Snakes! They’re scaly, they slither, and they bite! To end the school year off right, we brought a lesson to the Winnemucca Rural Schools to educate 71 students about snake safety and common misconceptions. Students learned that snakes have important roles in our ecosystem as well as in our lives. They control pest populations in our gardens and neighborhoods, in our deserts they ensure that nothing is overrun with gophers and mice, leaving plenty of vegetation for every other critter.
Students also learned how to identify the most common snakes in our area and what should be done if one crosses our path. Gopher snakes and Garter snakes are completely harmless as they do not carry venom, they can be identified by their slender heads. Venomous snakes like Rattlesnakes have wide diamond shaped heads, which is a feature held by most venomous snakes. When one is encountered, whether it be on a trail or in your backyard, it is best to simply walk away from the snake instead of harming the snake. Snakes are not outwardly aggressive, they will only bite if they feel threatened, walking around the snake is the best way to avoid harm done to you and the snake.
It is most common for people to be bitten on the leg/ankle and the hand by snakes. From not seeing (or hearing) the snake in the person's path and startling the snake, or attempting to catch the snake. Watching your step when walking and listening for the classic rattle and hissing sound is the best way to avoid snake bites. Catching and handling any wild snake should only be done by experienced professionals with the proper tools, as snakes are fast and dangerous, and can cause a great amount of damage.
If someone is bitten by a snake it is extremely important to be able to identify the type of snake that bit the victim, because if it was a venomous snake, health professionals need to be able to give the proper care. Keeping the victim calm and using a tourniquet slows the rate at which the venom spreads through their body. Sucking the venom out of the wound will not help the victim, it will only introduce more bacteria into the wound.
But aside from learning to identify snakes and what to do if someone is bitten, students also got to meet a very special guest, to show that not all snakes are scary and vicious. Matthew, the Burmese Python, came to help educate the students. He is 8ft long, 50lbs of muscle, and full of love. Matthew belongs to Naturalist Kenzy Tom and partner Hunter Gayer, who helped handle and show him to the students. Matthew enjoyed meeting each student confident enough to come and give him a pat, as well as playing in the grass. He showed that snakes can be calm and patient and was an amazing Guest Educator.