On Your Health

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Snakes in Oklahoma

Now that we’ve moved into warmer weather in Oklahoma (at least this week) you might soon start planning your summer activities like camping, hiking, going to the lake and being outdoors. But don’t forget, warmer weather means it’s snake season, too. There are some important things to know about the types of snakes in Oklahoma and their dangers. Here’s a quick guide to keep your family safe this summer.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Venomous snake species in Oklahoma

There are several things to look for on a snake that can help identify if it is venomous. The first is its head shape. Typically, venomous snakes have heads that are diamond or triangular in shape. Venomous snakes also have pits on each side of the head between the nostril and the eyes. These characteristics are normal trademarks of vipers, the most common species of venomous snakes. The shape of the snake's eyes can also be a giveaway. If the eyes have vertical pupils (like cat eyes) it’s a strong indicator that snake is poisonous. But perhaps you don’t need to worry too much: out of 46 species in Oklahoma, only seven are venomous.

Venomous snakes include:

  • Cottonmouths/Water Moccasin
  • Copperhead
  • A Variety of Rattlesnakes: Western Diamondback, The Timber, The Prairie, Western Massasauga, Western Pigmy

Cottonmouths, copperheads, massasaugas and pigmy rattlesnakes are usually found in moist areas. Others are found near prairies and in southern and western Oklahoma where rocky ridges are common. A rocky terrain is a prime place for these southwestern snakes to warm in the sun.

Graham's Crayfish snake  

Non-venomous snake species in Oklahoma

  • Water snakes
  • Garter snakes
  • King snakes
  • Rat snakes

Compared to venomous snakes, non-venomous snakes tend to have small and narrow shaped heads. Most people commonly mistake ordinary water snakes for the venomous cottonmouths or copperheads when fishing or swimming. Cottonmouths are larger snakes, dark in color with a distinct white mouth when opened. Copperheads are small, lighter in color and have tannish pink hues. From a distance, you can see that non-venomous water snakes only swim with the upper halves of their body out of the water. Either way, it’s best to steer clear.

Garter snakes, rat snakes and king snakes can be found in various terrains, including damp woodlands, meadows, prairies and farms. Their prey includes rodents, small mammals, frogs and lizards. If you own chickens, king snakes are frequently found near the coop trying to steal eggs.

How to avoid snakes

We all wish to never bump into a snake, and there are things you can do to lower your chances. For example, when spending time outdoors in areas where snakes are prevalent, be sure to wear tall boots and long pants. Always keep a keen eye and stay aware of your foot placement, especially in high grass, wooded areas and rocky terrain. The best way to avoid snakes is to walk on clear paths, free of debris.

You can reduce the chance of running into a snake around your home by removing tall grass, brush piles and piled materials. Try to seal any cracks in foundations, windows, doors and air conditioners to help prevent them from entering your home.

How to deal with a snakebite

Dr. William Banner, who specializes in pediatric critical care and toxicology at INTEGRIS, gives some tips on dealing with a snake bite.
“When dealing with a snake bite at home, try your best to leave the bite alone. Be sure to never puncture, tourniquet or ice your wound,” Banner says. “The best thing you can do is move to a safe place, monitor your heart rate and breathing, note the time of the bite so it can be reported, and get to the emergency room as soon as possible.”
Once you're in the hospital, treatment may include the use of antivenin, lab work, pain sedation medications and supportive care.

Facts from the doctor

  1. The black and yellow rhyme, “Red touch black, safe for Jack. Red touch yellow, kills a fellow,” does not apply in Oklahoma. If you see a bright red and yellow snake, it’s best to get out of the way as quickly as possible, rather than looking at each stripe.
  2. It is a myth that snakes are more dangerous in springtime because they have stronger venom.
  3. Copperhead bites are the most common snakebites in Oklahoma.
  4. If you text "poison" to 797979 you will get a contact number sent to your phone for the poison control center, or call 1-800-222-1222.

Use this information to help you and your family better prepare for the upcoming snake season in Oklahoma. Keep in mind how to correctly identify venomous and non-venomous snakes, stay aware of your surroundings and take proper action if a snake bite occurs.

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