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Wilderness Environ Med. 2011 Dec;22(4):304-8. doi: 10.1016/j.wem.2011.07.001. Epub 2011 Oct 1.

Recognizing dangerous snakes in the United States and Canada: a novel 3-step identification method.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Sacramento, CA, USA. mikecardwell@comcast.net

Abstract

The rapid and accurate recognition of dangerously venomous snakes following bites is crucial to making appropriate decisions regarding first aid, evacuation, and treatment. Past recommendations for identification of dangerous North American pit vipers have often required subjective determinations of head shape or relied on traits shared with some nondangerous species (elliptical pupils and undivided subcaudal scales). Heat-sensitive facial pits are diagnostic but require close examination of the dangerous head, and cephalic traits are useless when working with a decapitated carcass. Exclusive of cephalic traits, pit vipers north of Mexico can be recognized by the combination of keeled middorsal scales and undivided subcaudal scales. The order of colored rings is usually suggested to identify coral snakes in the United States, yet extension of the colored rings across the ventral scales must be added as an essential identifying factor to ensure elimination of all harmless look-alikes. A novel 3-step flow chart is presented that allows dangerous snakes in the United States and Canada to be recognized quickly and dependably without relying on cephalic traits. This process cannot be used in other countries, however, due to greater variability of these characteristics in snakes from other parts of the world. Finally, close examination of potentially venomous snakes is extraordinarily dangerous and steps to safeguard those making such observations are discussed.

Copyright © 2011 Wilderness Medical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

PMID:
21962719
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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