The East Bay Regional Park District on Thursday issued a rattlesnake advisory, warning that as the weather heats up the venomous snakes become more active, leading to more encounters with humans and dogs. The East Bay Regional Park District is advising that the public take snake safety precautions when visiting regional parks (see safety tips below).
Berkeleyside talked to Ashley Adams, a naturalist with EBRPD, about the potential dangers of rattlesnakes, and what precautions to take. (The interview has been edited for conciseness.)
Have there been any incidents of rattlesnake bites this summer so far?
Adams: So far this summer we’ve had lots of sightings. We see them everywhere but there have not been any bites.
Why are rattlesnakes so much more common during the hot weather months?
Adams: They basically hibernate in their burrows during winter. As the weather heats up, they become more active because they are cold-blooded animals. When we see them on the trail they are sunning themselves — the longer they are in the sun the more energy they have to go hunt.
Are rattlesnakes most common in any particular parks?
Adams: They are most common in the Eastern Alameda County and the inland areas of Contra Costa County.
How dangerous are rattlesnakes, and how common are injuries?
Adams: Injuries are pretty uncommon, and people only get bit if the snake feels it’s in immediate danger, like when you are sitting on a rock without looking or rock climbing without looking where your hand goes. They camouflage extremely well so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. It’s not deadly to be bitten by a rattlesnake if you get to a hospital immediately — make sure you call the hospital on the way so they can prepare the anti-venom.
What should you do if you have no phone service and get bitten?
Adams:: It takes six hours before any tissue becomes damaged, even at the far reaches of the park you would be able to hike back. Remain calm and try to keep your heart rate low because the faster your heart rate goes the faster the venom moves through your body.
How can you make sure your dog isn’t harmed by a rattlesnake?
Adams: Owners should keep their dog on the trail so you can scan the trail ahead for snakes. If your dog starts approaching a snake call it back immediately. If your dog goes prancing in the grasses off-trail you have no idea what they might run into, so it’s best to keep them in sight at all times.
Are there any other natural dangers to be aware of in the parks this summer?
Adams: Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, and fall from trees onto your clothes. The best way to remove a tick is with flathead tweezers. Monitor the bite for two weeks and if a red circle forms around it, then get medical help.
Even the most nature-savvy person should always keep these tips in mind, as you really can’t be too safe in the incredibly vast East Bay Regional Parks. Always explore with caution!
Safety tips from EBRPD for visiting regional parks:
- Always hike with a friend so you can help each other in case of emergency.
- Look at the ground ahead of you as you are walking.
- Look carefully around and under logs and rocks before sitting down.
- Avoid placing your hands or feet where you can’t see clearly.
- Check the area around picnic tables, campsites, and barbecues before using them. If you encounter a rattlesnake in these areas, notify park staff.
- Keep pets on the designated trails and away from snakes if they see one.
- Bring plenty of water for yourself and your pets as many parks do not have a direct water supply.
What to do if you see a rattlesnake
Leave it alone — do not try to capture or harm it. All park wildlife is protected by law. If you see a snake on a trail, wait for it to cross and do not approach. Then move carefully and slowly away.
What to do if bitten by a snake
- If bitten by a rattlesnake, stay calm and send someone to call 911. Remain calm by lying down with the affected limb lower than the heart. Do not waste precious time on tourniquets, “sucking,” or snake bite kits. If you are by yourself, walk calmly to the nearest source of help to dial 911. Do not run.
- If bitten by any other kind of snake, wash the wound with soap and water or an antiseptic and seek medical attention.
- If you are not sure what kind of snake bit you, check the bite for two puncture marks (in rare cases one puncture mark) associated with intense, burning pain. This is typical of a rattlesnake bite. Other snakebites may leave multiple teeth marks without associated burning pain.