PRATT -- Kansas has a variety of snakes that may be encountered on summer outings. Nearly all are harmless, but it^s wise to watch for these reptiles. Many will bite if handled or stepped on, and there^s always a chance of meeting a poisonous species. These include copperheads, massasauga, and timber rattlesnakes in eastern Kansas, and massasauga and prairie rattlers in the western regions. Although poisonous snakes cause few Kansas fatalities, they do lead to serious injury and high medical bills.
Fortunately, mishaps can usually be avoided.
The key to avoiding snakebite is watching for snakes and knowing their habits. Snakes like to hide under rocks, logs, and leaf debris. Many bites occur when someone casually reaches or steps into
these situations without first looking. Carry a walking stick and prod before stepping or touching suspected habitat. Don^t sit without first carefully checking the surroundings. Never step over a log or large rock without knowing what^s on the other side.
When walking in snake country, wear high boots. A snake can strike only half its body length, so if it^s on the ground, it will usually strike at ankle level or slightly above. Even the sharp fangs of a rattlesnake will generally not penetrate leather boots. Wear long pants, which may also help deflect or foul the snake^s fangs to prevent an actual bite.
If a poisonous snake is encountered within striking distance, don^t panic. Freeze in place, and the snake will often move away. It will strike at movement when it feels danger.
If a bite occurs, stay calm. If possible, suction the cut immediately but do not try to suck out venom with your mouth or make further incisions to help bleed out the wound. Small and lightweight suction devices are available commercially and are ideal for helping remove venom. They can be used on humans or hunting dogs that are bitten during early upland hunting seasons.
Seek medical help immediately for a poisonous snakebite. If help is available, lie the victim down and elevate the bite site above the level of the heart. Don^t let the victim walk unless it^s necessary because doing so increases blood circulation to spread the venom beyond the bite site.
Limit liquid intake because the body pumps fluids to the bitten area, resulting in painful swelling. Particulary avoid alcohol. Don^t apply a tourniquet unless you are well-trained in its use. And don^t risk a second bite by trying to capture the snake. The antivenin for pit viper bites is the same for all species native to Kansas, so identification is not needed.