MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE BARSTOW, Calif. --
It’s full on House Slytherin aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California, as 14 sidewinder rattlesnakes have been relocated from various parts of the base in the last two weeks.
“The Mojave Desert is home to many venomous creatures, from scorpions, spiders, bees and wasps to snakes,” said Jon Ochoa, base pest controller. “Currently though, sidewinders are what we are finding a lot of.”
Ochoa, a veteran pest controller with the United States Air Force has dealt with desert critters for most of his career.
“I’ve never seen 14 sidewinders found on one base in such a short period of time,” he said. “We have other rattlesnakes, to include the Mojave Green here, but we haven’t seen any of those yet this year.”
Other common pests to the desert are similar to other areas, such as ants, roaches, mice, rats, and even coyotes. It is the venomous ones that can be of concern to military personnel, their families and the civilians on base.
“At Nellis (Air Force Base) we had more coyotes than we’ve had here,” Ochoa said. “I’ve only had one call for a coyote and it was gone by the time I arrived. However, you still want to be aware that they do live here.”
A hungry coyote might be brave enough to go after family pets, for example.
“There are also feral animals, to watch out for,” he said. “Feral cats, and dogs, have been seen on base, and people feed them. We don’t recommend that, as it can be an issue if someone gets scratched or bit.
The biggest concern is rabies. Animals may not always display symptoms but it can still be a carrier and transmit it.
“Common observable signs of rabies are frothing at the mouth, and very aggressive behavior,” Ochoa said. “But, for instance, bats tend not to display those signs. So, if someone handles a bat, it’s most likely that bat does have rabies, and it can be transmitted to the person. And yes, there are bats on base.”
Bats are good for the ecosystem as they eat bugs and have other benefits. However, like all wild animals, Ochoa says to just leave them alone.
“The best recommendations are to prevent and avoid inviting animals into your areas, and this can mostly be done by sanitation,” he said. “These animals are generally camouflaged for their protection. They blend into their environment, especially snakes. They aren’t intended to be held and messed with. Leave stuff alone. If you‘re out in the desert, just let it be. However, if it’s in a work area, causing a work stoppage, don’t touch it! Just call us. We will take care of it appropriately.”
Some reasons snakes may end up in specific areas is to satisfy some survival need. They will seek shelter, water and food. This is where sanitation is so effective.
“Clean all debris from around houses, office buildings, sheds, and other structures,” Ochoa said. “Get rid of leaves in the yard, weeds, wood piles, boxes, and other trash away from houses and other buildings. That works for all pests, indoors and outdoors. Remove clutter, boxes and unnecessary items out of storage rooms, living and work areas to keep down ants, roaches and spiders. Sanitation and exclusion will eliminate the majority of pest problems.”
All areas, including gardens, can be a source of water and food for bugs, which will draw mice, which will attract snakes.
“If you’re creating an environment in which you’re harboring rats & mice, you are also attracting snakes,” he said. “Spiders are there for a food source, as well. They’re eating the bugs. Clean up your areas to avoid creating habitats that invite them.”
“Keep in mind, too, that people need to be mindful and observant of their surroundings,” Ochoa said. “Look around for critters. When you take your boots off at the end of the day, things my climb in there. If you set your purse, or bag on the ground, things will crawl in there. Keep them closed up and look in before reaching in or before putting boots on.”
A lesson learned the hard way, Emergency Medical Systems Chief Greg Kunkel warned “Do not put your hands or feet where you cannot see.”
Kunkel had a run in with a snake while exploring in the desert, and his hand was bitten. Fortunately, he was transported to a hospital and survived, but had a very serious reaction to the bite. Lesson learned, and shared to help prevent others from doing something similar.
“Keep in mind, too, as you’re paying attention to your surroundings, you may not hear a rattlesnake rattle,” Ochoa said. “A young snake may not have rattles yet, so it may be trying to warn you that you’re too close, but you won’t hear it. You need to look, too. It is also true the smaller snakes don’t have control over how much venom they release. Whereas a larger snake can control how much it may release in a bite. A smaller snake will typically release all of it, making it potentially worse that a bite from a larger snake.”
Another thing Ochoa pointed out is that all snakes bite.
“Not all snakes are venomous, but all bite,” he said. “So if you see a snake, don’t disturb it. If it’s in an office, or other structure, we will relocate it for you.”
If you see snakes, or other desert critters in an area that is potentially dangerous to people, or may cause a work stoppage, call the help desk immediately at 760-577-6220.
“I will trap or otherwise catch the critter, and relocate it, depending on what it is,” Ochoa said. “Or we might take the animal to a local animal shelter, or whatever is deemed appropriate given the type of animal.”
If you or anyone you know is bitten or stung by a venomous animal, seek medical attention. If you dial 9-1-1, remember that it routes calls through the California Highway Patrol dispatch center and they may not know your location automatically. Be specific with the patient’s location on base.