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Snakebite on base reminds us to be aware all Summer

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

"Snake Warning," reads the sign pinned to a door at the base firing range, dutifully posted after it arrived. It cautions personnel to be aware summer rains often cause snakes to move to avoid flooding, thus increasing the chance for poisonous reptiles to come in contact with people.

A construction laborer working on the new Phase V housing project had a close encounter Saturday - too close.

The worker was bit on the hand by a snake believed to be a small cottonmouth just before noon, according to Ryan Cassidy, a quality control manager for housing contractor Sundt Construction, Inc. Mr. Cassidy said the worker was lifting construction debris at a dump site on McClellan Road near the Phase II housing area when the 18-inch snake struck him from a small puddle under some wood he was lifting. Mr. Cassidy took the man to Tampa General Hospital, where he was treated for dehydration (from working in the extreme heat) and the bite, though he was not administered an antivenin, apparently because it was not clear what kind of snake it was, said Mr. Cassidy.

"He was kind of in mild shock from the combination of the bite and the heat; it was kind of scary there for a while," said Mr. Cassidy. "But after the fluids were administered he was OK and back on the job the next day."

Bite incidents on base are rare, said Bill Murphy, base snake wrangler and head of the Pest Control Services at MacDill. Over his years he has caught and transferred many diamondback and pygmy rattlesnakes on base. He said this is the time of year people are most like to encounter them. Construction areas such as those around the new housing are likely places to encounter snakes, as the activity tends to displace them and the building materials provide shade for them.

Mr. Murphy said the best protection is being alert when in brush covered areas or lifting up anything that might be serving as shade for a poisonous snake. If seen, snakes should be left alone, he said.

"I've never heard of anyone getting bit by a snake they were running away from," he said.

Mr. Cassidy said the bite incident was a wake-up call for construction workers on the housing project.

"Everyone is being more careful and taking safety precautions," he said, noting snake awareness is now being emphasized as part of safety briefings for new employees.

Mr. Murphy said he's only received one snake complaint this summer and when he investigated around the beginning of July, he discovered that the woman who called was reporting that a neighbor had seen a snake a couple days prior and that she was only then reporting it.

"There wasn't much chance of finding a snake after that much time has passed," he said.

Mr. Murphy said anyone who is concerned about a snake to report it as soon as possible. If they snake is harmful and can be found, he will catch it and release it in a remote, unpopulated area of the base.

Mr. Murphy said snakes are likely to be active and moving until the temperature drops significantly in winter, when most reptiles remain hidden away and dormant due to being cold blooded.

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