Survival Survival Skills

Putting the Bite on You

Bob McNally Avatar

While many people dismiss the lethality of copperheads, the pain and suffering following a bite is something no one wants to go through.

WARNING: Some graphic photos of results of snake bites within! Venomous snakes are a part of the outdoors experience through much of North America. And while millions of sportsmen go their whole lives without ever encountering such snakes, there are 8,000 bites annually from them in the U.S. On average, only five people die every year from snakebites in the U.S., but the anguish resulting from a venomous snakebite is something no one wants to endure. Deformities resulting from skin and tissue damage, as well as loss of limbs, are common with snakebites. In the spirit of "let's be careful out there," here are some insights into America's venomous snakes, and the consequences of their bite. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in North America, with some reported to be more than 8 feet long.
While a 6-foot eastern diamondback is huge, smaller snakes can have a head the size of a clenched fist, with fangs over an inch long. They pack a wallop.
The western diamondback rattlesnake is another impressive pit viper, reaching lengths of 6 feet or more. Large diamond-shaped markings along the back are similar to an eastern diamondback, but a distinctive tail marking, with black and white bands, set it apart.
Here's the result of a western diamondback rattlesnake bite. The pain is obvious, and the future use of this ring finger may be in peril.
"Don't Tread On Me!" The western diamondback rattler ranges from California and Mexico, and east and north to Arkansas.
Note the painful tissue damage to the finger resulting from a western diamondback rattlesnake bite.
The diminutive pygmy rattlesnake is so small, its rattle is almost silent when it's buzzing furiously to warn away danger. But don't overlook the deadly threat this very aggressive snake poses to outdoorsmen.
While rarely more than 2 feet long, the pygmy rattlesnake can be real trouble, as the look of this man's arm following a bite can attest. Pygmies can be found from eastern North Carolina through Florida, and west to Texas and Oklahoma.
The U.S. venomous snake with a real bad-boy reputation is the cottonmouth water moccasin. It can be extremely aggressive, and when threatened it will "display", as shown here with its white mouth agape in a warning posture.
The open white mouth of a moccasin is sure to get your attention.
Moccasin bites are especially dirty, providing doctors with more of a challenge in treating a wound, along with standard aggressive antivenin treatment.
There are three subspecies of cottonmouths in the U.S., and while they can vary greatly in color and markings, they all possess a rather large, stocky body that quickly diminishes to a rat-like tail, as shown in this photo. They are common in the Southeast, but range into Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas.
This bite victim's swelling upper thigh is measured by doctors at the hospital, the results written on the skin with markers. This aids in learning the progressive effectiveness of antivenin treatment.
Herpetologists say no fewer than five subspecies of copperhead snakes live in North America. All are venomous and have distinctive, beautiful markings.
Copperheads, which rarely reach 3 feet in length, are found in a wide range of habitats–from the mountains of Pennsylvania to the deserts of west Texas and northern Mexico.
This copperhead bite was not lethal, but it sure was painful. Full use of this finger was a long time coming.
A copperhead should not be underestimated, even though its bite is usually less severe than a rattlesnake's.
"Red touch yellow, kill a fellow" –words to live by when identifying a coral snake, which potentially is the most deadly of all North American venomous snakes. It has neurotoxic venom, just like a cobra.
Because of the small size of the coral snake (mostly under 30 inches), it is difficult for it to open its mouths wide enough to strike a person. But bites happens every year, and antics such as this are foolhardy.
There are three varieties of coral snake in the U.S.: the eastern, western and Texas. All are potentially lethal.
The prairie rattlesnake rarely exceeds 3 feet in length, but it's found widely throughout the central part of North America, from Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia down south through the Mountain States into Arizona, Texas and Mexico.
Though comparatively small, don't underestimate the pain a prairie rattlesnake can inflict. The thumb bite this victim has will take a long rehab to fully heal.
The timber rattlesnake has several regional color patterns, this one being the beautiful and highly camouflaged southern, or canebrake, version. Reaching lengths of 6 feet, it's at home in a wide geographic area, from Maine to Florida, Minnesota to Texas.
The Mojave rattlesnake, found in Arizona and California, has an especially troubling venom mix. It has a neurotoxic venom component, which can cause respiratory paralysis, similar to the results of a coral snake and cobra bite.