Rattlesnake Warning: They're Shy, but Dangerous

As snake season begins, experts warn that even baby rattlers have a toxic bite

The new LAIR reptile exhibit at the LA Zoo provided residents with a close-up look Wednesday at why hikers, dog walkers and anyone else enjoying the outdoors should be prepared for "rattlesnake season." 

The odds of suffering a bite are slim, but poison control and reptile experts said during a news conference Wednesday at the exhibit that anyone who suffers a bite must act quickly.  The potentially dangerous Southern Pacific rattlesnake is most common in the LA basin, said Ian Recchio, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the LA Zoo.

"But it's also extraordinarily shy," Recchio said. "If you encounter a rattlesnake, your best defense is to leave it alone. Rattlesnakes don't go on the offensive. They don't try to chase you.  What rattlesnakes want to do is to get away from you."

The LAIR exhibit has several species of rattlesnakes, including the Souther Pacific rattlesnake. It's found in Griffith Park -- a place where humans, dogs and rattlesnakes share the trails.

A big concern is that people still have misconceptions about how to treat a rattlesnake bite, said Dr. Cyrus Rangan, assistant medical director for the California Poison Control System.

  • Do not tie a tourniquet around a bitten limb to stop the flow of venom into your body.
  • Do not put ice on the bite.
  • Do not take a knife to the wound or suck out the poison.

"All of these  methods have  actually been shown to not help or make the situation worse.  Best thing you can do is get to the hospital as fast as you can,"  Rangan said. "Snakes inject venom in the space between the skin and deeper tissue. It destroys tissue around the bite mark. Once it gets into the body, it can be toxic to blood and nerves." 

Once at the hospital, California Poison Control experts are available to help doctors provide care.

Poison Control Contact: 800-222-1222

And, remember -- rattlesnake are important to the ecosystem. Without snakes, the region would have too many rodents, Recchio said.

He also suggested removing wood piles and anything else that might attract rodents to a home. Where there are rodents, snakes might follow.

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