Caylee Kapa, 13, of Madison Heights felt excruciating pain when the snake she picked up on Tuesday at Stony Creek Park bit her right finger. / Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press
SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) -- When Caylee Kapa picked up the 9-inch snake, she never imagined it could be venomous.
The 13-year-old Madison Heights girl says she didn't even know Michigan had rattlesnakes. She was simply out for a walk with family at Stony Creek Metropark on Tuesday and picked up the snake in an effort to keep her younger brother, Anthony Kapa, 10, from stomping on it.
"My little brother was going to try to kill it, (so) I was going to try to pick it up and it bit me," said the eighth-grader at John Page Middle School.
Michigan's only venomous snake, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, had sunk its fangs into Caylee's right index finger - causing a painful bite that required hospitalization and teaching her an important lesson about the snakes she didn't know existed here. The eastern massasauga is considered a rare sight in Michigan, but it can be found throughout the Lower Peninsula, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Caylee, who is still recuperating at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said she didn't see a rattle on the young snake when she picked it up.
"It was very painful, and it started bleeding," Caylee said today of the bite. "I was praying that it wasn't poisonous, but we found out that it was, and I got scared."
The bite eventually caused Caylee's hand and wrist to swell and forced doctors to track down anti-venom in Flint, according to Caylee's mother, Cyndi McLauchlan, 43.
McLauchlan said it was a frightening experience because it took 28 hours before blood tests showed any of the toxin in Caylee's system. If the hospital had released Caylee too soon, McLauchlan believes her daughter would have suffered more serious injuries.
"It was really scary there for a while," McLauchlan said. "People who get bitten by this snake need to understand that it takes a while for this (venom) to take its course."
State Department of Natural Resources officials said they don't know whether anyone ever died from an eastern massasauga bite and they did not have statistics on bites in Michigan.
The snakes are a species of special concern, and it is illegal to kill them. They are not considered aggressive and tend to shy away from people.
The snakes, which can grow to as long as 30 inches, can give birth to as many as 20 young in the late summer, the DNR said. Their bodies are thick and colored with a pattern of dark brown slightly rectangular patches set against a light gray-to-brown background.
Kim Sherwin, park interpreter at Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center in Shelby Township, said the rattlers are seen at the park occasionally. Visitors who spot them are encouraged to take a couple of steps back, even though the snakes tend to be sluggish. She said the rattle is not loud and can sound like a buzzing noise.
Sherwin said the snake that bit Caylee was likely trying to protect itself.
Caylee said she won't be picking up any strange snakes in the future and had some advice for others.
"Even if you don't see the rattle on the snake, stay away from it no matter what," she said.
Contact Eric D. Lawrence: email@example.com