TIME HAS COME TO THINK ABOUT SNAKE SAFETY
March 29, 2009
time of year, snakes begin to emerge from winter dormancy, and questions
about snakes and snake safety follow. A few I received during the past
week include, "What are the odds of being bitten by a venomous snake
in the United States?" "Are most snakes in the South venomous?"
"I live out in the country. How can I avoid being bitten by a snake?"
snakes are harmless; the chances of receiving a serious bite from a venomous
snake are extremely low. The average American probably sees fewer than
three snakes a year, and many people never see even one. To be sure, in
every natural habitat in the Southeast, snakes are all around--underground,
beneath logs and rocks, or perfectly camouflaged in leaves or pine straw--but
each year most of us pass by many more than we see. If you do see one,
what are the chances it will be venomous? Slim. In the Southeast, six
of the 50 native species of snakes are venomous. But many environmental
variables can influence what species you encounter, and where you happen
to be can make a big difference.
an important part of southeastern ecosystems, and their presence and diversity
are indicative of environmental health. Snakes deserve our respect, but
they need not be feared if we follow certain basic safety procedures and
recognize that most snakebites are avoidable. The following are suggestions
for anyone who lives in the Southeast. They are especially important for
people who spend a lot of time outdoors in natural habitats as well as
in many suburban areas where a few venomous snakes persist.
the snakes in your locality. If you are concerned about the potential
danger of snakebite, find out which venomous snakes might be around and
what they look like by checking out websites such as www.uga.edu/srelherp
or consulting a field guide. The six venomous species in the Southeast
are cottonmouth (water moccasin), copperhead, coral snake, and three rattlesnakes
(pygmy, canebrake or timber, and eastern diamondback).
2. Use common
sense. If you see a snake, observe it from a distance of a few feet, but
do not try to catch it or disturb it in any way. Many people have been
bitten trying to kill a large venomous snake in a natural area when they
could have simply watched it then walked away. If you are in an area that
venomous species are known to inhabit, watch where you step and be careful
where you put your hands. Rock ledges and fallen logs are prime real estate
proper attire. When walking through areas known to have venomous snakes,
such as swamps and thick vegetation, the safest approach is to wear long
pants and high-topped boots or even snake leggings. Leather shoes are
too thick for most snake fangs to penetrate.
your car keys and cell phone handy. Having access to a vehicle that can
transport a snakebite victim to an emergency care facility and a cell
phone to call ahead are smart precautions to take. Of course, such forethought
would be helpful in any emergency.
associated with whether a bite is serious or minor are numerous. But venomous
snakebites are rare. One fact to remember is that a high proportion of
U.S. bites occur when someone picks up the snake. In those instances in
which the person did not see the snake until too late to avoid being bitten,
up to half, perhaps more, of the bites are "dry bites." That
means no venom was injected. The potency and amount of venom injected
and the tendency of the snake to strike are variables that depend on the
species of snakes. For example, an eastern diamondback has venom 10 times
as potent and can deliver a much higher quantity than a copperhead can.
However, a copperhead is far more likely to strike a person than is a
snakebites are uncommon and most can be avoided. With a few simple precautions
you can get outside and enjoy the snakes along with the rest of spring.
you have an environmental question or comment, email