The Southern Pacific Rattlesnake found in Santa Clarita Valley
THE FACTS ABOUT
The Dangerous Green Mojave Rattlesnake is found in the Antelope Valley
The Black Widow Spider is found in Santa Clarita
The Tarantula is found in Santa Clarita
The Wolf Spider is found in Santa Clarita
RATTLESNAKES AND SPIDERS
As the temperatures rise, so do the stories of rattlesnake and spider bites…some fact, some fiction. Read on for the lowdown from the experts.
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In 2007, a three year drought combined with a winter receiving only three inches of rain and a particularly hot summer resulted in SCV residents encountering snakes where they least expected, stated Rattlesnake Rescuer Hugo Heermann.
While Heermann has been removing and rescuing snakes for ten years, in early summer he had already received ten times as many calls as he did in a typical year.
He suggested the following precautions residents should follow:
What Type of Rattler Resides in SCV?
- Check your swimming pool before plunging in.
- Be particularly wary on cooler days and in the evening hours.
- If stepping outside in the evening, be particularly careful.
- Anticipate snakes may be under your vehicle at a parking lot
- Be cautious when in your garage, as they seek out cool areas during hot days.
- Do not allow pets or children unattended in your back yard--especially in evening hours.
- Make sure to take a strong flashlight with you when heading outdoors in the dark.
- Don't let your dogs run loose with you in the canyons; keep leashed at all times.
- Be aware that our canyons and natural areas have an abundance of rattlesnakes.
- Tighten dripping hoses and remove standing water in your yard.
- Remove (carefully!) wood piles, which draw rodents and provide a food source for snakes.
- Remove (carefully!) rock piles, which provide cover for snakes.
- Completely seal your garage as snakes can slip into holes over 1/4 inch.
- Consider installing a snake fence as snakes may travel up to 1/2 mile between yards. It is usually up to 3' high with mesh no larger than ¼". The bottom should be buried six inches in the ground, and the fence should be slanted outward at a 30-degree angle. Keep bushes and shrubs away from the fence as a snake can crawl from the vegetation over the fence.
- Remember, if the temperature outdoors is 'just right' for you, it's ideal for rattlers, too.
- If bitten, don't panic! An increased heart rate causes the venom to spread more quickly. Head to Henry Mayo for treatment.
Southern California is home to seven species of rattlesnakes: the Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled rattlesnake, Red Diamond rattlesnake, Southern Pacific, Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake. In Southern California, the Western Diamondback is most often involved in bites. Unfortunately, it is also the most poisonous by weight. However, the Mojave rattlesnake is the most dangerous (in North America), responsible for several deaths a year in California. The venom of the Mojave rattler is composed of hemolytic and neurotoxic elements, which means it destroys the red blood cells resulting in blood clotting problems and causes nerve damage. Its venom affects the nervous system and can lead to paralysis.
The good news, according to the Placerita Nature Center, is that the only rattler residing in Santa Clarita is the Southern Pacific. This snake is most often found in the hillsides of our valley, but if you live near a rural area, you face the possibility of being visited by a rattler. The US Geological Society warns that this is a nervous species that will aggressively defend itself when annoyed. Yet, not one tourist has been bitten at the Placerita Nature Center of the millions who have visited since 1970. However, snakebites do happen and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital reports four to six bites per year, none of which have been fatal. These bites are typically on the hand of someone who has chosen to handle a snake and rarely is the victim a hiker who has stepped in the wrong place. If you do not seek prompt medical attention, you do risk losing your limb. "If bitten by a snake…seek medical attention as quickly as possible," said David Hartzog, R.N., a nurse in Henry Mayo's Emergency Department.
While medical professionals suspect a Green Mojave as the snake that bit Chris Bolewski of Saugus in May 2007, Heermann remains unconvinced. "The Green Mojave's range begins in Leona Valley and goes north. I once heard of a sighting in Acton, but that was the closest to the SCV."
So what do you do if you are a victim of a snakebite?
Henry Mayo Hospital is the only location in Santa Clarita Valley with antivenin on hand. Urgent Care facilities do not store antivenin.
- Stay calm; an increased heart rate causes the venom to move quickly through your system.
- Remove jewelry and restrictive clothing.
- Immobilize extremity and keep at a level slightly below the heart.
- Apply a cold, wet cloth over the bite.
- Get to an emergency facility where antivenin will be given intravenously with fluids.
Henry Mayo recommends you contact 911 enroute so they may evaluate how much antivenin they have on hand.
What NOT to do if bitten by a rattler:
- Do NOT apply a tourniquet.
- Do NOT pack the bite area in ice.
- Do NOT cut the wound with a knife or razor.
- Do NOT use your mouth to suck out the venom.
- Do NOT let the victim take aspirin or Ibuprofen.
- Do NOT let the victim drink alcohol.
- Do NOT apply electrical shock.
- Children are at greater danger than adults for snakebites because of their size. They are also naturally curious, and typically are not aware of their surroundings. Teach children not to pick up snakes. Many victims are curious children.
- While 25% of all snakebites are 'dry' bites, do not make that assessment on your own. Head to the emergency room.
- Some experts state that the dead snakes' bite reflex is active for up to an hour after its death.
- Even after a snake strikes, it may strike again. It generally reserves some of its venom.
- Some experts state that baby rattlesnakes release all of their venom, so their bite may be more dangerous than that of an adult.
- Be wary of fangs on any rattlesnake, even those that have been professionally prepared by a taxidermist. Even dry venom is extremely poisonous.
When are snakes most active?
- Rattlesnakes' striking distance is approximately half their length. Give them room!
- Do not grab 'branches' or 'sticks' in the water. Rattlesnakes are excellent swimmers.
- Never hike alone. Always have a buddy and carry a cell phone for emergencies. (Remember to provide an exact location when calling 911 to avoid delay in treatment.)
- Snakes can climb walls, trees, shrubs and rocks. Look before you put your hands on rocks or when digging in your garden.
- Wear hiking boots in undeveloped areas; never wear open-toed shoes or go barefoot.
- Always check carefully around stumps and logs before sitting.
- Don't step over logs but rather on top of logs. Snakes like to hide under logs.
- Newly constructed housing developments, schools and shopping centers--as well as those that meet up against undeveloped hillsides--pose a greater risk for snake encounters.
- When stepping off a stoop, look down before stepping. Snakes like to crawl along a building where they are protected on one side.
- Use a tall stick when hiking; the snake may strike the stick rather than you.
- Do not keep 'pet' rattlesnakes.
- Snakebite victims are typically young males who attempt to pick up the reptiles.
According to the Placerita Nature Center, a snake's ideal temperature is somewhere in the 80's. This is why they are dormant in the winter. When the temperatures dip into the 60's, you'll find snakes burrowed for warmth. However, as temperatures rise into the 80's, they are most active. During the hottest days of summer, snakes will seek shade and hunt in the cooler hours of the day. Therefore, temperature dictates when you are most likely to encounter a snake.
The Snakes Are Coming
By Evelyne Vandersande, Editor, The Rattler--Placerita Canyon Nature Center's newsletter
Have a snake you want to get rid of?
If you find a snake in your yard, or even worse-in your house, you'll want to call a professional to remove it.
Rattlesnake Rescuer Hugo Heermann (805-660-3348) will gladly come and rescue your snake, if he is available--for free. He volunteers his time so he can capture, rehydrate and allow the snake to de-stress in a quiet environment before releasing it into the wild.
Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control in Castaic: 661-257-3191
(Ask to be connected directly with the Castaic office.)
If for some reason these folks are not available, you should know that general pest control companies, such as Orkin and Terminix, do not remove snakes. Orkin recommends Snake Removal (800-339-9470) and Terminix recommends Animal Pest Management Service (800-344-6567).
More About Rattlesnakes
- Snakes can sense water 300-400 yards away. They have an incredible tracking device for food, heat, and water. Their heat sensing pit, located between the eliptical eye and nostril, can pick up a 1 degree variation in temp.
- They can feel vibrations 100's of yards away. They know you are coming long before you know they are even there.
- Snakes utilize gopher holes to move from one yard to another. Baby snakes can move between yards through the drainage holes at the bottom of slump stone walls.
If you are heading to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve or the Lancaster/Palmdale area, you should be aware that the Mojave Green rattlesnake resides there. If you are bitten, get to the Antelope Valley Hospital
While enroute, call the E/R (661-949-5115), which will alert them to prepare the anti-venin--and make certain their stock has not been used.
Despite what some may believe from Hollywood movies, California Poison Control advises residents that spiders do not attack in herds. They don't lay in wait to attack people, slip under the covers to bite people while they are sleeping, or jump at people to attack them. Of course, some spiders can jump, but they only bite when scared and trying to defend themselves. They prefer a quiet, dark corner of your closet, garage, attic or your trash or woodpile.
The Black Widow can be found in abundance in Santa Clarita. About a half-inch to one inch long including its legs, it is a shiny deep black. The female can be identified by her red or orange markings (usually in the shape of an hourglass) on the underside of her belly. Her venom is the most dangerous of the spiders in the area. Her web can easily be recognized, as there is no order or design to it. She is most often found in garages and outbuildings.
Both the Tarantula and the Wolf Spider can be found in wilderness areas and developments in close proximity to those areas. They are usually seen after the rain, as they love damp conditions. The Wolf Spider is a mottled gray-brown color and is about 3-4 inches across. With the exception of one group, they do not spin webs to catch prey, but rather chase it down. They are very active by day and night. Tarantulas are slightly larger and more hairy that a Wolf Spider. Their hair is very bristly and causes irritation. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water if you handle a Tarantula, especially before touching your eyes. When cornered, they will make a purring sound and may rear up on their back legs.
Although many claim to have seen it, experts agree that the Brown Recluse does not reside in the Santa Clarita Valley. There are many other light brown spiders that are often mistaken for the Brown Recluse.
What are the symptoms of a spider bite?
Black Widow - The bite area will resemble a target, with a pale area surrounded by a red ring. Severe muscle pain and cramps may develop in the first two hours. Severe cramps are usually first felt in the back, shoulders, abdomen and thighs. Other symptoms include weakness, sweating, headache, anxiety, itching, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and increased blood pressure. Young children, the elderly and those with high blood pressure are at highest risk of developing symptoms from a black widow spider bite.
Tarantula - While the bite may be painful because of the size of the spider, most bites will not cause significant poisoning symptoms.
Wolf Spider - The large fangs may cause a tear in the skin when it bites, which will result in pain, redness and swelling. The skin at the bite area may turn black and the swelling may last up to ten days.
What to do if bitten by a spider:
Black Widow - If a black widow spider bites a person, do not panic. While it is very rare that the bite would be fatal, Henry Mayo Hospital recommends that you seek medical attention promptly. Very often the black widow will not inject any venom into the bite and no serious symptoms develop. In that case, merely washing the wound well with soap and water to help prevent infection will suffice, but it is best if this call is made by a medical professional.
Some victims, especially young children, may be admitted overnight for observation and treatment. There is treatment for a black widow spider bite that can take care of the symptoms. Various medications are used to treat the muscle cramps, spasms and pain of a bite. Black widow spider antivenin is seldom necessary.
Tarantula and Wolf Spider- Clean with soap and water. If allergic reaction develops, transport to an Emergency Room. Venom is considered non-toxic to humans. The bristly hair from the Tarantula may be removed with tape.
Yes, we have these, too, although they are not of great concern to residents in the SCV. The species that reside in our valley is the Vejovis, which at maturity is approximately two inches in length.
But the questions inquiring minds want to ask: "Is its sting harmful?" The sting from a mature Vejovis will hurt, but less than a bee sting. Seek medical attention if you experience secondary reactions.
A young Vejovis is only about an inch long, with a stinger too small to penetrate human skin.
Scorpions reside in the dry hillsides, their tunnel resembling a "D" on it's back. They will also be found wandering across patios and decks.
As always, contact your physician with any questions or concerns. It is always best to be safe.
Carriers of Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Erlichiosis, and Babesiosis. Spray up with Deep Woods Off before heading off into brushy area, and check for ticks before coming inside.
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By Vanessa Vandersande, veterinary student at Kansas State University.
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Do You Own a Pet?
Plan ahead for an emergency. Contact your vet to find out what you can do if your pet is bitten.
For Further Information:
You're confident you saw a brown recluse spider? Learn more here:
UC Riverside Dept of Entomology
UCR research and extension on Spiders and other Arachnids
Identifying and Misidentifying the Brown Recluse Spider
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Living with Rattlesnakes
Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California
California Poison Control System
US Geological Society, Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians of Southern California
To learn more about our local wildlife, call the
Placerita Nature Center
Updated May 3, 2013