Rattlesnakes in New Mexico Rattlesnakes in New Mexico
Credit: John Arnold

Warmer weather signals start of snake season

“Be on the lookout” urges NM Poison Center

It's snake season in New Mexico, and the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center has some tips to keep you safe.

Venomous snakes in New Mexico include the prairie, western diamondback, rock, Mojave, black tailed, ridgenose and massassauga rattlesnakes and the coral snake.

Snakes seek shelter from the sun under rocks and bushes, and in caves and animal burrows. At night, when it’s cooler, snakes become active hunting their prey. Practice the following prevention tips to avoid a snake bite:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Walk in areas where the ground is clear so you can see where you step.
  • Be aware of where you sit especially in shady areas.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long pants and hiking boots.
  • Wear gloves when using your hands to move brush or rocks.
  • Don’t reach into cracks in rocks, animal burrows or under bushes.
  • Don’t walk around at night or sleep on the ground – snakes are most active at night.
  • Don’t tease, kill or handle a rattlesnake. 
  • If you encounter a snake, don’t panic or blindly run away. Look carefully where you are going.

The most important first-aid tip if bitten by a snake is to call the New Mexico Poison Center and get to the nearest hospital right away.

“Do not try any other first-aid methods because they are often useless and may cause more harm,” cautions Steven Seifert, MD, medical director of the New Mexico Poison Center, part of the UNM College of Pharmacy. If you are bitten by a snake follow these safety precautions:

  • Get to the nearest hospital right away.
  • Keep calm.
  • Put a safe distance between you and the snake. Snakes can strike to a distance up to two-thirds of their body length.
  • Remove rings, watches and bracelets, and loosen tight clothing.
  • Keep the bite area loosely immobilized and level with the heart.
  • Carry a cell phone to call for help if needed.

Call the New Mexico Poison Center for poisoning emergencies, questions about poisons, or for information about poison prevention, 24 hours a day, toll free at 1-800-222-1222.

New Mexico Rattlesnake-Bite Bits

  • New Mexico has the second highest number of rattlesnake bites annually per capita in the U.S.
  • In New Mexico, there are approximately 80 rattlesnake bites reported annually between April and October, but they can occur any time of year during a significant warming trend.
  • In New Mexico, more rattlesnake bites are reported from Albuquerque to the south; but with our temperature variations throughout the year, snake bites happen all over the state.
  • Most bites in New Mexico occur in lower elevations, oftentimes in wilderness areas where there are fewer humans displacing them.
  • Based on general snake populations in the state, the Western Diamondback and Prairie rattlesnakes probably are the greatest culprits for snakebites in New Mexico. Identifying which species of rattlesnake has struck is irrelevant. Don’t try to capture or kill the snake for identification purposes. There’s a single effective anti-venom solution for all rattlesnake bites.
  • Most accidental snakebites are on a person’s lower extremities – feet and lower legs – but bites also can occur on upper extremities – hands and arms – particularly when one is deliberately interacting with a rattlesnake.


TOP 5 Snakebite Myths

Rattlesnakes always rattle a warning before they strike.

Not necessarily. Many bites occur without a preceding rattle. There are two kinds of bitess, including accidental bite while walking or hiking or when reaching into blind areas while rock climbing. Rattlesnakes in New Mexico are well blended into their habitat. Provoked bites happen when a person chooses to interact with a snake. About half of rattlesnake bites in New Mexico are provoked and are thus preventable.

When bitten, always apply a tourniquet.

Please don’t. Venom circulates in the body through our lymphatic system, rendering a tourniquet useless. The process is very slow, which is why a victim has time to get care. Initially, most damage from a snake bite is happening at the site, so don’t risk increased damage there. Tourniquets also can add the possibility of ischemic injury from lack of blood flow to the affected area.

You can successfully suck the venom from a bite site.

Not true. Following a bite, venom is not sitting in a pool under the skin – it’s rapidly dissecting through tissues and entering your lymphatic circulatory system. Even with immediate application of a suction device, less than 1 percent of the venom from a bite can be removed. Other than removing jewelry and reducing tight clothing in the bite area, there’s nothing that can help the situation prior to getting to a hospital.

Baby snake venom is more potent than that of an adult.

Not true. The bigger the snake, the bigger the venom gland and potentially the larger amount it can inject. From a physical standpoint, a bigger snake has an easier job of biting, as well. Twenty percent of rattlesnake bites are dry bites, where no venom is released into the bite victim.

There are no coral snakes, copperheads or cottonmouths in NM.

New Mexico doesn’t have copperheads or cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins. We do have a species of venomous coral snake, although it’s different from those found in Texas and Florida. Coral snakes located in the very southwest corner of New Mexico near the Arizona border are very small and therefore have difficulty biting and injecting venom. It’s a very small population of snakes in a very isolated region of New Mexico.

Categories: College of Pharmacy, Patient Care

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