The unseasonably warm weather that drew folks across the Lowcountry outside last week was probably also responsible for luring above ground the rattlesnake that bit an 8-year-old Goose Creek boy.
Zach Szala, who was bitten twice when he stepped over a downed tree in the woods at Wannamaker County Park last week, remained in serious condition Wednesday in Medical University Hospital.
"The warm weather has probably kept (rattlesnakes) out a little longer," said Ted Clamp, co-owner of the Edisto Island Serpentarium.
"It's not that common for them to be out in November, but it does happen. As long as it's warm enough, they'll come out every day to soak up the sun to warm their body. They're not really looking for food so much, or a mate."
The 8-year-old was on an outing in the park with his two siblings, two cousins and an aunt when struck by the snake.
There have been 152 reports of snakebites in South Carolina this year, said Jill Michels, a clinical pharmacist and managing director of the Palmetto Poison Center at USC's South Carolina College of Pharmacy.
The center collects data on venomous bites from the state's poisonous snakes -- rattlers, cottonmouths, coral snakes and copperheads -- but most people don't know what kind of snake bit them, she said.
Nationally, about 7,000 people suffer bites from venomous snakes in the
United States each year, according to the Health Library at the Medical University of South Carolina.
While people should be cautious in the woods, being bitten by a rattlesnake is uncommon, said Steve Bennett, herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Experts have said the snake likely was a canebrake rattlesnake, a coastal form of the timber rattlesnake. The estimated 6-foot length puts it at a very large size for its kind, Clamp said.
Canebrakes have particularly potent venom, Clamp said. The venom has a neurotoxin that affects the nervous system, and also can have hemotoxic properties that can cause tissue or muscle damage.
"If the venom is absorbed by the body, it's distributed throughout the body," Michels said.
Snakebites are treated with antivenin, an antitoxin specific to the rattler's venom. All hospitals in the state have antivenin, Michels said.
Zach's aunt, Ansley Crabtree, estimated that he received 40 vials of antivenin.
Clamp said it sounds as if Zach may have stepped on the snake.
"(The bites) sound extremely severe, which means that the snake might have been hurt a little bit," he said.
Bennett agreed that the snake probably was not hunting. Canebrakes eat small rodents, with squirrels being a favorite. They tend to hide while hunting, often against tree trunks. Their pattern and coloration make them hard to see when they are lying among vegetation.
The snakes tend to stay dormant underground in the winter, but do not hibernate, he said.
"For a snake that size to eat a fairly big meal this time of year is a risk because it might not have time to digest it," Bennett said. "It will happen time to time, but if it can't digest that food item, it goes septic and the snake could die."
"In general, this is an incredibly rare and unlucky circumstance," he said. "I suspect that in order to receive a bite like this, he just came too close, too quickly. Biting is not their first choice.
"The venom system that they have evolved is a means of getting food. If it spends venom on a defensive strike, then it has to make more. They would rather rattle and get out of your way, but when their space is violated and they have to do something or die, then they'll inject venom. If (Zach) had seen that rattlesnake and stopped, that thing would have slithered away."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Facebook.