MEANS SNAKE SEASON
by Whit Gibbons
March 28, 2004
about this time of year, a word needs to be said in behalf of the most
mesmerizing, yet maligned, wildlife group--the snakes. Most people today
have an awareness of and concern for the welfare of all wildlife and natural
environments. Part of that process must include accepting the snakes,
the martyrs of the natural world.
not touch snakes, keep them as pets, or even look at them if it makes
you uncomfortable. You should, however, accept their right to exist in
the natural world. Like other wildlife, snakes should be allowed to live
in peace in their native habitat.
both fascination and fear, snakes serve as a barometer of regional environmental
attitudes. The extent of misinformation and inappropriate attitudes about
snakes unquestionably exceeds that of any other group of animals on earth.
An ecologically educated community accepts snakes as an integral component
of natural environments.
are highly overrated as a human threat. Of the more than 50 native snake
species in the East, only 7 are venomous, the rest harmless. Bites of
the copperhead and the 2 small rattlesnakes (massasauga and pygmy) are
rarely if ever lethal to humans. The large pit vipers (diamondback, timber
or canebrake rattler, and cottonmouth) and the coral snake can be potentially
hazardous, but only on rare occasions.
the coral snake, a cobra relative, can indeed kill an adult human if enough
venom is injected. But coral snakes are small, rare, and unlikely to bite
a person unless picked up. A person has a diminishingly small chance of
being bitten accidentally by a coral snake. Perhaps the greatest danger
is to children who might pick up a brightly colored red, yellow, and black
should be taught never to pick up any snake without supervision by a knowledgeable
adult. They should also be taught that snakes only bite humans in self-defense
and that all snakes deserve our respect. Children should learn that many
snakes will strike out when cornered, but they do not come looking for
you. No U.S. snake will intentionally pursue a person with intent to harm.
No herpetologist has ever verified the "chased by a snake" phenomenon.
associates and I have seen or captured thousands of snakes from the Atlantic
to the Pacific. None of us has ever seen an American snake chase someone.
I specify "American," because some zookeepers and herpetologists
say that African mambas and Asian cobras can take offense at a person's
presence and actively attack. Maybe they will, but no evidence of such
aggressiveness exists for North American species. The last thing a snake,
even a rattlesnake, wants to do is bite an animal too big to eat. Biting,
a last resort when escape seems impossible, can be costly to a snake by
resulting in broken fangs and lost venom needed to capture prey. A rattlesnake
that keeps you away by vibrating its tail is better off than one that
has to bite you.
snakebite is one in which a person unintentionally and unknowingly provokes
a venomous snake and is bitten. The odds of being struck by lightning
or being in a car wreck are hundreds of times greater than the odds of
receiving a serious legitimate snakebite in the United States.
sees a snake and then tries to catch, kill, or handle it, the bite is
illegitimate. Hospital records show that many snakebite victims actually
picked up the animal first. We can't place blame on the snake in such
instances. Copperheads are one of the few venomous snakes in the country
that often bite people who may be unaware of the snake's presence. But
copperhead venom is less potent than that of most species, and a bite
usually causes minimal damage to the victim.
a natural part of the world; therefore, snakebite is a possible--though
highly improbable--hazard if you venture outdoors. Anyone interested in
snakes, which includes almost everyone in one way or another, should check
out two Web sites: www.parcplace.org
and www.uga.edu/srelherp. Either
will teach you a lot about snakes and also link to others on the topic.
Thus you can keep informed about what many consider to be America's most
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