Originally Published: September 1, 2013 6 a.m.
Hiking the scenic trails of Arizona can be a fun, healthy and rewarding way to spend a summer day. There's much to see in our beautiful state and walking is some of the best exercise you can get.
But you're not alone out there. Arizona is also home to nearly 20 different varieties of venomous snakes. Of the more than 250 snakebites that occur here each year, most happen because people are uninformed about the venomous snakes that inhabit our state and mistakenly think them harmless. Caution should be used whenever you are walking in an area that could contain these poisonous reptiles.
Most species of snake are harmless and most - even of the venomous varieties - are not aggressive, unless they are cornered. Still, unless you are absolutely sure that you know the species, it's best to stay away. Anyone who lives in or visits Arizona should learn what to look for and how to identify the more dangerous types.
Most snakes will avoid people if possible and they'll usually only bite as a last resort, when they feel threatened or surprised. Children, especially, often find snakes to be fascinating and should be taught not to approach a snake. Because of their smaller body size, children are at higher risk for death or serious complications if they are bitten.
Across the United States, fewer than half a dozen deaths occur per year as a result of snakebite. Most of those deaths are the result of bites from rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are pit vipers that may be identified in all but one species by a rattle at the tip of the tail. The Arizona Herpetological Society lists some 75 different types of snakes that can be found in Arizona. Just under a third of them are venomous. Of that number, most are rattlesnakes. In fact, our state has more types of rattlesnakes than any other state in the nation.
Rattlesnake bites are painful when they occur and symptoms begin to show right away. There is usually tingling, pain and swelling at the site of the bite, and numbness or even paralysis can follow. Other symptoms may include: bleeding, blurred vision, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, lowered blood pressure, change in pulse rate and skin color changes.
A bite from a rattlesnake or other venomous snake can be deadly if not treated quickly. Do not cut the wound, put ice on it or apply a tourniquet. Instead, call 911 or get to an emergency room immediately. Getting proper treatment as soon as possible is very important. The right anti-venom can save a person's life. If properly treated, most snakebites will not have serious effects.
It's also important to know that for a short time after a snake is killed, its reflexes may continue to work. Those reflexes typically cause the body to writhe slowly for a while, but they can cause a convulsive contraction that could result in a bite.
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Western diamondback is the most common type of rattlesnake in the state, and accounts for the largest number of snakebites. The Mojave rattlesnake has the most dangerous venom and can cause possible damaging effects on the central nervous system.
If you spend time hiking or in wilderness settings, you are likely to have a snake encounter eventually. It's wise to avoid injury by educating yourself and your children in advance.