Snake… Does that word make you shudder?

We’ve all seen the pictures of dead snakes and comments such as “the best snake is a dead snake” but do we all know why we kill snakes? A complete misunderstanding of these animals.  Fear.

I’ve seen too many dead snakes recently on my social media feeds that I have to address it.

Growing up with two older brothers I was taught to be terrified of snakes. My brothers caught snakes in the lush grass and enjoyed tormenting and instilling a fear of all snakes in me. I carried this with me as I entered the workforce years later.  My first internship after college was at a zoo. In that job I worked with lots of birds, kangaroos and two ginormous snakes, a Burmese python and an anaconda. In the first few weeks I barely opened the door to their enclosure to throw in their dead rabbits, mist their exhibit, and clean up inside. But then something changed. I realized, just like all the other animals I cared for, they too needed care. Which meant, they too were animals. They were no different and yet less dangerous than the crazy blue macaws and male kangaroos I worked with yet culture (and my brothers) made me fear them. I went on to research more information about snakes and realized there is nothing to fear and more to marvel at. I now have worked with hundreds of snakes, and held many for educational purposes.

People have misconceptions about snakes, and I don’t blame them. Hollywood movies, mass media, and many other public outlets glorify the death of snakes. Why do we love to make snakes the bad guys?  Being around hundreds of snakes in both captivity and the wild, I have never witnessed a snake chase after a human. I have in fact been chased by a cow, several dogs, looked eye to eye with a raccoon, wrestled a mountain lion, had a male black bear stand up on me, and many more incidents. In all of my encounters with snakes the people that got bit were handling a wild snake, mostly because they wanted to. Snakes just like any animal including people, can bite. Anything with a mouth with no other defense will bite. If some stranger grabbed me in the wild, you can bet your life I’m going to bite you, hard.

Don’t kill that snake. It’s not going to chase you. Even if it is venomous. Here’s my way to relate venom to kids. If I were to give you $5 for you to survive on for two weeks without any other food or money, would you spend it all in one day? No. You would ration out what you could to make it last. Snakes use their venom similarly. As they learn to manage their venom output they can utilize just the amount they need to work on a mouse. They inherently know that a person is way to big to eat. Their venom is their survival and they do not want to just give it away.

Why you should not kill a snake:
1. They are apex predators. They keep the small rodents, lizard, and other snake populations in check. Just as the case with mountain lions – if you remove all the mountain lions the deer become overpopulated and they destroy their habitat and therefore themselves. The system needs balance.
2. There are snakes that eat venomous snakes. If you kill a king snake you have just killed a non venomous snake that can not hurt you and is your friend. King snakes eat venomous snakes, you want them around.
3. They are great in the garden. They do not eat your plants but eat the animals that do eat your plants. Perfect!
4. Snakes are not looking to attack you. Most people that get bit are messing with the snake. Poking, handling or trying to kill it can ultimately lead to a bite. Good luck. Best to do what they do and try to avoid them. The cutest snake ever was a western diamondback I found in the middle of the trail sun bathing. As I walked miles away from anyone by myself he wasn’t expecting company. As I came up on him his eyes were closed relaxing. When he spotted me he proceeded to flatten out his body as much as possible to “hide”. Too bad the trail was red dirt in this spot and he was obviously patterned. His eyes opened up wide, yet as close to the ground as he could get them, looked worried, fearful, hopeful that I would just continue to walk past. I did. No one was harmed.

Here are some stats to ease your mind:

  • There are more casualties in the United States due to car accidents (37,594), lightning strikes (54), and dog attacks (21) each year than from venomous snakebites (5).
  • Approximately 7,000-8,000 people are envenomated each year in the United States but there is only an average of 5 casualties.
  • In Texas alone, there were more casualties in 2005 from drowning (308), firearms/hunting (79), and venomous arthropods (16) than venomous snakebites (2).

If you post a dead snake on your social media, realize you’re spreading ignorance. You, a 100-300 pound human being is scared of a less than 10 pound snake. Don’t be silly, walk around the snake. Teach your dog to stay away from snakes and teach your children to avoid snakes as well. If all else fails and you somehow get bit, seek medical attention and receive an anti-venom. Don’t freak out. When I asked my research advisor in graduate school, “What do I do if I get bit by a snake way out miles away from any human help?” His reply was, “Finish running your traps and then work your way to the doctor.” And easily my mind was at ease. I also wore snake chaps when out in the field but never was struck at, even after numerous times of stepping on, over or next to various venomous snakes. I live to tell the tale. 🙂

I see your posts, I also try to put myself in your shoes. I understand you don’t want snakes near your house. What would I do if I had venomous snakes near my house. Oh wait, I did. When I lived in Arkansas in the middle of the woods I had several encounters with pigmy rattlesnakes right outside my door, on my steps and in my paths. One time I almost weedwacked one and felt terrible. Rest assured he was fine. In the woods surrounding my apartment were timber rattlesnakes and copperheads. None snuck into my bed at night either.

Alternative to death:
So what do you do if you are losing your mind and can’t stand them being there? Try trapping and relocating. Relocating snakes isn’t proven to be very successful but I’d rather you try relocation than straight death. Next – read up on snakes. Know your facts so you can eliminate your fears. We are usually scared because we don’t know enough.

And now I’ll end with some silly cartoon snakes to try and give snakes a much more silly persona. They deserve it.

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Don’t kill my friends.

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