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80-year-old rattlesnake expert dead after being bitten by a timber rattler on his property 

80-year-old rattlesnake expert dead after being bitten by a timber rattler on his property in West Virginia

  • William H. ‘Marty’ Martin was killed by a timber rattler last week after being bitten on his property
  • The 80-year-old snake researcher had been studying the species since his childhood
  • Martin was renowned for his ability to find the secretive snake, which avoids human contact
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates approximately five people die from snake bites in the United States annually

A nationally renowned snake researcher died last week after he was bitten by the species of snake he spent his entire life studying. 

William H. ‘Marty’ Martin, 80, was killed when he was bitten by a timber rattler on his property in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Martin would frequently hike into the mountains and visit remote locations to document the activity of the snakes and record their numbers. 

Joe Villari, manager of the Bull Run Mountains Preserve, said he would accompany Martin on his expeditions, and described his enthusiasm and vitality.

‘He was in his 80s, and he was hard to keep up with,’ said Villari. 

In 2019, Martin was described as ‘the ambassador of rattlesnakes’ in a profile by Terrain.com

William H. ‘Marty’ Martin, 80, was killed after he was bitten by a timber rattler, a venomous pit viper that Martin had studied since childhood

Timber rattlers are a type of pit viper, and while they are considered docile, they can pack a lot of venom into one bite

Timber rattlers are a type of pit viper, and while they are considered docile, they can pack a lot of venom into one bite

Martin poses here in the wilderness with a long snakeskin

Martin poses here in the wilderness with a long snakeskin 

 Along with studying the snakes, Martin was an advocate for their conservation and tried to decrease the stigma around them. 

In 1993, he told the Baltimore Sun ‘there was a time when scientists identified animals as good or bad to man.’

Timber rattlers, or timber rattlesnakes, are considered one of the most dangerous species of snake in the country due to their deadly venom, long fangs and large size.

They are one of approximately 30 venomous species in the US, and can be found from Texas to New England.  

Villari said the the snakes avoid contact with humans whenever possible, even when they’re stepped on accidentally.

‘They save their venom for their prey,’ said Villari. 

Deaths from snakebites are very uncommon in the US, and the Centers for Disease Control estimates approximately five people die from them annually, though around 3,000 are reported each year. 

John Sealy, a rattlesnake researcher from Stokesdale, North Carolina, said Martin was revered for his ability to find the reptiles and conduct field work.

‘They’re extremely secretive animals,’ said Sealy. 

Martin had studied the snakes since he was a young boy, and even found a population of snakes that were previously undiscovered, convincing a herpetologist to accompany him and verify the discovery.

Sealy had known Martin for 30 years before his death last Wednesday. Martin had been bitten by snakes before but had recovered.

Dan Keyler, a toxicology professor at the University of Minnesota and an expert on snakebites, said a second snakebite can prove more dangerous to a human.

He said rattlesnakes are more dangerous the bigger they are as it would allow them to inject more venom, and added older people may be at added risk when bitten by a snake. 

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