Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fatal Bites Are Rare from Rattlesnakes

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fatal Bites Are Rare from Rattlesnakes

Article excerpt

Timber rattlesnakes rarely bite people, and people are rarely allergic to timber rattlesnake venom.

For a Beaver County man, both of those facts were unfortunately and fatally not the case.

Russell E. Davis was throwing wood on a campfire in Elk County when a rattlesnake bit him late Saturday night. He received an antivenin treatment at Penn Highlands Health Care in St. Marys, Elk County, and was placed in a medical helicopter to receive further treatment at a Pittsburgh hospital.

But before he could make it there, Mr. Davis, 39, of Freedom went into full cardiac arrest and was later pronounced dead at 5:23 a.m. at ACMH Hospital in Kittanning, Armstrong County.

Because of his location, Mr. Davis most likely suffered an accidental bite from a timber rattlesnake. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, this is the first fatal timber rattlesnake bite in more than two decades, and herpetologists say the snakes don't like to strike anything too big to eat.

"Timber rattlesnakes - as far as rattlesnakes across the country go - are incredibly docile," said Michael Torroco, a herpetologist with Herpetological Associates Inc. "It takes a lot usually to get one to bite."

Timber rattlesnakes position themselves along woodpiles, then use their heat sensors to detect and ambush rodents scurrying across the logs, according to herpetologists Stan Boder and Mr. Torroco. When Mr. Davis bent down and reached out to grab more firewood, Mr. Boder and Mr. Torroco said the snake would have struck out, hoping to hit a mouse or chipmunk.

"Somebody's hand may have just caught its attention and without thinking twice, they might have struck to try and get themselves a meal," Mr. Torroco said.

Striking out is the last line of defense for a snake, Mr. Boder said, as it doesn't want to waste venom or lose a fang when hooking onto something too big to eat.

It's also unlikely it would have given a warning before it struck. …

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