Saturday, August 29, 2009

Coral Snake

I'm going to interrupt the string of Palau posts to describe an encounter I had this morning. Running season has started again for me, which is just short, getting-back-into-the-rhythm runs for now.

I did an 8k piece this morning, starting at 7:45am, which is about an hour later than ideal. The sun was already up and it was hot. I finished around 8:30am. Since our island is really short of water (dam is at 30% of capacity, so we are rationing) and I was sweating heavily I figured the best way to cool down would be in the ocean. I rode 2 minutes to the nearest beach and laid in the water for about 10 minutes, then sat on the beach in shallow water for a few more minutes.

I was sitting with my arms supporting me from behind when I felt something brush up against my arm. I turned quickly and saw a coral snake swimming through my arms. Coral snakes are beautiful, but they are not something you want to shake hands with. From the Wikipedia article:

New World coral snakes possess the second most potent venom of any North American snake, behind some rattlesnake species. However, few bites are recorded due to their reclusive nature and the fact they generally inhabit sparsely populated areas. When confronted by humans, coral snakes will almost always attempt to flee, and bite only as a last resort. Any skin penetration, however, is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Coral snakes have a powerful neurotoxin that paralyzes the breathing muscles; mechanical or artificial respiration, along with large doses of antivenom, are often required to save a victim's life. There is usually only mild pain associated with a bite, but breathing difficulties and ptosis can occur within hours.

[The snake more venomous than the coral snake is the Mojave Green Rattlesnake, found only in the Mojave Desert. I saw two of them at only 4-5' when I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.]

As the article suggests, coaxing a bite out of a coral snake would require a serious effort, but would ensure a prompt helicopter ride to the mainland and slim chances of survival - completely dependent on the Naha hospitals stocking the anti-venom.

I took this as my cue to go home and make breakfast.

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