Over the weekend we had a chance to visit the Vilas Park Zoo in Madison, WI just 45 minutes south of Baraboo. As you can imagine, being Mother’s day, the zoo was hoppin’. Now between you and I, I can’t help but wonder if chasing over-sugared, and over-stimulated kids through a crowded zoo is mom’s first choice for mother’s day, but we’ll leave that where it is for the moment. I actually wanted to talk about Rattlesnakes. How’s that for a smooth segue?
In the midst of dodging happy-go-lucky children (and their much too tired looking moms) through the herpetology section of the zoo, we came upon the rattlesnake display. Standing quietly aside I noticed that many folks took a common approach to the snakes. First they say, “ewwww”. Second they are amazed by the colors. Timber-rattlers are more than simply brown and black. They often display a calico mix of metallic greens, yellows and reds woven into their bodies as well. Next, a visitor to the display will look up at the range map just above the glass. The range map is the silver little map with a black oil-slick of a shape which shows the part of the country or state that the particular animal on display calls home. It’s funny to see how many folks were visibly relieved to see that they live south of the the timber rattlesnake’s Wisconsin range. It was obvious most of the people at the zoo lived in the Madison area, while the snakes on the other hand live well, um, here in the Baraboo hills!!
Yup. Here in the Baraboo Hills region of Sauk County we are smack-dab in the middle of Wisconsin’s rattle snake country, something that certainly does not go ignored by visitors to Devil’s Lake State Park. Thing is, you’d be lucky to see one. Rattlesnakes are actually fairly rare these days and are a protected species. Few who live in Wisconsin’s rattlesnake country will actually ever seen a rattlesnake in the wild. Rattlesnakes are shy critters and they can normally “hear” us coming long before we even come close to seeing them. In fact, there has only been one recorded snake related death in Wisconsin. On average in our state, 1 bite is recorded about once every 4 years. Feeling relieved now?
Well, just so you don’t get too over confident, my wife and I have seen at least one timber rattlesnake per year out on the hiking trails at Devil’s Lake. They are there. It’s just that we spend at least an hour or so almost every day on the trails, so the math is with us. In addition we tend to hike trails that are “off the beaten path”, places where snakes are more apt to feel safe sunning themselves out in the middle of the trail. Of course each time we’ve seen one we’re in awe. We don’t crowd them, and after short encounters we will walk around or they will head off into the woods. Only once, when I was trail running, did I ever encourage a timber rattler to bring out his patented rattle. I nearly stepped on him in mid-run. I stopped just a foot away from his coiled body. His heart shaped head had me cleanly in his sights. I stepped back, and back again. He held his ground for just a second before relaxing and quickly slipping off into forest of May Apples alongside the trail. The point is of course, don’t be afraid, but be mindful.
Recently during a wilderness first-aid class I learned that even if you were bit by a rattlesnake in Wisconsin, and if you made it to one of the few hospitals in the state that had anti-venom, you’d probably not get it. Why? Well, you probably wouldn’t need it. Rarely in human-rattlesnake encounters does the snake actually pump you through a full load of venom, and when they do it’s usually because some liquored up moron was pushing the point. Now if you did happen to be bitten by a rattlesnake in the Baraboo area, you’d been in good hands. *St. Clare Hospital does have (Crotalidae) anti-venom on hand. Hospitals in Madison and La Crosse also carry anti-venom. If you are out on a trail and are bitten by a rattlesnake, stay calm, and walk out. Notify authorities and get going toward the nearest hospital with anti-venom. Oh, and those snake-bite kits? We were told they’re junk.
If you really want to see a timber-rattler in Wisconsin, your best chance is by visiting the Vilas Zoo in Madison because you’ll probably never see one in the wild. If you do see one in the wild while visiting our part of the state, we suggest simply walking the other way and considering yourself pretty lucky. (In more ways than one!)
* I contacted St. Clair ER this morning to learn they currently have 6 doses on hand which is enough to start treatment in case of a bite.