With outdoor activities becoming popular with the arrival of warmer weather, people — and wildlife, including snakes — are once again sharing space.
“There is no way to avoid snakes if you’re going to be in the woods hiking or fishing,” said Mark Sasser, a wildlife biologist and coordinator of the nongame wildlife program at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “You just need to be cognizant and aware of your presence and where you are.”
Alabama has 49 native species of snakes, six of which are venomous, and whether you know it or not, you are bound to come into contact with one, according to Mark Sasser. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths are the three venomous snakes found in northeast Alabama.
When a person comes across a snake, the simplest plan of action is to just leave it alone. Avoidance generally is the most sensible approach to dealing with snakes, according to Sasser.
While leaving snakes alone is prefered, it does not hurt to understand the often demonized reptile, Sasser said.
“Learn the identity of the six venomous snakes, and all the other 40-something are fine,” Sasser said. “That’s the easiest thing to do.”
Examining the snake’s head is also another means of identifying snakes, said Sarah Burke, education director at the Anniston Museum of Natural History.
“Most venomous snakes are going to have that triangular shaped head,” Burke said. “That is where they are storing their venom, in the back.”
Nonvenomous snakes have a rounded, thumb shaped head, Burke said.
While all bites hurt, Burke said it is easy to tell if the snake was venomous or not based on the intensity and physical reaction of the spot from the bite.
In the case of being bitten by a venomous snake, the best way of handling the situation is to stay calm and get yourself to a hospital to get treated with antivenom.
“The calmer you are, the better it is,” Burke said. “The more you get excited and everything, your blood is going to be pumping and it is going to spread faster.”
When it comes to doing yard work, wearing protective clothing such as leather gloves and boots can help prevent possible bites, said Rebecca Yarbrough Tucker, a snake expert who runs the Yarbrough Educational Reptile Program in Eastaboga.
“Most snakebites are either on the fingertips, or from the knee down,” Tucker said. “People either stick their hands up under something or they step on it before they realize it was a snake.”
Keeping your yard tidy and well kept is a key way to keep snakes away from your home.
Stray items around the yard — such as flower pots, tires, and shrubbery — are ideal hiding places for snakes, so picking up debris and keeping your greenery trimmed can limit possible living spaces for snakes, Tucker said.
Maintaining a clean yard can also rid your property of snakes by reducing one of their primary food sources: rodents.
“If you have things laying around, rodents are attracted to that and they come in,” Tucker said. “So if you remove debris from the yard, maybe trim the shrubs back and keep it nice and clean, you won't have as many rodents, and that is less attractive for snakes.”
At the same time, however, snakes provide a valuable purpose in the ecosystem by controlling the pest populations that can carry diseases, Sasser said.
Sasser emphasized that without snakes, “We would be knee-deep in rats and mice.”