Snake Safety Tips
- Learn to identify Michigan snakes. Distinguish rattlesnakes from other snakes which may resemble them. Children can also be taught to identify the massasauga.
- Wear protective footwear when walking in snake country, especially at night. It is advisable to wear ankle high hiking boots or rubber boots, thick socks and long pants - especially when hiking in open rocky areas or where vision may be obscured.
- DO NOT pick up snakes or other wild animals. This is the most common cause of bites!
- DO NOT harass, chase or threaten a snake. This is the second most common cause of bites. Most importantly, never kill a rattlesnake - it's unnecessary, dangerous and AGAINST THE LAW.
- Always watch where you are putting your feet and hands. Poke around with a stick before reaching into brush, under rocks, or into dark places where snakes may be hiding.
- If you hear a rattlesnake, STAY CALM! Stop walking and determine the snake's location, slowly move away from the snake and give it room to slither away. Never make sudden moves. A fast motion can easily be mis-interpreted by the snake as a threat.
- Keep pets on leashes; curious pets at large are more often the victims of snakebite than people are. If you suspect that your pet has been bitten, you should take it immediately to the veterinarian.
- If you come across a snake, the best advice is to simply leave it alone!
Avoiding and Treating Rattlesnake Bites
Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are shy creatures that will avoid humans whenever possible. If the snake doesn't feel threatened, it will let you pass without revealing its location. If you do get too close without realizing it, a rattlesnake will generally warn you of its presence by rattling its tail while you are still several feet away. If given room, the snake will slither away into nearby brush. Snakebite can be avoided by following basic safety precautions. However, snakebites can and do occur. This is primarily the result of careless behavior, handling of snakes, or provocation. But this can also occur when an unseen snake strikes because it feels cornered or threatened.
Due to its small size and limited striking distance, the massasauga cannot strike very high above the ground unless it is in an elevated position on a log or boulder. The most common strikes tend to occur at the boot top level when a person steps over or on a snake. Bites may also occur to the hands, when reaching into areas where vision is obscured.
Unsafe/risky acitivities commonly associated with those few bites that do occur
- Walking barefoot in rattlesnake country.
- Looking for firewood at night.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol in conjunction with snake handling; the linkage between alcohol consumption and the incidence of snakebite represents a proportionally high percentage of reported snakebite cases.
- Illegal collection of rattlesnakes; in the United States, 50% of snakebites are associated with illegal collecting!
What to do if you or someone with you gets bit
- Remain calm. Move away from the snake to avoid sustaining further possible bites.
- If possible, sit down and wait for help to arrive. Try to move as little as possible because venom spreads more rapidly if you walk fast or run.
- Remove rings, watches, bracelets.
- Go to the nearest hospital immediately. Doctors will decide if antivenom or other treatments are needed.
- DO NOT cut or use ice on the wounds.
- DO NOT place a tight-fitting tourniquet around the affected arm or leg.
- Remember that there have been no recorded fatalities in Michigan from massasauga bites in over 50 years.
Contacts for more information about snakebites
- Michigan Poison Control Center
- (800) 222-1222
- Detroit Zoological Institute
- (248) 398-0903