Oh, Shoot!


Don't Get Rattled!

A funny thing to do is, if you're out hiking and your friend gets bitten by a poisonous snake, tell him you're going to go for help, then go about 10 feet and pretend that you got bit by a snake.
Then start an argument with him about who's going to go for help.  A lot of guys will start crying.  That's why it makes you feel good when you tell them it was just a joke.

- Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

Annual Admonitions

by Lee Reynolds

If you happen to be bitten by a rattler, don't panic.  Are you sure it was a rattler?  Most people have such a fear of snakes, they think any bite is venomous.  Rattlesnake venom is hemotoxic; it affects the blood.  (There is one exception and it doesn't live in the US.)  Panic, if the bite is "wet," will speed up the effectiveness of the venom.  Interestingly, the majority of rattlesnake bites are "dry."  In other words, the snake did not inject venom.  Injection is a conscious act and an adult rattler, unless it's as scared as you are, realises that this prey is way too big on which to waste precious venom.  Rattlers got street smarts.  Babies are another matter.  They have fully functioning venom glands and very poor judgment.

Anyway, if you have a wet bite, the area around it will exhibit painful swelling.  If you are lucky enough to have ice around, you might want to pack the area gently.  It is really stupid to cut the wound as you could lose a lot of blood; never try to suck out the venom.  Though the venom is protein and, in theory, can be swallowed and digested, there is a caveat.  You'd better not have any sores or cuts in your mouth, or worse, a stomach ulcer.

If you have been bitten, get to a doctor as quickly and calmly as possible.  Do not, under any circumstances, drink alcohol.  Keep in mind that it's very difficult to die of rattlesnake bite.  Pain, yes; death, no.  If you want to be wary of wildlife, stay away from bees.

Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser 14 April 1999

This message was posted via the Feedback form.
Name: Tom McDonald
Email: Quetzalcoatl@mad.scientist.com
Comments: Several items on the rattlesnake page are incorrect:

  1. Rattlesnake venom is a cocktail of several components, some of which are hemotoxic, some cytotoxic, and some neurotoxic.  In particular, the Mojave, Southern Pacific, Tiger, and Canebrake rattlesnakes all contain significant neurotoxins, and all are found in the US.
  2. Packing a bite in ice is a bad idea.  And sucking the venom with a Sawyer extractor (not with the mouth) is a good idea.
  3. Dry bite estimates are in the 30 - 50% range, rather than the "majority".

Using the Anderson Valley Advertiser as a source was probably a bad idea.  Use Google and check out the medical sites about rattlesnake bites...

Tom - thank you very much for the corrections.  My sincere apologies for passing on misinformation.

You Knowed I Was a Snake When You Puts Me in Your Pocket!

Taken from my journal Wednesday 28 July 1993, as we were in the US, preparing to immigrate to New Zealand:

We drove into Escondido [California] to be fingerprinted at the local police station, but they refused to do it because we didn't live in Escondido.  We asked the officer if he really expected us to go back to Texas, where we officially live, just to be fingerprinted.  He replied solemnly, "Rules are rules," and turned away.  We called nearby Valley Center and they said that the police department in Escondido was wrong, they had to fingerprint us if we requested it.  Rather than argue, we drove to Valley Center to be fingerprinted, then had to drive back to Escondido to shop.  (Some days are like that.)  I mailed the fingerprints to the FBI via overnight mail and also mailed a request for a copy of our marriage certificate (another immigration requirement).

Our motorhome still has a cracked front windshield.  I called Discount Auto Glass in Del Rio [Texas] (who replaced it the last time it was cracked) and, though they told us the last time that they would never do it again because it was so difficult, they finally agreed to order another replacement driver's side windshield and install it.  The glass should be there by the time we reach Del Rio.  We can have it installed in an afternoon, then be on our way to North Carolina to pick up our stuff.  (Of course, the glass will have to be shaved to make it fit.)

We called Keoni to see if he had heard anything from Harvey (the boat owner), but, so far, nothing.  I'm beginning to worry.  It no longer sounds like Harvey is quite as enthusiastic about this property swap as we had been led to believe.  We also returned our rental car and prepared the forms to send to our realtor so she can put our Dillon Beach house on the market.

We stopped at the post office on Thursday and mailed the forms to the realtor via overnight mail.  We said goodbye to Jeff's parents, then hit the road in our motorhome, headed east for Del Rio.  This is summer - not my favourite time of year to be driving through the desert, but we have no choice.

Late night: We were driving through Arizona on the Interstate, minding our own business, when we noticed our headlights were dim - so dim we couldn't see the road.  Jeff turned on our auxiliary generator which charged the batteries some - enough for us to make it to a truck stop just past Gila Bend.  So - that's where we spent our first night.

We drove to Tucson before daybreak on Friday.  We got there about 5am and parked beside an alternator repair place so that we could be their first customer in line.  They got to us right away and fixed the problem promptly since Jeff was able to tell them exactly what was wrong - a shorted alternator wire.  It only cost us $80.  I felt lucky.

We thought it seemed awfully hot today.  We found out later that it got up to 112º Fahrenheit in Tucson.  We drove to Tombstone - where it was a relatively cool 107º  - and spent the night at a KOA.

Saturday, the last day of July: a veritable cold spell has hit!  It only reached a relatively mild 102º today.  We drove into downtown Tombstone (less of a town, more of a movie set), but could find no sparkling water anywhere in town.  We went back to the KOA where Wolf, Cody, and Jeff went swimming in the pool (too hot to do anything else, really).  It rained a little in the afternoon which cooled things down three or four degrees.

We resumed our trip in the evening when it was cool enough that the automatic transmission didn't overheat and shift into low gear.  We drove as far as a truck stop just east of El Paso, at which point we pulled off and spent the night.

We got underway at dawn, before the sun got too hot and forced us to stop a while in the shade.  The first thing we saw was an overturned vehicle.  The car's headlights still shone, though they were no longer needed - indeed, they'd never be needed again.  The car rested on its back beside Interstate 10, wheels turned to the west Texas sky as if to catch the early sun.  The occupants of the car must be dead - the two county sheriffs, first on the scene, stood beside their Bronco waiting for reinforcements, looking like they wished they were somewhere else.  Luckily, we didn't have to stop to offer aid.

It was obvious the driver dozed at the wheel and veered off the road across the grooved strip on the right shoulder.  The grooves probably did their job, making enough noise to wake the driver with a start.  He'd likely jerked the wheel then because the car had rolled, side over side, completely flattening the top and leaving little chance anyone inside was alive.  There was no way to check until help arrived.  Meanwhile, the headlights saluted the new day.

We drove on, feeling more fortunate than we'd felt just moments before.  Being behind schedule paled.  Silence.

We made a good twenty miles before the screeching started.  Jeff pulled over to the shoulder of the Interstate.  "I've thrown a belt," he said.  No problem - by now, we knew enough to carry extras for them all.  But when he looked under the hood, all the belts were intact. He started the engine - more screeching and some smoke.  It took a few minutes to determine that the air pump had seized up entirely.  It was Sunday morning.  We were 15 miles east of Van Horn, Texas, population 2,889.  There was nothing in sight but desert and some purple mountains off in the distance.  The heat was already noticeable.

"What will you do?" I asked.

"I'll just have to take the pump off and see if I can free it up somehow," Jeff said.  "I'd better hurry."

He took his small toolbox and crawled under the front of the motorhome.  I gave Wolf and Cody a sweet roll each and settled down to read a magazine.  Within 10 minutes, Jeff threw the door opened and yelled, "A rattlesnake almost bit me!  Come out here and help me find him!"  There were few things I wanted to do less, but how could I say no?

"What happened?" I asked.  I looked around nervously and glanced down at my feet protected by open-toed sandals.

"I was lying on my back loosening nuts when I looked to the side and saw him sliding by me.  I froze, thinking he might not see me, but he stopped with his head a foot from my face!  I threw my toolbox at him and scraped the skin off my back getting out from under there."

"Where is he now?" I asked.

"Under the motorhome."

"Just leave him."

"I can't!" Jeff replied, "I've got to get this thing fixed before it gets too hot to work on it - we can't stay here all day."

He sent me inside to get "anything long and skinny."  I brought him the telescoping window squeegee.  He pushed it behind the front wheel and out slithered a rattler more than 4 feet long.  The snake coiled up beside the passenger door, tongue flicking.  Jeff threw a rock at him.  The snake began to rattle its tail, looking from side to side.  Cody opened the window right above the snake and stuck his head out.  Jeff yelled at him not to open the door, then eased around to the driver's door, opened it, and dashed inside to get his handgun.

Jeff had this handgun when I met him.  I knew it hadn't been fired or cleaned in at least 15 years.  I asked him to get rid of it - we are non-violent vegetarians - but it was a gift from his father (some gift!) - he had somehow never gotten around to disposing of it.  Jeff opened the door beside the snake and shot it.  I was surprised at what a tiny sound the gun made.  Blood spattered, but the snake, still very much alive, fled under the motorhome.  This time, the squeegee wouldn't reach him.  Finally, an agave flower stalk 8 feet long brought him out.  It took three more shots to kill him.  Dead, I could feel sorry for him.

The problem with the air pump wasn't so easily fixed.  (Actually, shooting it wouldn't have damaged it further and may have made Jeff feel better.)  Within half an hour, it was obvious the air pump was beyond repair.  However, Jeff had a fan belt an overzealous auto parts employee had sold him once, assuring him it was just the size he needed.  It was far too short; I'm a purger - I'd have thrown it away.  Jeff, the saver, was able to use this belt to bypass the air pump.  It was too large and smoked a little, but we drove slowly.  We made a u-turn across the dirt divider to the other side of the Interstate and drove 15 miles back to Van Horn.  The heat of the day found us in a Best Western drinking champagne in front of an air conditioner, waiting for Monday when the auto parts store would open.

Monday, 2 August: Jeff ordered a new air pump first thing.  The part should be here tomorrow morning.

Drought, Fires and Snakes

Thousands of snakes, many of them poisonous, have been driven from their usual habitats throughout the drought-parched state of Florida in search of water, and have bitten numerous residents.  The infestations came as scores of wildfires have blackened thousands of acres of brush and forest in recent weeks.  People along the entire length of the state have reported seeing snakes in their gardens, and 38 snake bites have occurred in South Florida alone so far this year.  None of the snakebite victims died because of an active state program that keeps anti-venom in abundant supply.

Source: The Los Angeles Times Syndicate Sunday 27 May 2001 © 2001 Earth Environment Service email mail@earthweek.com

Flying Snakes

This reptilian fuselage is the paradise tree snake of South-east Asia, whose habit of gliding from tree to tree has been the subject of recent research by John Socha, of the University of Chicago.  In flight, the snake's body flattens and its belly forms a slightly concave channel.  This creates an aerofoil which produces lift, and that lift is enhanced by a sidewinding motion perpendicular to the direction of travel.  Dr Socha's study, just published in Nature, reveals a remarkable aeronautical capability for a wingless creature.  The shallow angle of descent and the scope of the snake's steering surpass that set by other gliding animals such as flying frogs.

Source: The Economist 10 August 2002

Curiosity Fuelled a Life of Examining Snakes

by Roy Wenzl

Take a look at Joseph Bruno Slowinski.  In one photograph, he's a 12-year-old boy, holding a snapping turtle by the tail.  Tom Sawyer in a T-shirt.  Look at the eyes and that look-at-me look of triumph.  A child at play, and something more.

A scientist, one of Joe's professors would later say, is no more than a child who refused to grow up, who refused to stop asking "Why?"  Three years after his father took that picture, Joe was bitten by a rattlesnake.  By this time, Joe was already roaming the sandbars of the Kaw River with his mom, finding ancient elk antlers, bison skulls and mastodon teeth.

Later, he went to the University of Kansas, drank beer, cheered the Jayhawk basketball team and collected fossils for the school's Natural History Museum.  He caught copperheads for fun with his pal Stan Rasmussen in the woods of south Johnson County and along the banks of the Kaw.

He impressed some but not all of his professors with his intelligence.

He drank more beer.

He was bitten again, by a copperhead, when he was 20.  The next day, Stan picked him up from a hospital in Lawrence, drove him to Johnson County and helped him catch more copperheads.  Joe could use only one hand to catch them, because his thumb was swelled two inches across.

By the time he went to Burma for the 11th time this past August, he'd earned his PhD at the University of Miami, he'd become the associate curator of herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences and he'd won huge grants to study snakes.  He'd taught himself to read strands of DNA and to talk to mathematicians about imaginary numbers.  He'd taught Chinese photographer Dong Lin to swear, shot pool with frog specialist Guin Wogan, and kept cobras as pets.  He took his sister Rachel to Burma on one trip and showed her how it was possible to strap 16 cases on the back of an elephant so that his team could drink beer in the field.

In Burma, one cobra sprayed him in the eyes; another bit him on the hand during the filming of one of the two National Geographic specials devoted to his work.  In a profession where the discovery of one new species can make a career, Joe had discovered 18 new amphibians and reptiles.  At age 38, he was one of the world's best herpetologists.  He studied them in the laboratory; he discovered them in the jungle.  The total number of his discoveries might soon exceed 20 - his colleagues say there are probably a few new ones among the specimens his team brought back from Burma last month.

They brought them back along with Joe's cremated ashes.

11 September 2001:

"Hey, get up, come on, let's go, let's go look at snakes!"  Joe was waking the camp.  "Come on!"

Guin Wogan answered, "All right, all right, I'm there!"  She laughs when she remembers this.  Joe was so like a kid, she said.  He couldn't wait.

She stepped out of her tent, which she'd pitched under the roof of a local jungle schoolhouse.

All the other tents were pitched inside the school.  Joe was calling out, waking his team.  "Let's go!"

It was Tuesday, 11 September, before 7am Burmese time, half a world away from the team's home in San Francisco.  Guin was a frog specialist, and Joe had brought her along because he wanted to study more than snakes; he wanted to study everything.  On this trip he'd brought anthropologists: a fish expert named David Catania, a bird expert named Maureen Flannery, whom everyone called Moe.  "Let's look at snakes!"

They were to go exploring again on this day, but first Joe wanted to see the snakes his Burmese field team had caught the night before.  Dong could see that Joe could hardly wait.  Joe was wearing a T-shirt, khaki shorts and a grin.

The team gathered around a collection bag - Joe, Dong, Guin and the others.  Joe peered into the bag.  It was dark, still not quite 7 am in the jungle.  Too dark to see the snakes in the bag, Dong said.  Dong was standing beside Joe, two feet away, and Guin in front of Joe, also two feet away.  Joe looked over at his Burmese field team leader.

"Poisonous or nonpoisonous?"

Dong and Guin remember differently what was said next.  Guin said a Burmese man told Joe, "I don't know."  Dong thinks the man said, "not poisonous."

Joe stuck his hand into the bag.  Something happened.

"He looked up," Guin said.  "It was a look so strange I can't even describe it: surprise mixed with something else."

Joe pulled his hand out of the bag.  They saw a snake hanging from one of his fingers.  The snake was a juvenile, not more than 10 inches long.  Joe tried to pull it off.  He couldn't get it off right away; it took at least 10 seconds, Dong said.  Everyone stared.  They could see the snake was a multi-banded krait, a relative of the cobra, one of the more deadly serpents in creation.

Joe looked at the Burmese men.  One told Joe this same snake had bitten him when he caught it the night before; nothing had happened.  Joe seemed reassured.  Guin remembers Joe saying, "My skin's thick.  I don't think it got a fang into me.  I'll be fine."  Joe walked away, and Dong reached out and put his hand on Joe's neck.  "You gonna be all right, brother?"

"Yeah.  I'm gonna be all right."  Dong looked at him.  Joe shook his head.  "No, brother, I'm not going to die."

Joe told everyone he wanted to go to his tent.  "I'll call you over if I start to feel symptoms," Joe said.

He went to his tent.  He sat down.

Hours later, in Lawrence, Kansas, retired KU professor Joe Collins received a phone call that made him sit up straight.  On the phone was Joe Slowinski's father, Ron, calling from Kansas City, Missouri.  Ron said his son was somewhere in Burma, he'd been bitten by a snake, and Burmese army helicopters were trying to get him out, and the US embassy in Rangoon was calling all over Asia trying to find antivenin and the right hospital to fly him to.  Ron wanted to know: What is a krait?  And what can be done to help my son?

Collins is the founder of the Center for North American Herpetology, a snake expert.  This can only be considered a very serious bite, he told Ron.  Joe needs to get to a hospital because antivenin can be as dangerous as venom, Collins said.  Call the zoos in Atlanta, Georgia, and San Diego.  They have kraits and might know best how to help, he said.

Ron hung up.  He called the zoos.  He made many calls that day.  One was to New York, to tell Joe's mother, Martha Crow.  When he reached her, she was watching the World Trade Center disaster on television.  The planes had struck the buildings only a few hours before, only miles from her office.  Ron told her that Joe had been bitten.  He said Joe might be all right.  She didn't believe it.  She thought, "That was it."

But in the jungle at that hour, Joe's team had not given up.  Half an hour after the Krait bit him, Joe called everyone together.  Guin said he looked nervous, but sounded calm.  Dong said Joe told him that he was all messed up, only he used the f-word.  Joe explained to his friends that krait venom is a neuro-toxin that shuts down the nervous system.  There will be no pain, he told them.  "First my eyelids will drop; I'll not be able to hold them up."  After that, he would lose speech, he said.  Everyone stayed calm, Guin said.  Joe seemed confident.

He said he would stop breathing.  He said his lungs might restart after 48 hours.  In those 48 hours, he said, "You'll have to breathe for me."  He said they would have to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for those 48 hours or get him to a hospital where doctors could put a tube in his throat to feed him air.  The team was many miles from help; they had no telephones or radios because Burma's government doesn't allow foreigners to carry them in the field.  They would have to send a runner to the nearest village.

No one flinched, Guin said later: "Every person there said they would make this happen."  That might sound fantastic, Guin said, but the men and women standing around Joe at that moment were people who picked up poisonous snakes before breakfast, who walked fearlessly in jungles.  They weren't afraid of leeches, sand flies, sweat, heat, or the hardest questions of science.  If necessary, they could go days without beer.  They weren't afraid of kraits.  They weren't afraid of this.  "We just told him: Whatever it takes," she said.

Joe was slipping.

Guin said he wrote out notes about how to cut his throat for a tracheotomy, and to look for a plastic tube in the camp gear to intubate him.  They could find no tube.

A Burmese runner took off for the nearest village to summon help.  It would take him hours.

Guin thought they'd be able to breathe for him until the helicopters came.  When Joe stopped breathing, Moe took over.  She knew a bit of CPR, and she began to give Joe mouth-to-mouth.  She did it for hours.  When she began to tire, she told people between breaths that she must show them how.  Guin took over for Moe.  She blew breaths into Joe every 2 to 3 seconds, breathing herself, letting him exhale, then breathed for him again.  When she tired, Moe took over again.  They traded off until they tired.  "My lungs felt frayed," Guin said.

Moe told Dong to get ready.  Joe could not talk, but he was conscious and he could squeeze their hands to tell them what he wanted.  One squeeze meant he needed more air.  Shaking someone's hand from side to side meant "no."  When Joe heard that Dong was going to put his mouth on his, he shook hands vigorously.  "No, no, no."

"He was such a macho man," Guin said.  So she and Moe kept blowing into him.  They blew until they could not do it anymore.  Dong took over, put his mouth on Joe's mouth, and breathed.  And when Dong wore out, others took over.  The helicopters did not come.

They breathed for Joe for 24 hours, one by one.  Guin said Joe probably died long before they stopped.

Ron Slowinski said there will be at least one memorial service for his son.  That will be at the California Academy of Sciences, where Joe was associate curator of herpetology.  They have told him that his son was a brilliant man.  In addition to the Burma project, Joe had received word, just before he went to Burma in August, that his team had been awarded a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue his other big snake project in China.

There might be another gathering, sometime later this year, near Lawrence.  Ron said it would probably involve a small gathering of friends.  Maybe a picnic.  Maybe Stan Rasmussen could come, and herpetologists Joe Collins and Travis Taggert, and paleontologist Larry Martin, who said there is no difference between a scientist and a child.

"It's the adults who stop asking questions," Martin said last week.  "It's adults who assume they know all we need to know.  Joe never assumed that."

Perhaps they will walk outdoors.  "Maybe out where Joe used to walk with Stan," Ron said.  Stan Rasmussen, now an environmental lawyer with Black & Veatch, said he knows where he'd like to lead them.  It would be to the banks of the Kaw River.  Out there, on sandbars west of Bonner Springs, Joe and his mom had once dug an elk antler out of the sand with their fingernails.  Out there, Stan and Joe used to hunt snakes in the woodlands, and they used to walk all the sandbars, looking for bones, while they mimicked voices and lines stolen from Bugs Bunny cartoons.  They found chunks of mammoth tusks, and arrowheads and old bones.  They found a chunk of mastodon skull.  "And when we'd find this stuff, we'd yell," Stan said.  "We'd dance around like wild Indians, and we'd yell."

Roy Wenzl can be reached at rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

Source: The Wichita Eagle 8 October 2001

I didn't know Joseph Slowinski, but his story really affected me.  That's partly because I knew someone I believe was very similar to Joseph in many ways - a person who lived an expanding - but abbreviated - life.  Joseph's life story made me better able to understand my friend's life.  The rest of us benefit from knowing personalities such as theirs.  I hope they don't regret having to cut life short as their lives are compensated by inordinate richness.

See also:

Scotty of Scott Base - "...he was the most outgoing of the Scott Base lot, always glad to see you, flamboyant, mischievous, helpful, kind and more.  We threw darts together, he taught me a little about photography, and how to play the didjeridu.  He faced life with the attitude, "No drama.  Carry on."  I will miss him always..."

The next 3 pages are also about snakes: Snakes in Art, Art Nouveau Snakes, and Biological Anomaly? - the middle link provides access to some disturbing photos of a very unlucky boa constrictor.  Clicking the "Next" button below will take you to Snakes in Art.

For another lovely example of snakes in art, see the short, graceful animation Snakes based on a woodcut by M C Escher - unfortunately the clip is 9meg and requires a Flash plugin (but worth it!).  It will open in a new window...

For more on animals, including reptiles, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, fish, birds, pets, livestock, rodents, bears, primates, whales and Wellington's waterfront, click "Up" below to take you to the Index for this Animals section.

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