Snakes: The good, the bad and the pygmy
September 29, 2011
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 29, 2011) -- Alabama is home to a variety of snake species, according to Game and Wildlife officials here. Most are non-venomous, but there are some that carry powerful toxins.
It's important to know how to handle the situation if a snake is encountered on post, said Steve Stokes, Fort Rucker game warden. People knowing what kind of snake they're dealing with can sometimes help the situation, but telling the difference can be tricky.
"The majority of poisonous snakes in Alabama have diamond-shaped heads and slit-eyes, as opposed to more flat heads and round eyes you see on constrictors," he said. "People automatically assume that the snakes they see are poisonous. That's just not the case, most times."
There are about 50 different types of snakes in the state, Stokes added. Only six of them are actually poisonous.
"For example, a lot of people mistake the oak snake for an Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake," he said. "But, the two actually look a lot different from each other. The rattlesnake is a fat snake that isn't very long. The oak snake is a lot longer and thinner."
As the weather cools off, snakes will be more active, he added. When winter comes, the snakes will hibernate, but first they have to prepare by eating more.
The most common species Stokes said he gets called out to deal with in the housing areas are copperheads, a venomous snake.
If a snake is seen in the housing areas, the game wardens will go out to retrieve the snake. However, they need to know where it is in order to retrieve it, Stokes said.
"We've been called out to the housing area a day after the snake was actually seen," he said. "By then, it's too late to do anything because we have no idea where the snake is. The best thing to do is call us when the snake is seen. But people have to keep an eye on the snake to let us know where it is so we can get to it when we get there."
There's virtually no way to keep snakes from entering a yard, he added. But, there are things that can be done to deter the snake from sticking around.
"It's important to pick up toys and keep the yards trimmed," he said. "They look for places to hide so they can hunt. Keep the toys picked up and the yards cut so they don't have places to hide."
It's important to note that no snake wants to be around people, he added. When snakes feel threatened, they want people to know they're around and most try to warn people.
"Your rattlesnakes, like timbers, diamondbacks and pygmies, will rattle to alert you," he said. "But other species, like the coach whip, a non-venomous snake, will whip its tail in a similar way to a rattlesnake. Others will flatten their heads out or bow-up to make themselves look bigger. It's all a warning."
All snakes have a place in the environment, Stokes said. When the game wardens retrieve a snake, they don't kill it. The animal is transported to an area away from people and released back into the wild.
"All snakes keep something in check," he said. "They eat rats, mice, rabbits, frogs and even insects. Some snakes, like the non-venomous king snake, eat other snakes."
According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System website, there are no endangered species of snake in Alabama, but there is one threatened species: the Eastern indigo snake.
The Eastern indigo is a large, stout, black snake that often averages six feet in length and is the longest snake in the United States.
If a snake is encountered in the housing areas, call the police at 255-2222 or the game warden office at 255-4213.