Info on Snakes in Okinawa
※ PLEASE READ THE SECTION BELOW THOROUGHLY
There are many types of snakes in Okinawa. Four of these snakes are poisonous and belong to the Habu genus. They have diamond-shaped heads and are brown-green in color. Despite being poisonous, there are not vicious and do not want to bite you. Like all snakes, they can feel the vibrations in the earth from footsteps and will wander off to avoid you because you are too big to eat! In tall grass, walk slowly and stomp your feet and you’ll have no problems with poisonous snakes here.
Several OkiJETs have seen habu, but they are generally hard to see. They are primarily nocturnal and active in the warm seasons from about late March to October.
While walking, watch your step and don’t go crashing off through the forests or wilderness. And if you see habu, let it wander away. Snakes only bite because they feel threatened. Give them peace and they will leave you alone too.
If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, remain as calm as possible. DO NOT USE YOUR MOUTH TO SUCK OUT THE POISON. If you have a venom extractor (the type that comes in a yellow box sold as “Sawyer Extractor”) immediately suck out the venom with that. Again, do not use your mouth to suck. If you do not have a professional venom extractor, apply pressure equivalent to what you would use to wrap a sprain to the affected area. Check to make sure there are pulses present after wrapping. DO NOT USE A TOURNIQUET (a strip of cloth that is tied tightly around an injured arm or leg to stop it bleeding). Tourniquets may result in loss of the limb. Let the circulation continue by keeping the wound below heart level and SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY (call 119).
If you can, try to get a look at the snake to help identify it for medical authorities. Do not try to kill the snake as it may bite you too (or again)—the #1 cause of snakebites is from people chasing snakes.
Although painful, for healthy human adults, habu bites are rarely fatal. Primary deaths are in the elderly and among small children. However, staying calm and working to provide immediate medical attention can save a person no matter what age.
As a resident of Okinawa, there is no need to fear habu or snakes. Just be cautious and in the rare encounter of one, do not panic or do anything stupid. Many local Okinawans are afraid of habu and may tell you stories to scare or warn you. Despite their (mostly) good intentions, many Okinawans have never and will never see a habu in the wild.
Hiking is safe and the Okinawan wilderness is not a dangerous place. Do not let habu stop you from exploring and enjoying the beauty of Okinawa!
A more detailed explanation of snakebite do’s and don’ts can be found here: Do’s and Don’ts of Handling Snakebites
Habu info & image source: Ryukyu Shimpo