Some 8000 people a year are bitten by snakes; mostly poison types. Pets are very liable to be bitten and in some cases with the larger constrictors eaten. Therefore I want to talk about your chickens, rabbits, dogs and cats from my observations on the homestead.
I had mentioned that we have Blacksnakes in out attic through the winter over the kitchen and they are most efficient slithering about in the attic ways catching mice. They are harmless to us and we never see them, save in the spring when they slip out and sometimes in the fall when they slip back in.
Watching the Blacksnake reveals a very intelligent, thoughtful predator of rodents and small pray, including undesirable snakes. My first experience was watching “Gerti” slithering along the side of the house, occasionally raising her head to inspect the soffit overhang about 8 feet higher than the ground level. She spied a small opening and started to “S” shape her body vertically in the corner, got her head in the hole and pulled her self up, disappearing into the attic area.
This demonstrated to me their keen vision, a sense of returning each year to a warm winter retreat, and maintaining a source of mouse food. India, most of Indonesia, parts of Africa all have “House Snakes”. These are bought and kept as house pets to kill off the Cobras and other very undesirable poison varieties. If you live in the Back2theLand you will certainly see Blacksnakes and they are to be greatly respected. Your local State Fish and Game web page will help you identify snakes in your state.
Recently scientists have discovered a gene that actually causes great fear of snakes. This is probably a very old prehistoric survival gene dating beyond time when we were still stumbling about the great Savannas and Forests fearing the slow slippery stealth at night of the evil snakes. Such built in fear often causes wrong reactions to beneficial snakes and if bitten by a poison variety more wrong reaction in abandoning the victims medical treatment, raising the hue and cry to kill the snake, who incidentally was reacting in its own self defense perspective.
One frosty morning in the chicken house I was sorting among some pots and found a Blacksnake coiled neatly. It was torpid in the cold but what had lured it in the chicken house was the smell of food. The Blacksnake was patiently awaiting spring and baby chicks I suspect. It would behoove the chicken fancier to check the odds and ends while cold weather prevails. Old Timers tell me of the snake’s eating chicken eggs early on. They said to cut a hole between the egg nests so that when the snake, gorging on one nest of eggs and slipping into the next through the hole, and goring again, would be trapped between the holes by the fat eggs in the body. Whether or not this works I do not know, but it is a bit of folklore. As for the Blacksnake, well I gently picked up the coil and carried it to a warm spot in the barn, hoping the cats would not discover it. Nowadays I carry them to the Woodshed and place them high for the suns warmth and early mouse treats.
I used to keep rabbits behind the chicken house and at that time viewed one Blacksnake slipping about eyeing the empty house for a winter retreat. Nowadays I see them mostly in the log retaining wall I have in the garden where the logs facing west gain the winters sun and they have protection during their long winters sleep.
Woodpiles are a favorite of Copperhead snakes and since they retain heat the less than torpid Copperhead is till a danger to the wood bearer. Not many people have woodsheds anymore and those who burn firewood simply make a pile outside and at best throw a tarp over the pile. Eventual these people learn the importance of stacking wood for proper drying and ease of loading in the winter storms. Now back to the Copperheads in the loose structured pile of wood. The fellow I helped with his Copperhead bite had but a small six-inch snake that caught him on the finger. Being an Old Timer, independent and tough with no medical insurance he made a poultice of potatoes to draw the poison. He was aware of several old Indian remedies, but alas it was later on in the fall with frosts and all the famous herbs had died back.
There are a number of old time remedies-mostly useless. If we look at the snake fangs you will note they often exceed two inches and when making contact they are buried in the flesh right up to the mouth roof where the pressure is placed on the poison glands and the poison is squirted into the victim. Referring back to that eleven-foot monster Rattlesnake that set of fangs would be proportionally longer and probably go right through your arm. This means the venom is deeply seated. The old time view of cutting and sucking is not going to do much good as you would have to cut very deep and thereby severing veins and possibly an artery.
The purpose of the hemotoxin venom is to cause rot in the tissue so the snake can digest the mouse or small animal. Before the digestion phase the venom moves to the heart with more blood loss internally and the small animal dies. Then the snake can unhinge its jaws and gradually swallow the victim. When the venomous snake strikes a large animal, or man, it is in defense of its territory as a predator. Interestingly, there is specie of the western desert Mohave rattlesnake that exudes not only hemotoxin poison but neurotoxin as well.
Mrs. M. Grieve in her well researched herbals: “ A Modern Herbal, Volume II, page 640, refers to the Common and Ribwort Plantain as a poultice for snakebite. Common names for this plant with 200 variants are the “Snakeweed” and “Snake Plantain”. How effective this is I know not but she documents the following commentary: …Dr, Robinson (New Family Herbal) tells us that an Indian received a great reward from the Assembly of South Carolina for his discovery that the Plantain was “ the chief cure of the rattlesnake.” There were other references in this vein relating to treating a dog. Being a medicinal herbalist and with snakebite experience, living in the hinterlands I though to have some of this on hand and cooked up a gallon jar full of Ribwort Plantain in hot lard extract for an occasion on my pets, or myself till I can get to the physician. Only the Ribwort, defined by its “ribs” in the leaves as opposed to the editable smooth leaf Plantain is the choice herb. There are many other herbs nominated for snakebite poultices, and in olden days this is only what people had. The Virginia Snake Vine is another, but try to find it when you want it. Most wild herbs are very scarce anymore as lawn culture as taken over.
I need to add this common plant is a favorite food of sheep and mankind; the latter refers to less prosperous survival days.
I want to make it clear that if bitten it is imperative to seek a responsible Medical Doctor, as the amount of venom injected may be small, or copious, according to the snakes recent feeding. I have read that most venomous snakes may require two weeks to regenerate their full capacity. This is learned from the Serpentariums that “milk” snakes for their venoms to make anti-venoms. Other sources say two to three days.
When starting baby chicks I always follow nature and start them in May, which is the natural hatch time at this latitude. Mother rabbits are best bred in late February for a successful blessing. Cages are often employed and I think that 1/2” wire space is adequate to keep pest out. Of course there is the daily check when feeding and watering. See my earlier articles in the archives on rabbits and chickens.
Dogs seem to be an easy target for rattlesnakes, probably as they want to instinctively protect you while you are on the hiking trail, fishing and camping this summer. Of course I am going to rush my dog, if bitten-even a suspect of being bitten to a veterinarian. However not all vets have the anti-venom on hand and it is best to find out who has what in advance so you do not waste time. Expect a bill of at least $3,500.00.
In the recent edition of the magazine: Dog Fancy, you will enjoy an article on snakebites and dogs. Also if you go to GOOGLE IMAGES and type in Snakes-Bites, you will find an endless source of pictures and interesting blogs.
I did find an interesting fictional adventure thriller snake movie that was done in good taste; it was filmed in Fiji with lots of action, and spiders too. The title of this DVD is: “ANACONDAS-The Search for the Blood Orchid” You will enjoy it. Check with Big Lots DVD selections.
COPYRIGHT: 2010, Back2theLand.com, Mark Steel