SPRINGTIME COMES CAN SNAKES BE FAR BEHIND?
Three things 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.
The second 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.
The most 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.
U.S. snakes 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 Coastal Plain.
The cottonmouth 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.
With one 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.
The last 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.