Local rattlesnake wrangler teams up with biologist

Venomous snake wrangler Johnathan Schmidt presents a captive Coachwhip snake, a nonvenomous species. Courtesy photo

Dr. William K. Hayes, professor of biology in the School of Science and Technology of the Department of Earth and Biological Sciences at Loma Linda University, has put out a call for rattlesnakes.

Local venomous snake wrangler Johnathan Schmidt has answered the call, teaming up with Hayes to provide as many rattlers as possible for his research.

“From now on the snakes I get will be recorded, weighed and milked before I set them free,” Schmidt said.

“The ‘milking’ of snakes is the collection of venom from live snakes,” according to the website www.everything2.com. “The process is the only effective way to obtain snake venom, vital to produce supplies of antivenin (an antiserum containing antibodies against specific poisons.) Several companies around the world collect and breed snakes to be used in producing venom, and the practice is vital in protecting snake species while providing income for traditional snake hunters.”

Milking involves a thin membrane such as latex, stretched over a glass or plastic receptacle, the website explained. The snake is held behind its head, and the firmness of the grip brings its fangs forward in the striking position. The snake is encouraged to bite through the membrane covering the collection receptacle, and pressure is applied to the venom glands. The venom drips into the container.

Snake venom has been used in medicine for thousands of years. Modern anti-venom for snake bites cannot be produced without venom from the various species of venomous snakes, and it must be produced by regular milking of captive populations or wild-caught animals.

Schmidt got started capturing and relocating snakes when he saw a need to remove them from populated areas where the snakes were often killed. People are more likely to kill a rattlesnake rather than leave it alone, he said, and not everyone can relocate a venomous snake unharmed.

Accepting donations for his time and expertise, Schmidt comes to local homes and businesses to capture snakes and releases them far from people and any possible altercations.

Schmidt’s reputation with snakes reached Hayes, and a partnership was formed between the biologist and the wrangler.

Hayes is focusing his research on one particular species, the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake or Crotalus oreganus helleri.

“The venom of the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake is very distinctive in the San Jacinto mountains with the same potent neurotoxin found in the Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus),” Hayes said. “I’ve been studying the distributional limits of this neurotoxin and would love to get samples from snakes in the Anza area.”

Rattlesnakes are important members of the environment, controlling rodent populations, their preferred food. The creatures make every effort to avoid contact with people. Many bites are the result of someone trying to capture, kill or handle the snake. The bite is a defensive reaction and should not be considered an act of aggression. The rattlesnake’s rattling warns larger animals of its position.

But people and pets do get bitten, and that is where Hayes’ important research and Schmidt’s collection of the animals will help create powerful antivenoms to combat the damage done and speed recovery in the event of a bite.

Besides teaming up with Schmidt, Hayes offers to come and get rattlesnakes that anyone can find and secure safely.

“Call me at (909) 754-7469, if someone has a snake I can pick up,” he said.

For more information on Hayes and his important research, visit www.medicine.llu.edu/research/department-earth-and-biological-sciences/biology/faculty research/william-k-hayes-phd-ms.

To get in touch with Schmidt for venomous snake removal, visit www.facebook.com/Schmidtsranchservices/ or call (951) 961-3332.

Leave a Reply