Mich. Seeing Apparent Rise in Rattlesnake Bites

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- An apparent increase in the number of people and pets being bitten by Michigan's only venomous snake species is stoking fears among some residents in the state's Lower Peninsula about the small, shy rattlesnake.

The Detroit News reports that the eastern massasauga rattlesnake has had an uncharacteristically busy year, delivering what appears to be more bites than usual.

"Just from my gut, it seems there are more bites than there have been in the past," said Jeff Jundt, the curator for reptiles at the Detroit Zoo.

The zoo, which carries anti-venom, typically provides the medication once a year to hospitals for use in emergencies. But Jundt said so far this year he's sent it three times.

State officials don't track rattlesnake bites, although they are normally rare.

But this year, there's been a string of them -- in Orion Township, Highland Recreation Area and Flushing. At least seven times in the past five months, eastern massasaugas have bitten people or their pets, sending worried families to hospitals or veterinarian offices.

And Poison Control at Children's Hospital of Michigan has this year received reports of at least four human bites.

None of those encounters has resulted in a death, but experts said the number of occurrences is out of the ordinary.

Logan Coleman's family was sent into a panic in late August after the 7-year-old was bitten by an eastern massasauga in their yard in Spring Arbor Township, just west of Jackson.

"He came running back into the house yelling, 'Mom, come out here and see what bit me -- you've gotta see.' He was screaming at the top of his lungs," Kimberly Coleman, the boy's mother, told The Detroit News.

Logan was bitten on his left index finger and the area was beginning to swell and harden.

A neighbor helped catch the snake in a bucket and the family raced to a nearby clinic where doctors identified the snake and transferred Logan to an Ann Arbor hospital that carried the anti-venom.

The youngster spent one night at the hospital, taking the anti-venom through an intravenous drip. Today, he bears no ill effects from the encounter, but his mother now occasionally patrols the yard when her son is outside.

The venom produced by the eastern massasauga is not a neurotoxin that causes paralysis, as in many snakes, but it damages tissues around the bite site. If untreated, it can be fatal in young or old people, as well as adults in poor health.

The apparent rise in rattlesnake encounters may be due to this year's warm autumn -- the snakes are most active spring to fall.

With warmer temperatures, the rattlesnakes are delaying their fall hibernation and enjoying extra time sunning themselves, said Chris Hoving, the endangered species coordinator with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

The eastern massasauga is Michigan's only rattlesnake and is found all across the Lower Peninsula in areas that include wetlands. At its largest, it grows to just under 3 feet, making it one of the smallest rattlesnake species.

Hoving said the snake's defensive rattle produces a higher-pitched sound than humans might expect from a rattler.

"It tends to sound like an insect buzzing," he said.

Due to the loss of wetlands where the snakes make their homes, the eastern massasauga's numbers have diminished significantly. It is now protected by law in Michigan and is under consideration for endangered species designation by the federal government.

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