I admit it.

I was one of six people in the theater on the opening night of “Snakes on a Plane.”

The much-hyped theatrical release, starring Samuel L. Jackson, was by no means a rollicking comedy or a serious action movie, but a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top parody of often gory and profane action movies, in the vein of “True Lies” and “Pulp Fiction.”

The plot involved venomous snakes that were set loose to bite passengers, as a Hawaiian mob boss was hoping to prevent a key witness from traveling to a Los Angeles courtroom to testify against him. The snakes were agitated by pheromones placed in the leis, which were hung over the passengers’ necks as presented by Hawaiian tourism bureau workers (who were supposedly in cahoots with the mob). I won’t spoil the ending or any other major details of the unbelievable plot.

Stupid, Iagree. But far from boos and hisses, the small audience laughed, knowing any technical error or plot hole was intentional and for their enjoyment.

I left the theater wondering “what if” — What if a small enclosed space (such as a cavern, a truck cabin, even a living room) becomes full of coiling, venomous, agitated serpents?

Pray, would be my first response. But in case of no miracle, what should a well-informed Register reader do?



Be still

David Kleven, owner of Animal Edutainment Animal Ambassadors and Critterman Safari Guides, offered his advice. (His wife, Susan Kleven, is curator of the Frank Buck Zoo and sometimes accompanies him as “Safari Sue.”)

The first thing “The Critterman” advised is to be still or move very slowly.

Kleven, who regularly speaks to schools and civic groups about animal safety, noted a snake’s affinity for motion and scent.

“Snakes’ attention is driven by movement and their sense of smell,” Kleven said. “Some species of snakes like pythons, boas, and pit vipers have heat sensing organs to help them locate prey. Those species can find food in the dark.

“The fact that snakes do not have eyelids means that they are alerted to danger and food by movement. The less movement you make, the less likely they are to pay attention to you.”

He said snakes have what’s called a “Jacobson’s Organ” in the roof of their mouths. This organ tells the snake what kind of scent particles it has picked up on its tongue.

“They have one of the best senses of smells in the animal kingdom,” Kleven noted.



Can they be ‘charmed?’

Though snakes are not easily “charmed,” they can be distracted by motion.

“Snake charmers actually use movement of a hand or an instrument to ‘charm’ the snake. Snakes cannot hear the music because they lack external ears. Many of the snakes that they use have been used in these performances for years, and have lost much of their aggression. If you have something that will extend away from your body, you can distract a snake as long as they are focused on the moving object.”



Keep some distance

If you happen to trod near a coiled up snake or two, Kleven advises extra caution.

“Snakes coil up when they are at rest, to keep their body close for protection. Snakes can strike about a third of the length of their body, so they keep their tail close when they are resting,” he said.

Kleven said its best not to get closer to the snake to see whether it is venomous, but to simply move away as soon as feasible.

“There are over 2,700 species of snakes on the planet. Some snakes have pits on their heads or rattles to give away their dangerous secret,” he said. “Some like the Coral snake have a distinct pattern that humans put a poem too. My single bit of advice though is to simply take three steps back from any snake, and leave them alone.”



What if you’re bitten?

The American Red Cross suggests in its training material that the first step after being bit by a snake is to wash it with soap and water.

The next step is to immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the victim’s heart.

Finding medical help is next, but if help is unavailable the American Red Cross suggests within 30 minutes wrapping a bandage 2-4 inches above the bite, to slow the venom’s spread through the body. The bandage should be loose enough as not to cut off blood flow. A finger should be able to be slipped underneath.

A suction device, found in many department store sporting good sections, may be placed over the wound to remove venom without making cuts into the skin.

Many sources disagree on what steps to take to address a snake bite.

Kleven said he would rather leave the first aid suggestions to medical doctors. But he said most venoms effect the nervous or the circulatory system, and travel through the body via the lymph system. Moving around will most likely increase the speed at which the venom moves trough one’s body, he said.



What NOT to do following a snake bite

According to John Henkel on the Federal Drug Administration Web site, there are several actions that a should not be taken.

No ice or any other type of cooling should be placed on the bite. Research has shown this to be potentially harmful, Henkel wrote.

Do not use a tourniquet. This cuts blood flow completely and may result in loss of the affected limb, he said. He added electric shock is also not recommended.

Do not make incisions into the wound, as the teeth have already made a sufficient hole in the skin.

“Do not try the old Hollywood methods of sucking the venom, cutting the bite wound, or using a tourniquets,” Kleven said. “You are better off doing nothing at all. Put extreme pressure on the area, this compresses the lymph vessels slowing the spread of the venom, then immobilize the effected limb with a splint and get to a hospital ASAP.”

He said patience is also important, as 90 percent of recorded snake bites are not venomous, and many are “dry bites” that contain little or no venom.

Susan Kleven added it is important to not try to pull the snake out of the victim’s skin.

“A snake’s teeth point backward to prevent prey from escaping,” she said. “Therefore, when a snake bites, it is never a good idea to try to pull them off. This simply drives the teeth in further.”



What about antivenom?

Kleven said antivenom (antivenin) has a short shelf life and is expensive to make, therefore it is not always available.

“Most hospitals only carry antivenom for venomous snakes in the immediate area,” he said. “If you are bitten by something exotic, they will only be able to treat the symptoms.”

James Ellis, the son of Susan Ellis of Gainesville, was treated with antivenom after being bitten by a rather large rattlesnake on a climbing expedition in Colorado earlier this month.

Ellis said his bill was about $60,000, as he was in the hospital for nearly two weeks. The antivenom alone cost about $40,000.

Though he was struck on the thumb, the fangs from the snake got to a major vein in his arm.

“If you hear a rattle, try to go the opposite the direction and look around. Try to move slowly,” he warned.

About 45 minutes after being bitten, he said his throat started to close up and he couldn’t remember much after that. A hospital was nearby, he noted, and his friends were 200 yards away from a vehicle.

“When I got there my blood was moving pretty fast,” he said. “There was this tightness in chest. I didn’t know what to think, because my body was going through so much. There were surges of pain between sensations of numbness.”

Ellis said he’s up and moving around with no trouble, now.



What danger is there in North Texas?

“The two most venomous snakes in North Central Texas are the Coral Snake, and the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake,” David Kleven said. “The coral snakes’ venom is eight times more potent then that of the Diamondback. Fortunately, they have small fangs that have trouble penetrating shoes and clothes. This is also why we learn ‘Red on black, friend of Jack. Red on yellow can kill a fellow.’”

Statistically, David Kleven said, the Diamondback is the most dangerous venomous snake.

“The size of their fangs, and the makeup of their poison makes for a very dangerous combination,” he said.

With all snakes, the way to avoid problems is the same, he noted.

“Wear boots and jeans when working in snake habitat. Snakes like to be concealed under brush, logs, or rocks,” he said. “And be very careful when moving things that a snake might hide under. Wear gloves to protect your hands.”

He advised “if you love and appreciate snakes, make sure you help to leave natural areas that provide them with natural cover for them and their prey. And remember that the last thing a venomous snake wants to do is waste its venom on you.”

Susan Kleven said snakes play an important role in the natural world.

“Without them we would be wading through rodents,” she said. “Although the Frank Buck Zoo does not currently have any snakes on exhibit, live snakes are included in both our educational on-site amphitheater programs and outreach programs.”

The warmer the weather the more active the North Texas snake population is, as they are cold-blooded creatures (which is why they prefer rocks and places which radiate heat when searching for prey). The cooler the temperature the slower the snake moves. And in the winter they tend to hibernate.



What about on planes?

Back to the laughable premise of “Snakes a Plane,” part of what agitated the snakes was the warm temperature of the airliner’s cabin after snakes struck at and short-circuited air conditioner wiring above the cabin.

Reagan Vestal, a retired American Airlines pilot, noted at above 10,000 feet in altitude, the cabin has to be pressurized and heated — and those levels vary throughout a flight to keep a fairly constant pressure and temperature.

He said if the power to the air conditioner were to go off, there are batteries to back it up. However, if those were to fail, the “mixing valves” could get stuck in either the hot or cold positions. Or they could become jammed in other ways.

Vestal said on one flight a valve was stuck in the cockpit’s air conditioner, and the crew broke out their overcoats. He said the cockpit cooled rapidly while the cabin remained warm.

Though a snake on a high-flying airliner may easily be taken care of by reducing the temperature, don’t laugh about the prospect of a snake boarding a plane, the Associated Press reported June 2.

Pilot Monty Coles, while flying his small Piper Cherokee airplane 3,000 feet in the air, discovered a four-and-a-half-foot Black snake peering out at him from the instrument panel.

He’d already been preparing to land in southern Ohio after a flight from West Virginia. He tried to swat the snake, but it just fell to his feet under the rudder pedals, and then darted to the other side of the cockpit.

While flying the plane with one hand, Coles grabbed the snake behind its head with his other hand, even as it coiled around his arm.

He requested emergency landing clearance via radio to a nearby airport control tower — and said that he had “one hand full of snake and the other hand full of plane.”

Coles was cleared for a smooth landing — and then he posed for pictures with the snake, before releasing it into the wild.



Reporter Andy Hogue has handled a few snakes in his life, and after writing this story he wonders why. He may be

contacted at

andyhoguegdr[at]ntin.net

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