Snakes – you either love them or hate them. And for those who hate them, there’s a deep-seated reason. ”
It’s one of those Biblical fears, an innate fear people have of snakes,” said Sherrie Cochran, the city’s environmental planner.
And that fear kicks into overdrive when the scaly serpents slither across your yard.
Cochran, who falls in the snake-loving category, said she has had an active year so far of “snake calls from people wigging out.”
And while the snake calls usually start coming in around late April, when the reptiles come out of hibernation, they’re not necessarily seasonal.
“I’ve caught snakes every month of the year,” said Bryan Fedrick, a herpetologist with the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, noting that spring and fall usually are the busiest times.
Mississippi is home to about 50 types of snakes, he said. About 10 varieties are venomous.
Northeast Mississippi has four common venomous snakes, including copperheads, cottonmouths and timber rattlesnakes.
The region’s nonvenomous snakes including the corn, chicken, ribbon and garter snakes.
The speckled king snake is an especially good nonvenomous snake, Cochran said, because it eats other snakes and rodents, including moles, rats and mice.
“If you’ve got a rodent problem, they’ll be there,” she said. “It’s not a bad thing to have a snake around.”
Many people disagree, saying that the best snake is a dead snake. But Fedrick says that’s a dangerous sentiment.
“Most people who get snake-bit are trying to kill, catch or harm it in another way,” he said.
If you see a snake, his advice is to take two steps away and leave it alone. The advice applies to both venomous or nonvenomous varieties.
If you are really concerned about a snake in the yard and you live in the Tupelo city limits, you can call the Tupelo Lee Humane Society at (662) 841-6500 and an animal control officer will relocate nonvenomous snakes and kill venomous ones.
Debbie Hood, director of the humane society, said the organization normally gets five or six snake calls a year. Yet, it has had three in the past month, mostly with reports of snakes in Haven Acres.
Identifying venomous snakes
Fedrick said a major problem when it comes to snakes is most people have a hard time telling the difference between the venomous and nonvenomous ones. The first thing to look for, he said, is the shape of the snake’s head.
A triangle-shaped head is a good indicator that it is venomous, but it can be misinterpreted.
“Just about every species in Mississippi will flatten its body to look bigger when it is threatened,” he said. “Some of our nonvenomous ones can make a better triangle than a venomous one.”
Cochran added that many snakes have an almond-shaped head, which confuses beginners trying to identify it.
If someone is determined to get close and identify a snake, Cochran recommends looking at its eyes. If the pupil is round, it is nonvenomous. If the pupil is a slit or a “cat-eye,” it is venomous.
Fedrick also said rattles are a good indicator of a venomous snake.
He said venomous snake bites in the U.S. are not common, but they do happen. On average, there are about five to 10 deaths every year in the U.S. from venomous snake bites, he said.
If you get bit by a snake
If you do get bit by a snake, Bill Ricketts, the nurse manager at the emergency room at North Mississippi Medical Center, said you should call 911 immediately and get to the ER, preferably by ambulance.
Don’t try to treat the bite yourself with ice, a tourniquet or a snake bite kit, Fedrick said.
“The best snake bite treatment is a set of car keys and a cell phone,” Fedrick said.
Ricketts said he’s already had a few snake bite cases this year. Some have been from venomous snakes and others haven’t been.
The trick is identifying which snake is responsible for the bite.
Sometimes patients take the snake with them to the hospital to help doctors. They even have taken a live snake in a bucket to the emergency room, Ricketts said.
“Sometimes they are just as frisky as they were when they bit them,” he said.
He doesn’t encourage patients to catch the snake. He said a cell phone picture works fine for snakes and for spiders.
Fedrick said that for the average person, a snake bite from a common venomous snake in Mississippi won’t cause immediate death. The person will have time to get the hospital and be treated with anti-venom, which NMMC keeps in stock.
But that doesn’t mean people should be slow to react to seeking medical attention after a snake bite.
“Don’t hesitate,” Ricketts said. “Call 911 and have an ambulance pick you up.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips to help have a snake-free yard
• Keep your lawn mowed short. When you are mowing in tall grass, wear tall, sturdy boots and watch where you step.
• Keep firewood stored on a rack at least 12 inches above the ground.
• Get rid of places snakes can hide, such as brushy fence rows and wood and brick piles.
• Keep pet food that is stored outside in tightly closed containers to keep out rodents, which attract snakes.
• Don’t have bird feeders, which attract rodents that in turn attract snakes.
• Remove tree limbs that have fallen.
• Stores sell items, such as moth balls and Snake-Away, that are meant to repel snakes, but local snake experts say they don’t work.
SOURCE: Mississippi State University, Mississippi Museum of Natural Science herpetologist Bryan Fedrick and Tupelo environmental planner Sherrie Cochran
If your dog gets bit by a snake
Any snake bite needs to be treated as a life-threatening emergency, according to Dr. Kari Lunsford, assistant professor with Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Puncture wounds may be hard to find, but swelling is obvious and should be treated as a possible snake bite. Owners should keep the dog immobile and calm during the trip to the vet. Snake bites are very painful for dogs, and they will be easily agitated and could react quickly and bite. When owners stay calm, it is more likely that the dog will follow suit.”
Other advice from Lunsford:
• Do not try to capture or kill the snake. Vets do not want venomous snakes brought to their practices.
• Do not use a tourniquet or apply ice to the wound. Both of these practices can restrict blood flow and cause more tissue damage.
• Do not use a snake bite kit or try to suck the venom out of the bite. This could introduce bacteria and cause a more severe infection.
• Do not let pets play with dead snakes. Venomous snakes have been known to bite even after they are dead.
Poisonous versus venomous
Snakes are venomous, not poisonous.
According to Bryan Fedrick, a herpetologist at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, poison is ingested and venom is injected.
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Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal