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Q&AZ: Are Smaller Rattlesnakes, Scorpions More Dangerous Than Larger Ones?

diamondback rattlesnake
Casey Kuhn/KJZZ
file | staff
A diamondback rattlesnake removed from a home in the Phoenix area.

Arizona is known for its creepy desert dwellers, and there are a lot of rumors about rattlesnakes and scorpions. For example, KJZZ listener Mitch Glicksman heard that bites from younger rattlesnakes are deadlier than bites from older ones because of their inability to regulate venom.

Younger rattlesnakes have less venom in their bodies, and what they do produce is generally less potent. However, younger snakes are more impulsive so they could release more venom and therefore be more dangerous.

“But the only studies we have are on mice, and what's more lethal to a mouse doesn't necessarily mean it’s more lethal to a human,” said Dan Massey, a clinical pharmacist and venomous-snake expert.

There are 13 species of rattlesnakes in Arizona, and Massey said each has their own unique venom chemistry. He said he's not interested in digging into what species are more dangerous at what age.

“Whether or not you’re bitten by a baby or an adult, it doesn't matter,” he said. “They’re still all medical emergencies and they still need to all be treated the same way: meaning you want to remove any restrictive clothing, rings, bracelets, etc., and get to the medical facility as soon as you can.”

He also said you shouldn't be taking medical advice from old Westerns.

“There are, I can use the word primitive treatments, some are where you cut the bite site and try to suck the venom out,” he said. “It actually causes a much higher risk for infection … you also don’t want to use ice or a tourniquet.”

The same size warning is applied to scorpions and is also based on a half-truth. Some of the deadlier species of scorpions are smaller in size, which is probably where the rumor came from, but stings from mature scorpions of almost any species will be more dangerous.

Claire Caulfield first joined KJZZ as an intern in 2015 and now wakes up before the sun to produce and report for Morning Edition. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2017 and covered education policy in the nation's capital, election night in New York City and Native American issues for Cronkite News/ Arizona PBS. Before joining the Morning Edition team, she also worked on a documentary about rap music in the deep South and directed a film on drinking-water quality in the United States.On the weekends, you can find Claire flying her photography drone or working her way through the Pulitzer Prize book list.