Update: Final iNaturalist numbers – Dallas was #1 for the most observations in the country with 23,957 observations!
A snake is such a silly thing to be petrified of. Snakes should be respected like every other living creature, but they should not cause overwhelming fear that leads to rocks smashing their heads. Here’s why:
Ask yourself, why am I afraid? Because you have a perception of snakes as slithery, slimy, creepy, deadly animals? Now ask yourself, what shaped that perception of snakes? Was it media highlights of rare occurrences people suffering a snake bite but no information on the species of snakes in our area, and why the person was affected by the bite? Or was it a movie or television show using snakes as villains and portraying them as something to be feared? Or maybe it is the people around you who know someone who knows someone that was bit by a snake and died? Have you stopped to question why you’re so scared? Most people simply can not answer this question — or they answer, “I don’t know, I just think they’re gross.”
That’s not a good enough answer to smash a snake’s head in like I saw this past weekend while out participating in the City Nature Challenge. The challenge was a fun collaboration between by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Master Naturalists, The Audubon Society and others to see which city across the U.S. can document the most species (plants and animals) during April 14-18. In Texas, we had a local challenge between Austin and Houston, and so far (Tuesday April 18) the numbers are close. It looks like Dallas has the most observations (15,149) but the fewest species (1,788) compared to Houston (11,038 observations, 1,928 species) and Austin (11,331 observations, 1,921 species). But the final counts won’t be in until after this week’s paper is out.
All you had to do to participate was upload photos of findings in nature onto the iNaturalist app or on their website at iNaturalist.org. Now that the challenge is over, the data gathering is not! Anyone at anytime can upload to the app and the best part is, you don’t have to know what the plant or animal is. Experts of all kinds use iNaturalist and identify your observations. iNaturalist is an easy way to answer the endless “what is this?” question.
iNaturalist began in 2008 as a Master’s project by three students at UC Berkeley. The website and associated app, “is a place where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world.” But more than that it’s a data collection of our natural world over time and we can use it to answer questions we have about our environment. Let’s take the snakes for example. On the website we can filter through observations to see what species of snakes we have in Texas, what has been observed, and if they have recently been found in our area.
There are over 68 species of snakes in Texas, and in Dallas there have been five observed species of venomous snakes. Quick side note: Snakes are venomous and not poisonous. Poisonous is something that gets on your skin or has toxins on the outside of its body for protection (poison ivy, poison dart frogs) and venomous is something that must inject its venom (certain species of snakes, spiders). In Dallas, the venomous snakes that have been observed are copperhead, cottonmouth, western diamondback, timber rattlesnake and coral snake (western massasauga’s have been observed short distance to our west in Fort Worth). These snakes are vital parts of our ecosystem that utilize venom to stun their prey to eat. Mice, small birds, lizards, other snakes, amphibians and insects are the types of prey for these snakes. Not humans.
When snakes are threatened (ie: when aggravated with sticks or rocks by fearful humans), their last defense is to strike. Stay away and the snake will. In 2001 in Texas 3,922 people died from auto related accidents, 207 from drowning, 59 from firearms, four from lightning and one from a snake bite. Change your perspective on snakes. Respect snakes, don’t attempt killing them.