Talkin' Outdoors

Poisonous snakes can show up and zap you with no warning and sometimes with dire consequences.

Item: Lavon Chandler reached for a stick of firewood recently and was bitten on the finger by a big copperhead. Chandler spent several days in intensive care.

Item: Dr. James Dickson, head of Louisiana Tech’s wildlife programs, was checking a trap for endangered pine snakes. As he reached into the trap, a copperhead nailed him on a finger. Fortunately, having a cell phone handy and alerting medical authorities quickly resulted in a swollen sore finger for a few days with no lasting effects.

Item: My cousin Molly Harris was walking down a sandy lane barefoot years ago when a pygmy (ground) rattlesnake bit her on the foot. I remember seeing the foot a few days later, black and swollen. She was a very sick little lady for days.

Not all bites are made by poisonous snakes. I can attest to the validity of this because I was a victim.

My brother and our two first cousins were swimming in a creek in the woods in back of our house one summer many years ago. Tippy, our puppy, was swimming along beside me when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in back of my knee. Assuming is was one of the boys that had sneaked up and pinched me, I turned to see all three on the other side of the swimming hole.

Reaching down to see what had latched onto my leg, I pulled up a long black snake; the serpent was apparently attracted to the pup and I happened to be in the way. About the time cousin Doug whipped out his Barlow pocket knife to perform surgery, I noticed there was a ring of teeth marks, not fang marks like I would have had if a poisonous snake had attacked. I was relieved even if Doug was disappointed at being denied the chance to whittle on my leg.

These illustrations all go to affirm that there are snakes in the woods and waters of Louisiana, and summer is prime time to cross paths with these creatures.

Jeff Boundy is a wildlife biologist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries whose area of responsibility is working with reptiles and amphibians.

“Northern Louisiana is home to five species of poisonous snakes — copperheads, cottonmouths, timber or cane brake rattlesnakes, pygmy or ground rattlesnakes and coral snakes,” Boundy explained.

“Although copperhead bites require immediate medical attention, their toxin is not as strong as the other species of poisonous snakes. Only about 1 in 10,000 copperhead bites prove to be fatal.

“The venom of cottonmouths is more potent. It may have something to do with what they feed on, things like frogs, fish or small snakes. They need to immobilize their victims quickly whereas copperheads feed on things like cicada larvae.

“A timber rattlesnake can be very dangerous because their venom is more toxic. There is some indication the venom has a neuro-toxic aspect which serves to shut down bodily functions. Ground or pygmy rattlers have always been a rather rare species but their venom is quite toxic,” Boundy added.

“The bite of a coral snake can be fatal because their venom is a neuro-toxin that affects the nervous system and basically shuts it down. You lose your ability to even breathe.

“If you’re bitten by a pit viper, you usually have time to get out of the woods for medical help but with a coral snake bite, you don’t have the luxury of time. The best bet,” Boundy cautioned, “is to avoid poisonous snakes and should you see one, give it a wide berth and leave it alone.”

To be honest, I wouldn’t bypass the chance to put the pop on a coral snake, rattler, copperhead or cottonmouth. But that’s just me.