Every RVer should know the following safety tips to protect you, your family and your pets while camping and backpacking…
Do you know how many US states have poisonous snakes? And I’m talking about venomous snakes, not just snakes in general.
If you don’t know, go ahead and guess. I can hear your thoughts churning…
Okay, Alaska is too cold, and several northern states are probably too cold too. All southern states have snakes but do they all have poisonous snakes? Um, what about Hawaii?
I bet your guess is in the 30s range, right? Yeah, I’m sure there are more states with snakes, but you asked about poisonous snakes!
Well, unless you knock only 4 states off your list, you’re wrong. 46 of the 50 United States have poisonous snakes! (I’ll tell you which 4 at the end.)
That’s why, no matter where you travel, you need to keep your snake safe. Venomous or not, you need to know how to avoid snakes and what to do if you encounter one. This knowledge can protect you, your children and your pet!
Types of Poisonous Snakes in Every State
Chances are the first poisonous snake you would think to find in America was a rattlesnake. For good reason. We have 32 different species of rattlesnakes in the United Statesbut they are not the only potential threat.
(Note that I say potential threat because following snake safety protocol greatly reduces the risk of getting bitten. And, let’s be honest, it’s usually us humans who are threatening.)
Some rattlesnakes in the United States do not have a “rattle” in their name, including sidewinders and massasaugas, but they are still rattlesnakes.
Then there are the copper heads and the cotton mouths (aka water moccasins). These snakes are vipers like rattlesnakes but do not have a rattle at the end of their tail. Although some have been known to wag their tails like rattlesnakes!
Finally, there are the coral snakes. These colorful snakes are closest to cobras and mambas and have very poisonous venom.
Coral snakes are more poisonous than rattlesnakes; however, they are less deadly. Why? For one, they are less aggressive. Also, their fixed fangs and small mouths don’t make them very good biters. They are more inefficient at delivering venom and must “chew” their prey to deliver it effectively.
Regardless of “mortality” to rattlesnakes, coral snake bites can be extremely painful and, if left unattended, can still result in cardiac arrest.
5 Basic Snake Safety Tips You MUST Know
I will share the basics of snake safety all RVer needs to know in this first article in the series. Keep an eye out for more snake safety articles to come!
Tip #1: Do Your Research Every Time You Go Somewhere New
I came across this great resource which lists the types of poisonous snakes in every state. You should revisit the list each time you travel to a new state and read about each type of snake.
Familiarize yourself with where snakes are most likely to be found, how aggressive they are, and what to do if you encounter one.
Tip #2: Check your campsite upon arrival
If you are camping for snake season*, it is important to check your campsite for snakes as soon as you arrive. Snakes are likely to avoid you once they know you’re there, but you might sneak up on one when you first arrive.
Keep your dogs and kids (and your scared spouse) in the RV and roam your campsite safely. If there are logs, rock crops, or thick brush, try to look several feet away and use a long stick if necessary.
Remember that rattlesnakes have excellent camouflage! I scanned one before and had to take a double take to realize it was a snake.
Move slowly and take safe steps so you can freeze in place if necessary.
*Note that unusually warm weather may start snake season earlier or extend it longer.
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Tip #3: Stop and Slowly Back Up
If you see a snake (ANY snake), freeze it immediately. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a rattlesnake from a gopher snake and a coral snake from a king snake. (Some snakes even shake their tails to mimic a rattlesnake.)
Non-venomous snakes have evolved to resemble their venomous counterparts. Some of them do such a good job that we are desensitized to them. Oh, it’s just another Gopher snake. Oh wait, no it’s not!
Small rattlesnakes are particularly difficult to identify, especially babies. Their triangular heads may be less pronounced and they may only have a few small bumps on their rattle. But they still have venom in their fangs!
So if you see ANY snake, freeze in place. Assess your position and slowly walk away with a sure step. If you’re curious, you can try to determine if it’s poisonous or not once you’re at a safe distance.
If the snake is in your campsite, send someone to alert the campground manager while you keep an eye out for the snake. The campground manager will likely be able to identify the snake and handle it accordingly.
If the snake is far from the campsite, you are in its campsite and must leave!
Tip #4: Keep your dogs on a leash
Dogs are more susceptible to being bitten than humans because they want to run, jump, and poke their noses into every nook and cranny of the outdoors. If they encounter a snake, they won’t freeze and slowly back away.
As with almost all camping and hiking scenarios, it’s best to keep your dog on a leash. You need to be able to steer them away from the threat.
If your dog sees a snake, do not touch your dog with your hands! You risk spooking the snake and getting bitten that way. Step back and pull on the leash.
If your dog attacks a snake, don’t interfere with your hands! Don’t try to push your dog away. Try to lead your dog away from the end of the leash, but be careful that he doesn’t throw the snake at you or pull it closer to you.
There is a good chance that the attack will end quickly. As soon as your dog drops the snake, move it away from the end of the leash. If your dog is off-leash, call him or try to get his attention by throwing a stick or small rocks away from the snake.
I know you love your dog (I love mine!), but it’s better for your dog that you don’t get bitten too. So don’t intervene in the middle of an attack. You need to be able to get them to a vet immediately, especially if it’s a poisonous snake.
Here is what to do if your dog is bitten by a snake. Dog anti-venom is available, and I’ve seen even tiny dogs survive rattlesnake bites.
Tip #5: Teach your kids about snake safety
It is important to teach your children about snake safety before starting any camping trip. Calmly explain to them that we don’t need to be afraid of snakes, just be careful around them.
Explain to your children that snakes don’t want to bite you, but they will if they think you’re going to hurt them.
For young children, have them imagine what it is like to be a little snake looking at their large human bodies. (Kids will like the idea that they’re big compared to snakes.) Then explain to them what they’d want a human to do if they were a scared little snake…
Freeze. Stay calm. Back up slowly. Go get an adult.
Have them practice pretending that a stick is a snake. You can also test them several times during the trip. Throw the “snake stick” in the middle of the campsite and see if it responds correctly. Recycle them as needed.
More in-depth advice
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Today we covered the 5 basic snake safety tips that every RVer should know. I have more snake safety articles coming up that will list do’s and don’ts and give you even more in-depth advice.
Keep an eye out for them in your newsletter. If you do not yet receive our newsletter, subscribe below.
In the meantime, be sure to watch the video above and also check out our Bear Safety and Tick Safety articles.
(By the way, if you’re still wondering, the only states without poisonous snakes are Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Rhode Island.)
Look for part 2 of this series soon! In the meantime, where are we going to camp next?
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