Wednesday, 12 August 2020

How Much Risk of Snake Bite is There in the Loire Valley?


A young Western Whip Snake in the streets of Preuilly sur Claise.
Young Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus in the street.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Most people don't like snakes, but whilst the risk of being bitten is never completely nil, it is very rare. In 2016, there were 369 cases of snake bite referred to the antipoison centres throughout the whole of France. Nobody died. The Pays de Loire, to our west, is the area where the most bites by venomous snakes occur, with about 70 people presenting every year at the antipoison centre in Angers. Snakes in the Loire Valley will be out and about from April to October. In the colder months they hibernate.

Adult Western Whip Snake in our orchard.
Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The local herpetelogical society note that many people believe they've seen a viper (venomous) when in fact it will have been a (harmless) grass snake (Fr. couleuvre). They point out that recognising a viper is easy -- they are the ones with the zigzag down the back.

 An Asp Viper Viperus aspis (Fr. Vipère aspic) under a friend's car in his driveway in Chateauroux.
Asp Viper Viperus aspis under a car in a driveway.  Indre, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

All reptiles are very sensitive to vibrations, and generally flee when someone comes near. But after summer storms they can emerge to warm up, and be slower to escape if disturbed. You need to be more vigilant at these times, both in terms of where you put your feet, and if you have a curious dog, because the reptile may defend itself more ferociously.

An Asp Viper on a chalk cliff at a winery at Panzoult.

To reduce the risks, you can take a stick when you go for a walk, put on long trousers and closed shoes. If, by any chance, you were bitten by a snake, the steps to take are simple. First aiders recommend lying the victim down and applying a compression bandage to the bite to slow the spread of venom. If bitten on the arm or hand, remove rings, because the fingers will swell alarmingly. If possible, identify the type of snake that made the bite, before calling for help by dialing 18 or 112. But suction techniques should never be used, even with the help of devices that can be found in pharmacies.

Mature Western Whip Snake, coming to drink at a roadside ditch in a hamlet in the Charente.
Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

During summer, you might find that young vipers come to sunbathe on your terrace or enter your home through an open door. If this happens, you can cover the snake's head, and once it's in the dark, it will not move. With a broom and shovel, you can gently escort it to the exit.

Young Western Whip Snake with its head trapped in some fluff in our sitting room.
 It was very annoyed but Simon removed using the broom and shovel technique.
Young Western Whip Snake that has trapped itself in some fluff inside a house being renovated.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

However, prevention is better than cure. The local herpetological society  recommends clearing along walls and the backs of flower beds so the snakes have nowhere to hide. That way you won't see hide nor hair of a viper in your house. 

Young Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus (Fr. Couleuvre verte et jaune).
Young Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

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