Spring heat bringing snakes out of hibernation in the Arizona desert

PHOENIX - The temperatures have hit the 80s here in Arizona Desert and that means snakes are coming out of hibernation.

"They're hungry, they're thirsty and love is in the air. It's spring time," warns Daniel Marchand from the Phoenix Herpetological Society.

That combination could be deadly or at the very least, extremely painful.

Just ask Snake Wrangler Russ Johnson. He was bit on the knuckle of his middle finger. 

"You know this bite was considered a pretty bad bite so it felt like having your finger injected with molten lava. The pain was intense and immediate, the swelling was dramatic, almost instantaneous," explain Johnson who nearly lost his finger from the bite. He had to be treated with 23 vials of anti-venom.  

Johnson and Marchand teach people how to respect our desert reptiles and have some advice if you get bit.

"First thing is stay calm.  If you've just been bitten by a rattlesnake your blood pressure is going up 60 points. But if you get bit in the hand, get off your ring or jewelry right away because your hand will swell and they will end up cutting it (the jewelry) off," explains Johnson.  

If the bite occurs on your foot or ankle, you can loosen your shoe or boot but don't take it off because you aren't going to get it back on.  Most importantly, get help right away. 

"Typically you're going to have anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours depending on the individual's health, the amount of venom you've been given from the snake, and sometimes your age," cautions Marchand. 

For Johnson his bite had another complication. "The snake's fang got stuck between one of my knuckles and I couldn't get the snake off," said Johnson who often goes out on snake recovery calls here in the Valley. 

He charges $75 dollars for each call with the proceeds going back to education at the Phoenix Herpetological Society.   

Arizona is home to 13 types of deadly rattlesnakes and six subspecies. "We're rattlesnake rich," said Johnson.

So how do you tell a venomous snake from one that's harmless? There are two ways and they are only true for snakes found in Arizona.

"If you see a snake whose head and his neck are the same width it's non-venomous. If you look at a rattlesnake he has a very large triangular head and a very small neck attached right behind it," explained Marchand.

The next sign comes from the tail. "Harmless snakes in Arizona have a very pointed tail. A rattlesnake will have a tail about the size of a man's finger with rattles on the end so it's very distinct," said Marchand.

So stay on the trails, stay alert, and if the snake rattles take one big step back.  Take one big step back and you're out of striking range.

If you would like to find out more about snakes you can visit the The Phoenix Herpetological Society by calling  (480) 513-4377 (HERP).

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