Spring is here and our crews are busy laying down hand-built sweetness on the Hand-Cut Hollow in Bentonville, AR. The changing of the seasons breathes life back into the forest, and that life includes venomous snakes. One of our Site Supervisors was quite surprised the other day when a crew member came walking up with a very alive-looking and large copperhead draped across his hands.
Image: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The supervisor told him calmly to drop it, which he did, and then proceeded to elaborate on what it was. The snake had died from natural causes, so our team used the experience for our safety talk. We wanted to share the experience at large for those who are new to encountering our slithery friends (Pro-tip. They’re more scared of you, than you of them).
Situational Snake Awareness
Copperheads are masters of camouflage and you're likely to be right on top of one before you see it. Though not deadly, they are responsible for most hot bites in the US. They're not aggressive, but their excellent hiding skills and a tendency to hang out in close proximity to houses account for the increased number of bites. You pretty much have to step on or grab one to get bitten, but both instances are more likely for trail crews working in the field than the general population.
Image: Peter Paplanus, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Encountering a Snake in the Field
If you ever find yourself startling a venomous snake and you're within striking distance, then don't move. Stand still and wait for the snake to leave. Pit vipers have heat sensors that give them a thermal image of their prey, so they know you're there. Sudden and erratic movements can scare it into striking which they're capable of at about half its body length. If you're beyond the striking zone, then simply walk away and alert your coworkers of it.
If it's in the build site, then you can probably gently encourage it to leave with a long stick or tool. Do not try to kill a snake. Many species are protected by law, and here in Arkansas, it's illegal to kill the Western diamondback and Texas coral snake due to the declining populations. Pay attention to where it's going and alert your coworkers.
What to do if You're Bitten
If you are bitten it's going to hurt like hell, but it's important to stay calm. Seek medical attention and review the CDC's recommendations for care.
It's All About Respect
Snakes were there first and they'll still be there long after construction ends. When working in snake country just remember to keep your eyes peeled. Be extra mindful of how you're moving rocks and logs. It's a good practice to flip them towards you so that it's between you and whatever is underneath it. There's no need to be scared of snakes but you do need to respect their space. Venom is hard for them to produce and they're not looking to waste it on something too big to eat!
Want to go down the rabbit hole regarding venomous snakes? Check out this PDF from the University of Arkansas on encountering venomous snakes native to the region.
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