houses via plumbing fixtures and pipes.
- Forget snake repellent. It doesn’t work, is dangerous to pets, and pollutes water.
- Outdoors, wear snake boots, closed-toe shoes. Blue jeans will stop a rattlesnake bite.
- Be careful outside! Check before stepping over fallen logs and rock outcroppings.
- Stay vigilant along creek banks and under banks.
As for pets? There’s rattlesnake vaccine for dogs and horses. Although vaccine isn’t available for cats, there is anecdotal evidence that it could work.
Finally, snakes are venemous, not poisonous. The difference between venom and poison is: If you eat something and die, it’s poisonous. If you’re bitten and you die, then it’s venemous.