By John Weiss
A rural Houston man became the second person in the last year to be bitten by a timber rattlesnake in Houston County.
The man was walking to his pole shed on July 27 when he apparently startled the snake. The man was bitten in the ankle, and his wife took him to the Winona Health clinic in Winona, said Jaime Edwards, Department of Natural Resources regional non-game specialist. The clinic didn’t have snake anti-venom, so the man was taken to Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse, Wis., where he was treated.
Gundersen, Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester and Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis have the serum.
The victim, who wants to remain anonymous, said his pole shed had a damaged door, so he had to shove it hard. When he shoved, “he felt something on his leg,” Edwards said. At first he thought it was a bee sting, but then he looked down and saw the snake.
The man is out of the hospital, but it will be a few weeks before he can move around well, she said.
“There was pretty significant swelling” and his leg was bruised from the ankle to the hip, she said.
Authorities called an expert to pick up the snake and move it away from the pole shed. It was a 42-inch-long male that was unusually fat, maybe the size of a softball, Edwards said.
In late July last year, a hiker at Beaver Creek Valley State Park near Caledonia was also bitten by a rattlesnake. The hiker was in the hospital 10 days before being discharged.
Before that, the last known rattler bite in Minnesota was in 2000.
No one is known to have died from a rattler bite in Minnesota within the past century. Before that, about 10 people were known to have died, but most of them were bitten by swamp rattlesnakes in the former pothole region to the west, according to a man who researched rattlesnake bites by reading old newspapers.
Experts say it’s hard to know from newspaper accounts which kind of snake bit a person, if the person was really bit, or whether the person died from the bite or the treatment.
Edwards said it’s possible the recent heat played a role in the bite near Houston. Because of the hot summer, rattlers are being forced away from remote, rocky sites to cooler places that are often near people.
“The number of snake sightings this summer has been through the roof,” she said.
A rattlesnake was recently found near downtown Houston and was picked up by a man who had a tool to do it. The snake was given to Arden Hargrove who is allowed to handle and hold snakes for the DNR. The DNR will use the snake for education at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park.
Edwards routinely goes to the bluffs near the Mississippi River to check on the numbers of rattlers. In Minnesota, rattlesnakes are commonly found only in Houston, Winona and Fillmore counties, and can be found in Goodhue County. There are maybe a few thousand rattlers in those counties, but their habitat is often being degraded or destroyed.
It’s illegal to kill a rattlesnake not found on your property. If a rattlesnake is found on your property and is threatening a person or livestock, you can legally kill it, she said.
If you see a rattlesnake (several other species look a bit like them and mimic their rattle by shaking their tales in vegetation), call the local sheriff’s department, which has a list of people who can move them.
This story was reprinted with permission from The Rochester Post-Bulletin.