Sunday, May 11, 2008

Snakes Aren't The Monsters Some Think They Are

Article from
Bryce Moore, 11, handles a corn snake at a program earlier in the week at Alabama Outdoors. When many people see a snake, they immediately think about trying to kill it. Others, such as 11-year-old Bryce Moore, watch the snake for a little while and then stand back as it slithers away. "Snakes are cool. You've just got to watch out for the venomous ones. There's no reason for people to kill them," said Moore, of Florence.

During a snake night program at Alabama Outdoors in Florence this week, Moore handled several of the snakes, including a 5-foot long corn snake. "I love these things," he said as the colorful reptile wrapped itself around Moore's arm.

Jack Paul, a self-professed reptile enthusiast from Killen who led the program, said snakes are killed because they are misunderstood. "When someone encounters a snake, all they need to do is step back for a moment to allow the snake to crawl away," Paul said. "Snakes are not as much of something to get excited about as people try to make them. Snakes are not out to get us."

Paul said when a snake encounters a person, the reptile will either freeze and attempt to use its camouflage to blend into the surroundings or attempt to escape by crawling away. As a last resort, a snake that feel it cannot escape will exhibit threatening behavior such as raising its head, hissing or striking at the person. He said most people bitten by snakes are attempting to catch or kill the animal. Some are bitten when they step on the snake or accidently place their hand near the animal.

"There are 7,000 to 8,000 venomous snake bites in the United States each year. On average, only five result in death," Paul said. "Fifty percent of people who are bitten by snakes had been drinking alcohol before being bitten." Fatal snake bites are rare in Alabama with an average of one death every 10 years, Paul said.

Mark Sasser, director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' non-game wildlife division, said snakes play an important role in the environment by helping keep rat and mice populations under control. Small rodents are a favorite food of many snake species. Paul said many people who kill the snakes around their home wonder why they soon have an over population of rats and mice. "Snakes are unjustly persecuted," Sasser said. "If you don't mess with them, they won't bite you."

Sasser said the state agency is attempting to increase the awareness of the role snakes play in the environment. Its biologists present educational programs about snakes throughout the state in an attempt to change the mindset many people have that snakes are evil.

"There are only four species of venemous snakes in Alabama - rattlesnake, copperhead, water moccasin and coral snake," Sasser said. "If people will learn how to identify them and how to avoid them, they will know they do not have to worry about the 50 something other species that are nonvenomous. Paul said timber and pygmy rattlesnakes, copperhead and water moccasins - which are also called cotton mouths - are the only venemous species in the Tennessee Valley. Even when someone encounters a venemous snake, if they will just step back it's all over with and the situation is defused," he said.

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