Snakes all around us
BOB MILLER/TIMES NEWS A timber rattlesnake is seen resting outside a home in Nesquehoning.
You never know when you'll encounter a snake.
Earlier this month, a woman hiking Glen Onoko Falls was taken to a hospital to be evaluated for a potential copperhead snakebite.
An update on her condition is unknown, but such an unfortunate experience can happen to anyone.
Lew Williams, park manager for Tuscarora and Locust Lake State Parks, said that snake sightings only occur once or twice a summer.
While it is rare for hikers to see venomous snakes in those parks, it can happen in the area.
It helps to know which are venomous and which are harmless in order to handle an encounter and ease common fears.
Of the 21 species native to Pennsylvania, only three are venomous, two of which are found in our area: The northern copperhead, which is the most common of the three, and the timber rattlesnake, which is the largest.
There are a few distinctions that determine whether or not a snake is venomous. Nonvenomous snakes have narrowly shaped heads, while venomous snakes' heads are more triangular and have a heat-sensing pit between their eye and nostril.
Their eyes also differentiate the two. A catlike pupil is a feature of venomous snakes, but a harmless snake has round pupils similar to those of a human.
Rattlesnakes and copperheads tend to dwell in mountainous, rocky regions where it is dry. Therefore, hikers should be especially aware of their surroundings.
Megan Fedor, environmental education specialist at Hickory Run State Park, said that a lot of people visiting Boulder Field are concerned about snakes, but encounters are uncommon.
"It's possible to see them around the edge," Fedor said, but because frogs and rodents don't live among the rocks, you probably won't see them throughout the field.
Jeannie Carl, naturalist for the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, said, "It's up to us to be aware of where we're sitting and where we're putting our hands. We have to be cautious, especially this time of year."
Carl said that there may not be a rhyme or reason for snakes leaving their dens, other than to eat.
Certain snakes may dwell near water, usually because their prey are the ones flocking to lakes and streams.
Mark Nalesnik, director of emergency management for Carbon County, said that it's common to see snakes lying in the sun, especially during the hot summer months.
"Typically, they lay out on the blacktop because it aids their digestion," Nalesnik said.
He also cautioned people to simply leave a snake alone. "They live here. They were here first," he said.
Regardless of the type of snake, it is best to simply back away slowly if you encounter one. If it happens to be venomous, it won't strike unless it feels cornered and threatened.
According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, it is a common misconception that people believe venomous snakes to be especially aggressive. If you give it space, it will retreat.
If you do happen to be bitten by a venomous snake, get to the nearest hospital immediately to ensure that you receive antivenin as quickly as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, sucking the venom from a wound will not alleviate any symptoms.
Because a snakebite affects the nerves of the body part that was bitten, it is best to remain calm and immobile until help arrives.
According to Jeannie Carl, it is possible to be bitten by a snake but not injected with venom.
"There are muscles that control those venom glands. They instinctually will know not to waste the venom on something that is not food," she said.
Because snakes play a significant role in the ecosystem, it is important that humans don't kill snakes, which is often an immediate reaction when we see one.
The adage applies: They're more afraid of us than we are of them.