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Volume 46 | Issue 6 | July 30, 2004

People and Places

Don't Mess with Mr. Green

Mr. Green.
It's a good idea to give this guy a wide berth when treading on his turf.
NASA Photo By Carla Thomas

Respecting Mr. Green

Avoid walking through areas with dense brush, woodpiles or rocks where snakes can hide.

Watch where you step, and avoid putting feet and hands into areas where visibility is restricted.

Wear high boots and heavy pants.

Wear gloves when moving brush and rocks or clearing high grass.

Use a flashlight at night.

Be aware of your surroundings.

    

Snake-bite First Aid

Call 911 or get the victim immediate medical care.

Wash the bite with clean water and soap.

Keep the victim calm, immobilize the bite area and keep it lower than the heart.

Do not use a tourniquet, apply ice, cut the bite marks or use electrical shock.

Do not attempt to catch the snake and take it along to the doctor.

By Curtis Peebles
Dryden History Office

My first thought when I saw the snake was, "Wow - it really is green."

His recent visit to my front yard was sobering, to say the least. And with the desert summer in full swing, I figured it was time to bone up on Mr. Green's proclivities, as a hedge against any future encounters taking a turn for the worse.

The Mojave rattlesnake, better known as the "Mojave Green," has a fearsome and well-deserved reputation. Considered more aggressive than other species of rattlesnakes, the Mojave Green's appearance is similar to that of his kin - flat, triangular head, heavy scales, a thick body with a diamond camouflage pattern and rattles on the tail. The nickname comes as a result of the species commonly having a greenish tint, in contrast to the normal brown or yellow color of other rattlesnakes.

The Mojave Green is considered the most dangerous of the various species of rattlesnakes due to the lethality of its poison. Snake venom is of two types. The first is hemotoxin, which destroys blood cells and tissue to help the snake predigest its prey. The other, that of the Mojave Green, is neurotoxin, which destroys nerves and nerve tissue; this paralyzes the snake's prey and prevents its escape. In a high enough dose, neurotoxin can stop the breathing process. As a result, anyone bitten by a Mojave Green needs medical attention, as one person noted, "pretty damn quick."

Mojave Greens and humans most often collide where their two worlds meet. Dryden is one such example. The snake's normal habitat exists within a short distance of Center facilities. Housing developments built on the edge of open desert create a similar situation.

At Dryden, anyone seeing a snake - of any kind - should call 911 immediately. Snake handlers and Air Force wildlife personnel will arrive to remove it. If possible the snake should be watched, from a safe distance, to avoid the building-wide search that would inevitably be necessary following its escape.

At home, if a Mojave Green is sighted inside the house or garage, county animal control officials should be called immediately, and all pets and children kept away. While it is recommended that a snake seen outside the house, such as in the yard, should also be reported to animal control, my own experience demonstrated that there can be considerable delay in response. By the time help arrived at my house, Mr. Green was long gone.

Little can be done to make one's home less attractive to the Mojave Green. Obvious measures include removing tall grass, which attracts mice and provides cover. Another is to remove piles of wood and rocks. During the hottest part of the summer snakes are most active in the morning and evening; to avoid the midday heat, a Mojave Green will seek shade. As a result even limited landscaping, such as trees or hedges, can be attractive. Any condition humans would find uncomfortable is similarly avoided by the snake.

The number of snakes living in an area often varies widely depending on conditions. I hadn't seen a Mojave Green (or any other type of rattlesnake) in more than three years of living in the area. Then, in the period of about a month, I was visited by Mr. Green and at least two of his friends.

Common folklore holds that if you see one rattlesnake, you should look for another. While Mojave Greens are normally solitary, they will come together to mate. Like other rattlesnakes, they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. For these reasons, there may be a large number of Mojave Greens in a limited area until they disperse. Disturbances such as construction or livestock herds in an area can also cause Mojave Greens and other snakes to cluster.

The Mojave Green has its enemies. Kingsnakes will kill rattlesnakes. Birds such as hawks, eagles, owls and ravens o will attack Mojave Greens. Finally, some mammals also will prey upon them.

Despite the Mojave Green's reputation, most people will never see one. Even those who actively hike in the desert see rattlesnakes infrequently. Given the chance, snakes will avoid human contact. To put the level of risk in perspective, more than 8,000 people are bitten by snakes every year in the U.S. Of these, less than a dozen die. The population groups most likely to be bitten are young children and males in their late teens or early twenties, the latter due to their provoking or trying to catch or kill snakes. Most snake bites could be avoided if the snake were simply left alone.

The simple fact is that this is a desert, and the desert is where rattlesnakes live. The Mojave Green is just another part of the landscape. But if you should meet Mr. Green, remember that it's best to give him a wide berth.

Shannon Collis of the Edwards Air Force Base 95th Air Base Wing Environmental Management office contributed to this article.