Famous snake researcher dies after being bitten by rattlesnake

An elderly well-known snake enthusiast died after he was bitten by a rattlesnake in West Virginia last week, his family said.

William H. “Marty” Martin, 80, was killed Aug. 3 after he was bitten by a timber rattler on his property in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, according to his wife, Renee Martin.

Despite his age, Martin would regularly make the arduous trek up local mountains to document snake populations in remote locations, according to Joe Villari, manager of the Bull Run Mountains Preserve in northern Virginia.

“He was in his 80s and he was hard to keep up with,” said Villari, who would join Martin on his biannual outings.

Martin was perhaps the nation’s leading expert on timber rattlers — a notoriously hard-to-find species — that he had studied since he was a child, according to John Sealy, a rattlesnake researcher from Stokesdale, North Carolina.

“They are extremely secretive animals,” Sealy said.

Snake bites are rarely fatal. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that they account for about five deaths annually in the United States.

Dan Keyler, a professor of toxicology at the University of Minnesota and an expert on snakebites, said a second snakebite can be more fatal than the first for some people.

Rattlesnakes can be especially more dangerous if they grow to a size that allows them to inject more venom, and a person’s age affects their susceptibility, he said.

Martin had been bitten earlier in his career but recovered.

Villari said timber rattlers tend to be docile, avoid human contact and often don’t bite even if they are accidentally stepped on.

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

With Postal Wire

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