Rattlesnakes are waking up from hibernation earlier than usual as triple-digit Southern California heat pushes the cold-blooded reptiles out of their burrows, officials warned Tuesday.
The Los Angeles Zoo and California Poison Control hosted a rattlesnake awareness briefing at its Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles (LAIR) exhibit to advise Angelenos of the potentially dangerous threat slithering around their backyards.
“Mother snakes are giving birth to a bumper crop of babies,” California Poison Control officials said in a news release.
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Although snake sightings in California aren't unheard of, officials warned that most snakes only strike when they feel threatened or provoked.
“People are bitten when they’re trying to mess around with the animal,” said Ian Recchio of the LA Zoo.
At least 84 rattlesnake bites have been reported to the California Poison Control so far this year. That’s up from 82 bites reported in 2013 by the same time.
Most bites happen between April and October, when snakes and people are more active outdoors.
Rattlesnakes account for more than 800 bites each year, with one to two bite-related fatalities, according to the California Poison Control.
The year 2014 has the potential for a greater snake infestation as a result of heavy rains a few years ago, officials said.
A "rattlesnake-proof" fence is the best protection to keep snakes out of a home yard or garden, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
"Typically I get a phone call from someone that says I'be got a 9-foot rattlesnake and as big as a basketball," said Bruce Freeman, a Southern California snake wrangler. "About half the time it's a fairly small, non-venomous snake," he added.
Rattlesnake bites, although seldom fatal, are extremely painful and can lead to severe medical trauma. Wildlife officials urge the following in the event of a snake bite:
- Stay calm
- Wash the bite area with soap and water
- Remove watches, rings, anything that could restrict swelling
- Immobilize affected area
- Transport safely to nearest medical facility
The department’s website also advises people to hike with companions and to carry a cell phone while on trails in case of an emergency, as rattlesnake bites can become debilitating.