SPRINGTIME COMES CAN SNAKES BE FAR BEHIND?
by Whit Gibbons
March 30, 2008
happened this month that brought snakes to mind. The first was St. Patrick's
Day, March 17. The saint is credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland.
The fact that snakes never lived on that cold island in no way discourages
people from making a connection between St. Patrick and snakes.
happening was reported in the newspaper. A man from Virginia got bitten
by a small canebrake rattlesnake that had crawled inside his luggage during
a visit to South Carolina. The man left his suitcase open on a porch,
and presumably the passing snake thought someone's dirty clothes would
make a good sleeping place. The man apparently suffered little damage
from the bite.
significant snake event of the week was the spring equinox on March 20.
Spring is officially here: The days are getting longer than the nights
and both are getting warmer. Among the many plants and animals to respond
to these phenomena are the snakes. All U.S. species become more active
and evident in the spring, hence a word in behalf of this fascinating
yet bullied wildlife is warranted. Most people today have an awareness
and concern about the welfare of all wildlife and natural environments.
Part of that process includes accepting the snakes. Like other wildlife,
snakes have a right to exist in the natural world. And they serve as a
barometer of environmental attitudes in a region. An ecologically educated
community accepts snakes as an integral component of natural environments.
are highly overrated as a threat to humans. Of the more than 50 native
snake species in the East, only seven are venomous; the rest, harmless.
Bites of three are rarely if ever lethal to humans. These are the copperhead
and two small rattlesnakes (the massasauga of the Midwest, and the pygmy
rattler of the South). Three larger pit vipers are also found east of
the Mississippi River. The largest venomous snake in North America, and
the most dangerous in the East, is the eastern diamondback rattlesnake,
which can reach a length of over seven feet. Next in size, often over
five feet, is the timber rattler, called the canebrake rattler in the
is by far the most common venomous U.S. snake that lives around water.
The bite of a cottonmouth can be bad, but the snake's aggressiveness is
way overrated. Studies have shown that the vast majority of bites from
this species occur when people pick the snake up. Yes, pick the snake
up! OK. Think about the cause and effect in that scenario then see if
you can figure out a way to reduce your odds of getting bitten by a cottonmouth.
exception, the copperhead, the same appears to be true for the other pit
vipers. The greatest threat occurs when a person picks one up. The copperhead
is the venomous snake most likely to bite someone unaware of the snake's
presence. But consider this fact: Copperheads bite more people every year
than any other U.S. snake, yet no one dies from the bite. Copperhead venom
is less potent than that of most species, and a bite usually causes minimal
damage to the victim. A trip to the hospital or doctor's office is still
advisable if you do get bitten.
venomous eastern snake is the coral snake. Venom of the coral snake, a
cobra relative, can indeed kill an adult human if enough is injected.
But the snakes are small, rare, and unlikely to bite a person unless picked
up. An accidental bite from an unseen coral snake is a truly rare event.
Perhaps the greatest danger is to children who might pick up a brightly
colored red, yellow, and black snake.
should be taught never to pick up any snake without supervision by a knowledgeable
adult. But they, as well as adults, should learn to enjoy snakes by watching
them. It's more fascinating and a lot safer than trying to kill them.
In any case, they are here until winter, and St. Patrick isn't around
to do anything about it.
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