The warmer weather is approaching, and it is the time of the year when we begin to see snakes. They are sun-seekers, good swimmers and their bite in extreme circumstances can kill you
Most people are afraid of snakes … and with good reason, as many are poisonous and if you are bitten by one, the consequences can cause a few days’ ill health or even death. Even if you are bitten by a non-venomous snake, you may end up ill for several days.
Living on acreage, in the city regions, the bush and our roads … no one is immune to snakes. They seem to end up in the strangest places! Some people are fascinated by snakes; some keep them as pets, and it is not uncommon to find a carpet snake living in sheds on farms. Growing up on a farm, my appreciation of snakes has never been dear. In fact, I am in the majority who prefer they are never seen!
Recently I sat on a tree stump enjoying a break when the unthinkable happened: I was bitten on the arm. So, I joined the list of people who are bitten every year. Thankfully, Australia records very few deaths from snake bites.
In this country we have more than 140 species of land snakes and approximately 30 species of sea snakes. Around 100 of these snakes are venomous, with the experts saying only 12 are likely to inject enough venom to kill. The most dangerous snakes are the front toothed snakes that include the Tiger, Brown, Death Adder, King Brown and a few species of sea snake.
Some other dangerous and poisonous snakes include the Taipan, Red Bellied Black, Black Tiger, Copperhead, Gwardar, Collett’s, Fierce, Eastern Tiger, Eastern Brown, Death Adder and the Mulga.
Australia’s other snakes are the solid-toothed, non-venomous snakes like pythons.
Snakes have some varying and interesting features; they do not have eyelids and cannot close their eyes. Their eyes are protected by a clear scale, which is part of their skin and functions like a spectacle. Many snakes have excellent eyesight, particularly some of the daytime predators and most have good eyesight at least over short distances.
With most snakes the sense of smell is vital. A snake smells with its forked tongue, which it flicks in and out of its mouth. The tongue picks up scent particles from the air and any objects it touches and transfers them to two depressions in the roof of the mouth. These depressions are unique to reptiles and detect scents transferred to them by the tongue. A snake’s nostrils are only used for breathing.
Snakes do not have outer ears. Instead, they hear with inner ears, which pick up vibrations from the ground through the head and belly scales. Some nocturnal snakes also have heat sensory pits to help them locate the birds and animals they prey on.
If bitten and treated quickly, all victims recover. This is due to availability of antivenom, a biological product used in the treatment of venomous bites or stings. The principle of anti-venom is based on vaccines, initially developed by Louis Pasteur. The first antivenom for snakes was developed by Albert Calmette, a French scientist in 1895.
Antivenoms bind to and neutralise the injected snake venom, stopping further damage, but it is unable to undo any damage a patient has received. So, it is important to administer antivenom as soon as possible after the venom has been injected.
There are the 7 snake antivenoms available in Australia: Tiger snake, Brown snake, Taipan, Black snake, Death Adder, Sea Snakes and Polyvalent snake antivenom. Administration of some of these antivenoms for other snake bites can sometimes help control the side effects of a bite. It assists if you can identify the offending snake, as it aids in the choice of antivenom and will alert the doctors to any expected characteristics and side effects of the bite caused by the particular type of snake.
The symptoms and signs of a bite and the time frame they follow vary widely between individual patients. Symptoms are influenced by such factors as body weight, amount of venom injected, age and state of health of the patient, time elapsed since the bite and the site of the bite.
Some side effects a bite victim may experience before and after antivenom has been administered are headaches, nausea, abdominal pains, unconsciousness, tender muscles, blurred vision, confusion and hypo- tension.
So what do you do if you are bitten by a snake?
NSW Ambulance says there are simple methods you can take to avoid a painful bite. They recommend we all take a first aid course as the best option; however, there are simple basic procedures we should all follow.
If you see a snake, leave it alone and walk away; snakes do not usually bite if they don’t feel threatened. If you are bush walking, in long grass or down on the farm, always wear closed-in footwear. One major area that should always be attended to is your house and its surrounds. Keep your grass mowed and have no rubbish lying around, as this will reduce the chances of snakes hiding.
If you are bitten by a snake, the following procedures are recommended:
Stay calm. Do not attempt to catch the snake – just move yourself or the patient away to a safe place and then call triple 0 and ask for the ambulance service.
It is essential to keep the patient still. Apply a pressure bandage over the bite and wrap the bandage on the limb. The bandage should not cut off circulation and if possible use a crepe bandage or something that is flexible. Never cut the wound and do not try to suck the venom out. Do not apply a tourniquet, as it could complicate the injury.
The St Johns Ambulance have a snake kit that is inexpensive, and I recommend you purchase a pack to keep in your car or first aid kit.
So this summer beware of snakes and remember all snakes are a protected species. If you need help in removing a snake, call National Parks and Wildlife, who are the experts.
Give them a call: Great Lakes on 6591 0300 or Taree on 6553 4097.
Story by Peter Lyne