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WARMTH MEANS SNAKES ARE BACK.

Byline: Carol Rock Staff Writer

NEWHALL - Rattlesnakes, like humans, are learning to roll with the punches Mother Nature throws into life.

Despite fires that ravaged canyons and hillsides on the northwest parts of Santa Clarita, the rebirth of spring also means more rattlesnakes on trails used by thousands of area residents.

Lisa Eldridge, an officer with the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, said two rattlesnakes were found last week at the Castaic Sports Complex, and rangers at Towsley Canyon in Newhall report that the reptiles have been spotted defending their place in the food chain in the green areas near the Nature Center there, having been forced away from hillsides by the clearing that came with fast-moving flames in the fall.

But they're not after those at the top of the chain, officials remind. The intimidating-seeming snakes would actually rather avoid an encounter than strike at someone crossing their path.

The variety of rattlesnakes in Southern California is wide and includes the Western diamondback, sidewinder, speckled, red diamond, Southern Pacific, Great Basin and Mojave. And the warming weather is bringing them all out.

``Snakes don't have internal temperature regulators like humans do,'' said Wendy Langhans, director of volunteer services for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority at Towsley Canyon. ``They regulate by exposing themselves to sun or shade and are most active when the temperatures are between 75 and 90 degrees, which is what we're enjoying now.''

Langhans said that rattlers will be active during spring days, when warmer temperatures send them seeking the sun, and active on summer nights, when soaring heat forces them to seek shelter under rocks and in shady places.

A little bit of caution and respect goes a long way to prevent dangerous encounters with rattlers, she said. In her experience, Langhans has seen a pattern: hikers who get bitten are often careless or provoke the snakes to attack instead of the other way around.

``Don't provoke them, and don't take their mood for granted,'' she said. ``Stay on the trails and don't put your hands where you haven't checked it out first.

``We have people on the trails who see the new growth after the fire that go off to see what's out there or wear sandals or flip-flops. There's a reason hiking boots are designed to go over the ankle, to protect the spots where most people are bitten.''

Recent fires in Towsley Canyon changed the snakes' natural habitat, eliminating much of the shelter and some food sources. Rangers have noticed more snakes closer to the Nature Center in Towsley, which is located in a natural greenbelt and is a water source for the small birds and rodents upon which the snakes feed.

Eldridge, who works at the county's Castaic Animal Shelter, said that rattlesnake season has definitely begun, keeping animal control officers busy on a daily basis.

``We get a few calls every day for snakes that are coiled up,'' she said. ``When we go out there, they turn out to be gopher snakes, which we just remove. If it's a rattlesnake, we either destroy them there or transport them and destroy them somewhere else. If there are kids around, we wouldn't kill them there.''

Eldridge said that recent fires may have shifted some of the locations rattlers call home. ``Wherever vegetation grows back, there will be more rabbits and therefore more to eat,'' she explained.

Just about anywhere in California is snake country, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Rattlesnakes live from sea level to the inland prairies and desert areas to the mountains at elevations of more than 10,000 feet.

Annually, approximately 8,000 people are treated for poisonous snake bites across the country, but the California Poison Control Center notes that rattlesnakes account for 800 of those bites, with only a few resulting in death.

All rattlesnake bites should be treated in hospital emergency rooms and severe symptoms may require administration of antivenin. Symptoms may include swelling, pain, nausea, vomiting, sweating, chills, dizziness, tingling and numbness, changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Snake venom may also affect the ability of the blood to clot.

Hikers should stick to well-used trails and wear over-the-ankle boots and loose-fitting long pants. Rocks and logs should be stepped on, not over, and extra caution should be used when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. At home, be wary of doorsteps, as snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings because they are protected on one side.

Wildlife officials, despite the questionable popularity of snakes, still insist that the best snake is one that is alive and well. According to the California Department of Fish and Game Web site, ``Snakes, even rattlesnakes, provide humans with a tremendous service. They eat rodents, other reptiles and insects and are in turn eaten by other predators.''

Carol Rock, (661) 257-5252

carol.rock(at)dailynews.com

PROTECT YOURSELF

Tips from the County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services to use regarding the increasing presence of rattlesnakes in the area.

--If you see a snake, leave it alone. Even a dead snake's reflexes make it capable of biting. Call Animal Control to have dead snakes removed.

--Do not pick items from a wood or trash pile with your bare hands; use a long stick or pole instead.

If you or someone in your group is bitten by a snake, do the following:

--Immediately pull the bite victim away from the snake

--Call 911

--If you cannot call for help, get the victim to the nearest hospital immediately

--Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the victim's heart. If the bite is on a hand or arm, remove all jewelry or tight clothing. Keep the victim as still as possible

--If a snake bites your cat or dog, keep the animal calm and immediately take it to a vet for treatment

Some important things to avoid when dealing with snakebite:

--Do not apply a tourniquet

--Do not suck out the venom

--Do not cut into the bite area

--Do not apply heat or ice to the bite

--Do not give the victim caffeine, alcohol or any medication.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 26, 2004
Words:1036
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