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Snake expert aims to take a bite out of fear

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By Ada Ciuca

For the Los Alamos community, this summer has been one filled with hot days, flash flood warnings, and rattlesnake sightings. During a snake encounter, most people have a tendency to become scared and defensive, but local snake expert Tom Wyant does not encourage that behavior.
In an attempt to educate members of the community, Wyant, the go-to man for locals experiencing snake issues, conducted a free class called “Snake Safety” at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC). Throughout the class, he kept referring to the slithery creatures as beautiful and essential for the environment, as they eat disease-carrying rodents without being able to transmit diseases any further.
“I’m a snake enthusiast,” Wyant said during the presentation. To prove his point, he brought along some friends- an assortment of eight snakes, some of which were venomous rattlesnakes. Wyant spent time showing off the less dangerous snakes, allowing them to coil around his arms and neck. As it turns out, most of the snakes roaming around Los Alamos gardens are corn snakes, garter snakes, bull snakes, and other variations of non-venomous species.
Rattlesnakes are the more dangerous common find, but by following some set rules, close encounters can be avoided. First of all, in order to prevent snake bites, one must be aware of his or her surroundings. Steps such as walking on clear ground, using a walking stick to rustle shrubs along the sides of hiking trails, wearing protective clothing, and wearing gloves when using the hands to move rocks are simple, effective ways of preventing an accident in the first place.
In the event of a snake encounter, one must first slowly look around, as there might be more snakes. As soon as the creature is spotted, one must stop, and slowly begin to back away from the reptile. Snakes feel the presence of humans through vibrations in the ground, so as long as the vibrations are nonexistent, it is easier to avoid the hazard. Protective clothing is always a good idea, as it eliminates the chance of snakes being attracted to one’s body heat.
If a bite does occur, it is important to remain calm, as any activity which speeds the heart rate and metabolism will increase the spreading rate of venom through the body. Do not attempt to capture the snake, but stay at a safe distance, keeping the bitten area immobilized and at level with the heart. Never use ice to treat the bite, nor use bite kits. The only treatment proven to be effective in such cases is the appropriate serum/antivenin, administered by a medical professional.
For those that feel safer being able to identify types of snakes, some field guides may be useful. Non-venomous snakes have rounded heads, rounded pupils, sharp teeth, and no fangs. Their belly plates are in two sections to their sharp, pointed tails. Venomous snakes have triangular heads, elliptical pupils, and upper jaws with fangs. Their belly plates extend all the way across their bodies to their blunt or rounded tails.
In some cases, as a defense mechanism, non-venomous snakes may try to take on the appearance of venomous snakes in an attempt to be left alone.
True rattlesnakes do not always give a warning before striking, so always be aware no matter how harmless the creature may look.
In case of a snake emergency, call Tom Wyant at 505-665-1692, or the Wildlife Center at 505-753-9505. 

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