The fear of venomous snakes is one of the most common phobias in today’s society. The venomous snake is very much a deadly threat in the real world if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The venom of some snakes can cause death within minutes if not treated immediately. In a more gruesome scenario, a snake’s bite can cause your flesh to decay at a rapid rate, almost right before your eyes.
One of the most important aspects to escaping the fangs of a venomous snake is a person’s ability to identify them from their non-lethal counterparts. The difference between a painful bite and a deadly one lies in the physical characteristics of the snake’s body. In particularly in the snake’s head and color pattern. The most obvious “giveaway” that a snake is venomous is by looking at the shape of its head. Remember it’s venomous, not poisonous. In a survival situation, once the head is cut off and discarded, its flesh is safe to eat.
A venomous snake will have a rough triangle-shaped head. Designed by nature this allows the venom glands to sit just behind the eyes and towards the back of the head. The gland releases venom. It travels through an accessory gland and is delivered to the unlucky recipient through needle-like fangs. Non-venomous snakes, though perhaps similar in other bodily characteristics, can be identified by their slender head. They are obviously free of the deadly venom sacks. However, this type of classification is not always foolproof. Some venomous snakes, like the sea snake or coral snake, exhibit a slender head. While some harmless snakes “puff” up their heads to mimic the look of venomous vipers.
Body markings and other physical characteristics can also help to identify deadly snakes. The rattler at the tip of the tale of a rattlesnake offers a warning to anyone nearby that they should stay away. Certain color patterns also give a person warning that a snake is venomous. The coral snake, for instance, has patterns similar to a milk snake, so these common rhymes can help, “Red to yellow, kill a fellow. Red to black, friend of Jack.” Another variation is “Red on black, venom lack; red on yellow, deadly fellow”.
There can always be mistakes made in snake identification. It is always best to know what species are at home in the environment that you choose to explore. Many books and guides are available to help identify snakes. Having a pocket edition in your pack is a great way to research when “out in the field.”
Realistically speaking, snakes don’t stalk or prey upon humans. They are not the premeditative killers that both the media and entertainment outlets seem to accentuate. The truth is that snakes, whether venomous or not, just live their lives like every other animal. Dangerous situations arise for people when they venture into snake territory and accidentally disrupt a snake’s regular “routine.” This could be as innocent as a person gathering firewood for their camp. Snakes coiled underneath the security of an old, fallen tree can be surprised by the disruption. They instinctively strike at the unexpected threat. Stepping on a camouflaged snake lying on a leaf-covered trail can also make your ankles and lower leg the recipients of snake bites.
Again, the surprise of your unintentional attack upon the reptile unleashes their innate behavior of self-defense. As such, precautions should be taken when a person is out in the wild to avoid the most common “resting” places of venomous snakes. First, be cautious about where you step. Snakes, being cold-blooded animals that need to regulate their body temperatures from exterior sources, enjoy basking in the sun during the daytime. As such, they can linger on cleared walking paths or on top of large rocks or boulders Second, always give a thorough search of your personal gear, especially sleeping bags and blankets before you settle in for the night.
A curious snake may find your tent and bedding a comfortable spot to coil up into and rest, giving you a dangerous surprise when you too decide to call it a night. Finally, no matter where you travel, even if it’s just a dozen yards or so away from your camp, use a walking stick. Brushing a stick across your path will help “awaken” a camouflaged snake partly hidden under leaves or brush. Having your walking stick be the recipient of a startled snake’s bite is far better than the flesh of your lower leg or thigh.
Though not very well known to most people, the venom from snakes vary in both composition and symptoms obtained from a bite. The three main types are hemotoxic, neurotoxic, and cytotoxic. Hemotoxic venom, which affects the heart and cardiovascular system. Neurotoxic venom, which attacks the nervous system and the brain, and finally, Cytotoxic venom which affects the area around the bite.
Hemotoxic venom stops blood from clotting and causes internal damage. This type of toxin causes even the smallest cuts or nicks to bleed steadily without slowing or clotting. Vomiting, severe headaches and nausea can also occur.
Neurotoxic venom is fast-acting and can cause paralysis if a person is not treated with anti-venom quickly. At times, a person must be put on life-support just to keep their vital organs working until their body can recover fully.
Finally, Cytotoxic venom affects the bite area by destroying tissue. This can be severe, with entire portions of a person’s leg or arm deteriorating, at times, down to the bone level. If the bite victim survives, life-debilitating injuries could be long-lasting.
The bottom line is; a snake’s venom is a serious concoction of more than twenty different compounds, including proteins, enzymes and other substances all designed to incapacitate and kill their intended prey. With humans not on a snake’s intended meal list, a bite from a venomous snake is the unfortunate result of its innate self-defense mechanism and one that could end your life within minutes.
To Stay or To Go?
Time is not on your side when you’re the recipient of a startled snake’s hypodermic-like fangs. Venom injected into your body moves fast throughout your system and depending upon the type of venom, you may have only a few hours or even just a few minutes before irreversible damage occurs or even death. Quick thinking and no hesitation, and the use of proper bite first-aid techniques is the combination you need to survive the frightening ordeal.
First and foremost, you need to make the biggest decision of your life. Choose whether or not to stay put and wait for medical aid or transport to hospital or to start moving try to reach medical services by yourself. There is no simple answer to this question due to many variables involved. Venom moves faster through the body (due to it traveling through the bloodstream based upon your blood pressure) when it’s active, such as walking very fast or running, so it’s recommended to lay down and elevate your head above your chest to help keep the venom away from your heart. However, venom can have incredibly fast effects upon the body, so the gamble to make it to help before the venom “sets-in” and does permanent damage must also be considered.
Cytotoxic destroys human tissue and “eats” away at a person’s flesh. This type of damage is very difficult to recover from and leaves permanent disfigurement. In this case, the risks of traveling for help far outweigh the idea of staying put. Neurotoxic venom is very dangerous also, producing drowsiness, blurred vision and even the shut-down of a person’s lungs. Getting to a source of anti-venom is crucial to stay alive, but if your body can’t physically make the journey once attempted, you will only quicken the deadly outcome.
These “flip a coin” scenarios are further complicated by a person’s ability to not think clearly once bitten. Panic can overcome them and a poor choice could be made. Traveling with others while exploring the outdoors or having a satellite phone or GPS beacon on your body if traversing alone, can aid in getting you to help fast or having medical help reach you if you choose to stay put.
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