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Herps In The News Local or national articles where reptiles or amphibians have made it into the news media. Please cite sources.

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Old 08-24-2004, 11:33 PM   #1
Rattler in Knights Ferry Calif.

Here is an article from our local paper. There are alot of rattlers around here but check out what happened to this guy. Pretty.

Think rattlers warn? Tell it to the finger

This is what happens when a rattlesnake bites you: The venom makes the area turn all sorts of interesting colors. If it gets far enough into the bloodstream, it can kill you. Ken Ritts of Knights Ferry discovered this the hard way Aug. 4 when a rattler struck without warning. Ritts' son took him to Oak Valley Hospital in Oakdale, which released him after a few days. 'Even now, it feels like a bee sting,' he said.

Ritts was moving some wood planks behind his barn the afternoon of Aug. 4 when the rattler bit his index finger. Although the snake didn't rattle to alert him of its presence, Ritts blames himself for reaching for the fence post with his bare hands.


Last Updated: August 22, 2004, 06:40:02 AM PDT

KNIGHTS FERRY -- The rattlesnake cheated. It didn't rattle.
It never told Ken Ritts to back off as he picked through a pile of wooden fence posts behind his barn near Knights Ferry earlier this month.

It never lived up to its billing as the pit viper with the built-in warning system.

It simply struck with blinding speed, plunging one of its hypodermic needle-like fangs into the tip of his left index finger and pumping in enough venom to turn it eggplant purple within an hour or so.

The 63-year-old Knights Ferry resident blames only himself.

"I really cussed myself out after it happened," Ritts said. "I knew better than that."

This, of course, makes Ritts a different kind of expert on rattlesnakes. There are plenty of folks out there who offer advice on what to do if you come upon one. But there are only a few folks in the valley who can explain the aftermath of being bitten.

Count Ritts among them.

Having lived in the land of buzztails for 30 years -- killing an average of five each year in his garage, flower beds, driveway and yard -- Ritts said a momentary lapse in judgment became a potentially life-threatening problem. It happened Aug. 4, just after noon.

"I kicked the first couple (fence posts) away with my boot, like I always do," Ritts said. A bluebelly lizard shot out of the pile, startling him briefly.

He relaxed, and reached for a fence post with his bare hand. Big mistake.

"Even now, it feels like a bee sting," he said. But he knew better. He saw the snake recoil. "I knew what it was."

The 2-foot Pacific rattler never did rattle, even after striking Ritts. It went back into hiding.

Ritts knew he had to stay calm even though he soon began feeling the venom's effects.

"The mental part of it was a lot worse than the physical pain," Ritts said. "What's going to happen? What's next?"

The last thing a snakebite victim needs is to panic and get the heart pumping -- and the blood flowing -- faster. He knew that every moment counts when it comes to getting medical attention. But he also lives about about 12 miles from the nearest hospital in Oakdale and didn't want to waste the time it might take an ambulance to reach him.

"I went in to call 911 and then I changed my mind," Ritts said. "I didn't want to deal with those people."

His wife, Nancy, was in Modesto baby-sitting a grandchild, so he drove to his son's home a few hundred yards away and began honking the horn. Darren Ritts, asleep after working a night shift at the Hershey Chocolate factory in Oakdale, came to the door after a minute or so.

He drove his dad to Oak Valley Hospital.

"The only time I really panicked was when we got into town and got into the traffic," Ritts said.

The emergency room staff couldn't give Ritts the antivenin until they were certain Ritts had venom in his bloodstream. The antivenin can cause its own set of problems in the form of allergic-type reactions.

Some rattlers -- particularly older ones -- will bite without injecting venom.

The ER crew made a series of ink marks across Ritts' fingers and forearm. If there was venom, the discoloration and swelling would move up the arm. It did, meaning they needed to start the antivenin. Oakdale, however, had only six vials of the antivenin, which is administered through an IV drip.

Doctors Medical Center had a supply available and quickly got it to Oakdale.

In all, Ritts needed 12 vials to stop the damage of the rattlesnake's venom. Patients generally require at least 10 vials, which can cost more than $450 each.

While Ken's treatment progressed, Darren Ritts returned to Knights Ferry. He found and killed the rattler that bit his dad. He brought the rattles to the ER as proof it was indeed a rattler and not a nonvenomous snake.

Ken Ritts spent a few days in the hospital before being released. He's been back to the doctor a couple of times.

"He thinks I should get full use of my hand back," Ritts said.

A few days ago, he went to the 50's Roadhouse diner across the Highway 108/120 in Knights Ferry. His purple digit drew quite a bit of curiosity.

"He was showing them what can happen if you aren't careful," Nancy Ritts said.

Ritts lectured his audience about the importance of never taking anything for granted in snake country.

Because despite their name and reputation, rattlesnakes don't always rattle before they strike.

The proof is in Ritts' discolored digit.


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