March is the beginning of snake bite season in Southern California. Rattlesnakes are typically active from April until September. About 221 snake bites are reported in the state annually, however the fatality rate for snake bites is less than one-half of one percent.
There are seven different species of rattlesnakes found in Southern California, including the western diamondback, sidewinder, speckled rattlesnake, red diamond rattlesnake, southern Pacific rattlesnake, Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake. The most venomous is the Mojave rattlesnake. As the name implies, the Mojave rattlesnake originates from the Mojave Desert but is also found in Arizona, Utah, Southern Nevada, Western Texas, New Mexico and Southern Mexico.
Some Mojave rattlesnakes are greenish, but may have a similar color to western diamondbacks. The venom is a neurotoxin, which destroys nerves and nerve tissue. The toxin is considered to be more than 30 times more toxic than that of the western diamondback. The venom paralyzes the snake’s prey and prevents its escape. In a high dose, the neurotoxin can stop the breathing process.
When hiking, use a walking stick or other device to rustle the shrubs along the side of your route to alert snakes of your presence. Wear high boots, long pants and gloves when moving rocks or brush.
Responding quickly to a snake bite emergency is crucial. While waiting for emergency assistance, allow the bite to bleed freely for 30 seconds. Clean the area with soap and water and/or disinfectant. Immobilize the bitten extremity and keep below heart level.