SNAKES ABOUND, SO DO QUESTIONS ABOUT THEM
August 29, 2010
column noted that U.S. snakes are most abundant in late summer and early
fall because baby snakes are being born. This leads to questions about
snakes. The two that follow are applicable to many geographic areas.
Q: I have
a small dog that keeps finding snakes. He has not been bitten, but he
goes into attack mode when he comes across a snake. Would a copperhead,
rattlesnake or cottonmouth bite hurt him? Would any of the nonvenomous
snakes bite him and, if so, with what effect?
A: I know
of few dogs killed outright by the bite of a venomous snake. A bite from
a big rattlesnake or cottonmouth could be lethal to a dog, but I do not
know of any killed by a copperhead. A bite from any of the large pit vipers
can make a dog swell up considerably at the site of the bite. Dogs are
usually bitten around the face, head or shoulders because the dog is usually
sticking its nose where it does not belong. Of the larger nonvenomous
species like rat snakes, kingsnakes and watersnakes or any of the other
nearly 50 species of harmless snakes in the eastern United States, none
is going to hurt a dog in a serious way by biting it.
Q: We have
cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes around the woods and along
the stream near our house. When our young grandchildren visit us, we are
concerned about their playing outdoors. I have never seen venomous snakes
except under bushes, coiled up on logs around the stream or crossing roads.
So there is little likelihood that the grandchildren will run into a snake,
but it seems to me that venomous snakes are not good to have around. Should
we take any special precautions when the grandchildren visit?
an encounter between a child and a venomous snake might end badly. But
four things must occur before the problem becomes serious. First, the
child must actually encounter a snake. This is not a frequent occurrence
even in the Southeast, where snakes can be common. Herpetologists who
go out looking for snakes often spend hours searching, without finding
one. Second, the snake must be one of the venomous species. The odds are
better than 6 to 1 in most places in the eastern U.S. that a snake found
in the wild will be a harmless one.
the snake is venomous (that is, a pit viper or coral snake), it must actually
bite the person. The chances of your stumbling upon a venomous snake that
bites you are slim. You are more likely to be struck by lightning. If
you see the snake before getting close enough to be bitten, there is no
excuse for suffering snakebite. Even a child can be taught to back away
from a snake and watch it from a distance. I taught my children, and am
now teaching my grandchildren, that if they see a snake, they are to look
at it and not go near it unless I tell them it is a harmless variety that
they are allowed to catch.
thing that must happen is that the snake must deliver sufficient venom
to cause a problem. Many bites to people are dry bites in which no venom
is injected. With regard to copperheads, I have not heard of anyone, including
children, who has died from a copperhead bite. Yet this is the venomous
species that bites more people in the United States every year than any
tragic events sometimes happen, and occasionally children suffer lethal
bites from venomous snakes. This is a terrible thing when it happens.
Although the risk of snakebite with children is exceedingly rare, being
concerned about snakes and taking precautionary measures would not be
amiss in many regions of the country. Snakes and other wildlife have much
to offer us in the form of environmental gratification, and we ought to
respect nature but not fear it. We should teach children to do the same.
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