Chris Daly has been bitten by two tiger snakes, but is pictured holding a much less dangerous python. (ABC News: Charley Rico)
“It [a snake bite] feels like you’ve got your arm in a fire,” says snake catcher Chris Daly, who has been wrangling the slippery serpents since he was an eight-year-old kid.
- It’s snake season in Tasmania, and there have been reports in recent weeks of the reptiles popping up in unusual places
- Tasmania has three types of snakes — tiger snakes, copperheads and white-lipped snakes — and they’re all venomous
- Experts say there are simple steps you can take to protect your property
Bitten twice by tiger snakes, Mr Daly, from Reptile Rescue Incorporated Tasmania, said both times it was his complacency that caught him out.
“You get a massive headache, and maybe two minutes after I was bitten [for the first time], it felt like someone had hit me in the back of the head with a hammer,” he told ABC Radio Hobart.
Mr Daly said he was moving a rock to get to the snake, when it whipped around and struck his left hand.
“I actually snapped the fang off in my finger,” he said.
“I was with my best mate and it was my complacency — I was trying to get home and watch the football really.
“I had a carton of beer in the car and I was keen to get home as quick as we could.”
The second time Mr Daly was bitten, he was returning a small Chappell Island tiger snake to its enclosure while he was talking to someone.
“I felt a little sting on my finger and had a bit of a look but didn’t think much of it, ‘Nah, it wasn’t a bite’ — about 10 minutes later, I was just pouring with sweat,” he said.
“It stings, like a burn or like someone’s held a cigarette there, or you picked a hot coal up. People ring up all the time and say, ‘I think I’ve been bitten by a snake’ and I say, ‘You don’t think you’ve been bitten — you’ll know’.”
Snake season has arrived in Tasmania, and while their slithering may not be welcome, Mr Daly says it’s normal at this time of year as they become active and look for food after a long hibernation-like period.
Tasmania has just three species of snake — but they’re all venomous.
In recent weeks a snake has been found out the front of the Royal Hobart Hospital, while another one popped up in a toilet in the suburb of Lenah Valley.
I’ve been bitten — what now?
Pressure immobilisation and bandaging is the way to go, according to St John Ambulance, which has instructions on bite care on their mobile app and website.
St John Ambulance bandage technique
- If the bite is on a limb, apply a broad pressure bandage – crepe is preferred – over the bite site
- Apply the bandage firmly, 10-15 cms wide.
- Start just above the fingers or toes, and move upwards on the bitten limb as far as can be reached
- Apply bandage as tightly as possible, and immobilise the bandaged limb using splints
- Seek medical attention
The procedure involves applying a broad pressure bandage over the bite site as soon as possible if it is on an arm or a leg.
To restrict lymphatic flow and to assist in immobilisation of the limb, further bandaging is begun at the fingers or toes of the bitten limb, and extended upward covering as much of the limb as possible.
There’s one thing you should not do, according to Mr Daly:
“Definitely not a tourniquet — pressure immobilisation buys you a lot of time,” he said.
“Without bandages, you’ve probably got an hour until you’re unconscious or knocking on a door you don’t want to be knocking on.
“I always try to drum into bushwalkers and other people’s heads that they need bandages on them for that single reason.”
Darren Cooper, centre manager for St John Ambulance Northern Tasmania, said limiting movement would help keep you alive.
“Staying still will significantly increase your chances of survival, and applying a heavy bandage will stop the movement of the venom through the lymphatic system,” he said.
He said it was possible for people not to realise they’d been bitten, and said these were signs to look for:
- pain at the site of the bite
- muscle cramps
- blurred vision
- general sense of feeling unwell
What if my pet gets bitten?
The lowland copperhead snake is also capable of killing an adult human. (Supplied: Nick Clemann DELWP)
“If you see your pet get bitten, or you even see the pet with a snake, you should grab the dog [or cat] and go straight to the nearest vet,” veterinarian Chris Lee from Kingston Animal Hospital said.
Dr Lee says there is no home remedy or quick fix if the family pet is bitten by a snake.
Pressure immobilisation is not out of the question, but only if you can locate the bite itself.
Signs your pet has been bitten
What to look for in a cat:
- If a cat goes quiet or runs and hides, it’s a good indicator that something has happened to them
- Check if your cat is floppy or lethargic
What to look for in a dog:
- If your dog is overly excited before vomiting or losing bowel control
- They are slowing and looking wobbly
- Any signs of paralysis
“Because cats and dogs use their noses to sniff things out, it’s usually the face that gets bitten and you won’t usually see puncture marks,” Dr Lee said.
“If the wounds are big enough to make them bleed, it’s usually because they’ve been bitten by another dog or cat.
“Look for the signs — that’s important because normally you won’t see the snake at all.”
Dr Lee says pet owners have “a little more leeway with cats”.
“They seem to be slightly more resistant and are less rapidly affected than dogs,” he said.
“You should seek immediate medical attention if you think your animal has been bitten.”
Is there a way to deter snakes from my home?
While venomous, a white-lipped snake bite is unlikely to cause serious injury to a healthy adult. (Supplied: CSIRO/John Wombey)
If you live on a rural property or acreage, Mr Daly recommends placing ice cream containers full of water — and rocks so they don’t blow away — along the boundary of the property.
“Seventy per cent of the time, snakes are coming in for water, so if you can eliminate [that] risk, [it’s highly unlikely snakes will come in],” he said.
He said making sure you don’t have pests on your property can eliminate a snake’s food source.
“Snakes don’t eat chicken eggs, but they do eat mice which eat chook eggs and chook food,” he said.
“Where you’ve got mice, the potential for snakes is very high.”