Wildlife in Central Oregon: Venomous animals strike

Western rattlesnakes slither here and there

Rattlesnakes on the High Desert

TERREBONNE, Ore. - The Western rattlesnake is the most venomous animal that slithers throughout Central Oregon and can strike at any time. 

Alyssa Walsh was camping at Prineville Reservoir and was walking by a boulder when something unexpected happened. 

"I walked past a boulder, and it just jumped out and bit me," Walsh recalled recently. "The initial pain wasn't bad enough for me to really look down and check. Within probably five minutes, my whole body got really tingly and numb. My mouth was numb. About ten minutes in, it was getting hard to breathe." 

Walsh was flown to St. Charles Bend 90 minutes after the bite. She was immediately given anti-venom in the emergency room. Staff continuously checked on her breathing and swelling throughout the night.

"There were probably about 10 to 15 people in the room, all doing different things," Walsh said. "The first night I was in the hospital, they were in every 30 minutes, checking the circumference of my leg. They were worried about it splitting, because it was swelling so much. I also had my blood drawn every four hours to figure out how much anti-venom I needed." 

The swelling spread from her right ankle to her mid-thigh. In the end, it took 16 vials of anti-venom to tame the toxic bite. 

Greg Seaton lives in Redmond now, but was bitten in California when he was removing a dead tree from his front yard.

"It felt like a tiny shot," Seaton said. "I didn't know if he penetrated or not, but I could see there were two red marks there." 

Seaton reached the hospital in just 30 minutes, and his skin was swelling and turning a grayish-black color. The bite grew to three inches in diameter and about an inch in thickness. Doctors monitored Seaton for three days in the ICU to make sure no venom had affected his heart. It took him about six months to fully recover. 

But even after this scary experience, he doesn't hold a grudge against the venomous reptile.

"People get the wrong perception of rattlesnakes," Seaton said. "They're defending themselves. They're just like what we would do if we were threatened, you know?"

In Central Oregon, the most venomous animal is the Western rattlesnake, which are very shy creatures. 

"Rattlesnakes don't want to bite people," said Matt Keenan, access and habitat program coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "They want to stay away from people. They're very reclusive. Really, you have to almost step on them to be in danger of being struck." 

Every year, there are about 10 to 20 rattlesnake bites reported throughout the state. Rattlesnakes do slither everywhere, but some places are a little more favored by the creatures than others -- especially at Smith Rock, which is known for its beauty and adventure. 

While thousands visit Smith Rock each year, they rarely get a chance to meet this particular local. 

Emma Peyghbray was visiting from California with her family when they came across a rattler on Misery Ridge Trail.

"So I was the first one to see it," Peyghbray recalled. "It was hard to see the rattles at first, but once I did, it was like, 'Okay, stay back.'" 

Her family stayed still and watched the rattlesnake slink back into the bush it was originally hiding under before they passed. 

There has only been one recent snakebite reported at Smith Rock, which happened last year to a dog who was off-leash.

If you see one, you and your furry friends should keep your distance.

David Vick, an interpretative naturalist at Smith Rock State Park, said, "If they are really feeling cornered and harassed, the Western rattlesnake would want to coil and rattle its rattler as a last sign or warning. They just want to be left alone." 

Typically at Smith Rock, hikers will see them along paths, sunning themselves, since they're cold-blooded creatures. 

A 7-year-old climber, Railynn, spoke to us about the animals she saw at Smith Rock that day and how she was visiting their home. 

"It technically lives here," she said of a lizard. "It can't leave its home." 

That being said, humans tend to be the No. 1 hazard to any wildlife in a park, not the other way around. 

Unfortunately for Seaton and Walsh, they got bit by juvenile snakes, who do not have full control over their venom, whereas an adult rattlesnake bite might not leave you full of toxins.

"Frequently snakes will do a mock bite where they don't actually bite," Vick said. "If they do bite, they don't always inject venom."

Keenan added that rattlesnakes don't want to waste their energy by biting a human. 

"They can't eat us, so they really have no interest in biting us, they'd rather stay away from us," Keenan said.

So the next time you go hiking or camping and see a rattlesnake, remember you're in its home and leave it alone.

If you do encounter a rattlesnake, be sure to stop and back up slowly. And if you do get bitten, remain calm and call 911 immediately. Don't use a tourniquet, don't cut the bite and don't try to suck the venom out. 

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