Hikers beware of rattlers in U foothills

During the summer, the foothills and canyons behind the U provide students with an abundance of recreational outlets near campus. However, rattlesnakes on the trails can pose a threat to outdoor enthusiasts.

On May 20, KTVX Ch.4 news reported that an 8-year-old boy hiking with his scouting group in Rocky Mouth Canyon picked up a baby rattlesnake and passed it among his friends. As the boy handed it over to his scoutmaster, the snake bit the boy’s finger.

The scoutmaster put the snake in a water bottle and the boy was taken to the hospital where he was treated with antivenin. He was later released.

Officer Ray Loken, of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said, “Rattlesnakes are notoriously docile. Unless people are antagonizing them with branches, they are normally laid back,” he said.

Loken said the most common rattlesnake to the Utah area is the Great Basin Rattler, which is typically light tan or light gray in color, with dark blotches on its back. On average, these snakes live 10 to 20 years and can grow three to five feet long.

Jeffrey Landry, reptile keeper at the Hogle Zoo, said the Great Basin Rattlesnake is the only rattlesnake found along the Wasatch Front.

“The Great Basins aren’t known for a real high venom toxicity,” he said, “but then again, you don’t know how you’ll react to a bite. You could get bit by one and have an allergic reaction. It depends on the person,” he said.

Utah wildlife officials respond to every phone call regarding rattlesnakes because they are a human health safety risk. “Our job is to protect the public and the snake, and relocate the snake to a different area,” Loken said.

Barbara Insley Crouch, director of the Utah Poison Control Center, said the number of snake bite victims in the valley varies from year to year, but the center usually hears of 12 bites or less. In contrast, 2002 was a high year for rattlesnake bites with 22 reported cases, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

There are two kinds of rattlesnake bites, accidental and non-accidental. Landry said a recent survey found that most cases of non-accidental bites were in males in their 20s with alcohol in their systems.

Rattlesnakes not only bite people, but dogs also. Vetrinarian Darin Emch of the Pet E.R. located at Cottonwood Animal Hospital said in the past three weeks the hospital has seen three dogs for rattlesnake bites. Signs of bites on a dog, which occur mostly on the nose and neck, include swelling, intense pain and purple discoloration of the tissue. Owners should carry their dogs after they have been bitten. Antivenin is available for dogs.

There are some misconceptions about what people should do in case of a bite.

“I’ve read about people who have used the old X incision, and they can’t use their hand anymore because in a panic they cut too deep through ligaments,” Landry said. “What’s more, when you cut…you open up blood vessels and spread the venom.”

Landry added that a tourniquet should never be applied to the bite wound.

“If you do get bit in the hand, you want to remove any rings because the bite is going to cause swelling…you want to keep the bite lower than the heart…[and] you want to stay as calm as possible,” Landry said.

“The more you get your heart rate going, the faster the venom will spread around your body.”

Landry advises those who have been bitten to stay put and wait for an ambulance.

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