Life before Covid-19 was not simple here in the Bay Area. Remember? Earthquakes. Gridlock on roads more pothole than asphalt. Housing costs. Drought. Fires. Let me add something that might have escaped your earlier attention. Rattlesnakes. Here? Yes, afraid so, and as the parks begin to reopen, we need to be mindful that this is the season.

I imagine reader responses from startled (“Cool, I did not know we had rattlesnakes”) to terrified (“What the hell, rattlesnakes?”) to discover that our native wildlife includes Crotolus oreganus, a.k.a. the Pacific Rattlesnake. The weather is getting warmer which means reptiles are getting more active. (Fun fact: Cold-blooded does not mean that reptiles have literally cold blood but that blood temperature, or more accurately their metabolism, and consequently their activity level increases and decreases with the temperature of their environment.)

So how scary is this? I’m a hiker. Eight years in Arizona, real rattlesnake country, and I encountered one rattler. I come upon snakes hiking here (a good sign the environment is not entirely screwed up, and great rodent control) but I’ve never spotted a rattlesnake. Fear of rattlers is not entirely misplaced since a bite is painful and can prove fatal (we’ll get back to that), but they do not want to bite you. You are far too big to be a meal and meal-prep is venom’s job #1. Camouflage hides them from us, rattling warns us to stay away, and a bite is only a last resort. Do your part by staying on trails, lead with a hiking stick, wear ankle-high boots, and ideally don’t hike solo.

Everything you know about treating a bite is wrong. Don’t cut around the wound: venom includes anticoagulants, so cutting increases blood loss. Don’t attempt to suck out venom: fillings are another way for venom to enter your bloodstream. Absent specific training, a tourniquet is likely to cause harm on its own. If bitten, stay calm and call 911. If you’re out of cellphone range, remove anything close to the bite like rings or watches, since swelling may otherwise require them to be cut off later, and head directly towards a hospital. With reasonably quick medical treatment, you are going to have a lousy time but will survive to tell a good story.

Pin It on Pinterest