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Beware of snakes, county worker warns

It has been nearly a month since a rattler sighting at the Civic Center, but a recreation specialist isn't taking chances.

By SHERYL KAY
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002


First aid for snakebite
1. Wash the bite with soap and water.
2. Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart.
3. Get medical attention immediately.

What not to do after a snakebite
1. Do not put any ice or cold material on bite.
2. No tourniquets.

3. No incisions in the wound.

Did you know?
1. The most common treatment for poisonous snakebites is administering antivenin, and the word does not end in venom, but rather "venin," which comes from the Latin venenum meaning poison.
2. Antivenin is made from antibodies that are created in horse blood serum when the animal is injected with snake venom.
3. Venomous snakes bite 8,000 people a year, and nine to 15 die.
4. The potency of the venom can vary within species and even within litter mates, although newborns are in fact poisonous from birth.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

LUTZ -- It has been almost a month since Hillsborough County recreational specialist Connie Bowen posted pink signs in Lutz notifying people of a 4-foot rattlesnake spotted outside the back door of the Civic Center.

"Since that time no one has seen anything, but it's probably still out there," Bowen said recently. "The snakes have been here all along. In fact, they were here first."

Only six of the more than two dozen varieties of snakes in Florida are venomous. Of those, three are rattlesnakes. They are named for the noise they make by vibrating their tail, causing keratin remnants to click together.

But contrary to popular belief, the rattlesnake, a member of the pit viper family, does not always rattle its tail before it strikes.

Bowen, who is stationed at Nye Park, said there have been many reports of the Dusky Pygmyrattlesnake in the area.

"We see them up here all the time," she said. "It's nothing to see a possum or a deer, and you are going to have snakes."

Still, because the Civic Center's rattlesnake wasn't found, Bowen thought it best to let the public know so people could keep their eyes open.

"Rattlesnakes really don't want to be around people," she said. "They would rather leave than strike, but if you step on them, they will hit you."

When the snake was first sighted, Bowen telephoned county Animal Services and was told that the agency does not handle wildlife.

She was then referred to Animal Capture of Florida, an 8-year-old wildlife control company in east Tampa.

They dispatched a technician who spent almost an hour combing the area around the Civic Center and found nothing.

"All snakes are handled exactly the same way," said Animal Capture owner Charles Carpenter, who suggested that people take care, even if they think a snake is harmless. "A snakebite can hurt even if it's not poisonous," he said.

Bowen is not sure when the signs will come down, but for now she thinks public awareness is most important.

"Our (day care) kids are cautioned on a regular basis," she said. "Kids are good about letting us know right away that they've seen a snake -- usually they start screaming."

Still, Bowen reminded people that they should not be obsessed with the venomous vipers.

"We just need to be cautious, to watch where we step," she said.

* * *

-- You can reach Sheryl Kay at skreporter@hotmail.com.

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