MEANS SNAKE SEASON
by Whit Gibbons
April 2, 2006
of spring have become apparent in the last couple of weeks. The days are
warmer. Neighborhood plants are approaching full flower. And the surest
sign of all--people are beginning to ask questions about snakes. So, as
usual about this time of year, a word needs to be said in behalf of this
thrilling, yet maligned, wildlife group.
not touch snakes, keep them as pets, or even look at them if they make
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. An ecologically educated community accepts
snakes as an integral component of natural environments.
almost everyone, but some people fear them more than they do any other
animal. 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. Fortunately,
superstitions, exaggerated stories, and irrational fears about snakes
are on the wane as Americans are becoming more educated about our native
wildlife and more ecologically aware.
are highly overrated as a human threat. More than 50 native snake species
live in the East, but only 7 are venomous, the rest harmless. Three of
the venomous species are the copperhead and the 2 small rattlesnakes (massasauga
and pygmy). The bites of any of the three are rarely if ever lethal to
humans. Even though copperheads bite more people in the U.S. than do other
species, their venom is less potent than that of most other venomous species,
and a bite usually causes minimal damage to the victim. The other four
venomous snakes of eastern North America are the large pit vipers (diamondback
rattler, timber or canebrake rattler, and cottonmouth or water moccasin)
and the eastern coral snake. Any of these can be potentially hazardous.
Nonetheless, unless you pick up a snake, you have a diminishingly small
chance of receiving a serious bite. Even rattlesnakes do not want to bite
people except in self-defense as a last resort.
are small, rare, and unlikely to bite anyone unless handled. Perhaps the
greatest danger is to children who might find a brightly colored red,
yellow, and black snake attractive enough to pick up. Of course children
should be taught never to pick up any snake without supervision by a knowledgeable
adult. Children, and apparently some adults, should also be taught that
snakes only bite humans in self-defense and that all snakes deserve our
respect. 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. Although the claim has been made many times, no herpetologist
has ever verified the "chased by a snake" phenomenon. No evidence
of such aggressiveness exists for any venomous snake in North America.
snakebite is one in which a person unintentionally and unknowingly provokes
a venomous snake and is bitten. When someone gets bitten while trying
to catch, kill, or handle a snake, the bite is termed illegitimate.
that snakes are a maligned group of animals is that most people know little
about their basic biology. Being unfamiliar with something you think might
hurt you can lead to fear and distrust. Educating the public is probably
the single best step toward the conservation of snakes. Anyone who is
interested in snakes or has questions about them should go to www.uga.edu/srelherp.
You can learn about southeastern snakes and also link to other sites about
snakes in general. An email address is provided for asking questions.
If you want to find out what kind of snake you have seen, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send a digital photo if possible, and always give the exact location of
where you saw the snake.
a natural part of the world; therefore, snakebite is a possible--though
highly unlikely--hazard if you venture outdoors. The risk of being snake
bitten outdoors in the United States is incredibly low relative to the
benefit of experiencing springtime and all the flowering plants and active
wildlife, including the snakes.
you have an environmental question or comment, email