Respected snake researcher dies from rattlesnake bite

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — A respected snake researcher who made important discoveries about the species since childhood has died after being bitten by a wooden rattle.

William H. “Marty” Martin died Aug. 3 after being bitten by a captive snake the day before on the grounds of his home in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, according to his wife, Renee Martin.

Martin, who was 80 years old, continued to do arduous mountain hikes to document and count snake populations in remote locations, said Joe Villari, who manages the Bull Run Mountains Preserve in northern Virginia and would accompany Martin on his forays there.

“He was in his 80s and he was hard to keep up with,” said Villari, who made it a point to accompany Martin on his semi-annual treks to remote mountain caves where the snakes would live.

John Sealy, a Stokesdale, North Carolina rattlesnake researcher who has known Martin for more than 30 years, said Martin was perhaps the foremost authority on wood rattlesnakes, a species he studied from childhood.

As a boy, Martin found a population of timber rattles in the Bull Run Mountains previously unknown, and convinced a herpetologist to come out and verify the find.

Sealy said Martin was known throughout the snake expert community for his fieldwork and research, and his ability to find and document a species that is hard to find.

“They are extremely secretive animals,” he said.

Deaths from snakebites are extremely rare; the Centers for Disease Control estimate that they are responsible for about five fatalities in the US each year

Dan Keyler, a professor of toxicology at the University of Minnesota and an expert on snakebites, said a second snakebite can be more dangerous for some people than the first and that rattlesnakes can be more dangerous if they grow so large that they can hold more venom. inject. . Age can also be a factor in a person’s sensitivity.

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Martin had been bitten earlier in his career, but recovered.

Villari said rattlesnakes tend to be docile, avoid human contact and often won’t bite, even if accidentally stepped on.

“They save their venom for their prey,” he said.

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