By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 15, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- As summer continues to offer people the chance at fun in the sun, it also offers a chance to run into that various wildlife that call Fort Rucker home.
And when people encounter wild animals, they need to exercise caution, according to Daniel Spillers, Fort Rucker fish and wildlife administrator.
Two of those wild animals that people might encounter on Fort Rucker are snakes and alligators, Spillers said. And with alligators taking the spotlight in recent news, he wants to make sure people know what to do and what not to do in case of an encounter, as well as how to avoid these dangerous predators.
One main thing Spillers said people shouldn't do if they encounter a gator is to feed them.
"Alligators that are fed lose their fear of humans and will come close to humans looking for food," he said. "Try to keep your distance from them. Don't try to get close to them to take a picture or touch them. Try to stay at least 60 feet from them if spotted."
Spillers also said that people shouldn't harass or provoke alligators by throwing objects at them, and to keep pets and children away from areas where alligators might nest, which includes areas of heavy vegetation near the water's edge.
There are alligators present in the waters of Lake Tholocco, especially in the shallow timbered upper end of the lake, said the fish and wildlife administrator, and they have been known to pop up in locations like at Parcours Lake.
"Do not swim in Lake Tholocco other than in the established swimming areas where lifeguards are present, and water skiers should stay in the designated ski area which is deeper and less likely to harbor alligators," said Spillers. "Alligators are a natural part of the environment at Lake Tholocco and do not normally cause problems to people."
They are a protected species in Alabama with a limited hunting season in designated areas. If people encounter an alligator that they think is causing a problem, they should report it to the game warden's office or military police at 255-2222.
Other creatures that people might encounter while out on the lake or in the wild are snakes, said Spillers.
There are a wide variety of snakes on the installation, many of which are not dangerous and pose no threat to people, he said, but there are a few that people should especially avoid, such as the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake, the pygmy rattlesnake, copperheads, cottonmouths or water moccasins, and the coral snake.
The eastern diamondback is the largest of the venomous snakes that can be found on Fort Rucker and they can be identified by the diamond shape markings along its back, said the wildlife biologist. The rattlesnakes, along with the copperheads and cottonmouths, are all pit vipers, which have one main distinguishing characteristic -- a wedge-shaped head.
Spillers said that most of the venomous snakes on Fort Rucker have a head that is noticeably larger than its body and shaped like a triangle. Non-venomous snakes' heads usually just flow into the body of the snake without much difference in size, but the coral snakes head has no such distinction, he added.
"The coral snake is a really colorful snake with red, black and yellow bands along its body," said Spillers. "It's a smaller snake and very reclusive. Unlike most snakes, it doesn't have a wedge-shaped head and its fangs are in the back of its mouth."
The coral snake shares a common coloring with the scarlet king snake, a non-venomous snake, he added, and people can distinguish the two by looking at the tip of the snake's nose. The tip of a Coral snake's head will be black, but the tip of the head of a scarlet king snake won't be.
Because of the snake's reclusive and unaggressive nature, along with the fact that its fangs are so far back in its head, it's unusual for people to actually be bitten by a coral snake, he said.
"This is not a snake that can easily strike you and inject its venom," said the wildlife biologist. "It would basically have to grab onto your finger and start chewing on you to get its venom into you," adding that this fact makes the snake no less dangerous than the others.
The coral snake's venom is particularly dangerous compared to the other snakes because its venom is neurotoxic venom rather than hemotoxic venom, according to the wildlife biologist.
Neurotoxic venom works directly on the nervous system, which can be particularly harmful when it gets into the blood stream, said Spillers. Hemotoxic venom of the pit vipers are very harmful as well, but is a blood toxin that causes necrosis of the tissue, killing and essentially causing the tissue around the bite area to decay.
Although both venoms are dangerous, Spillers said neurotoxic venom is harder to deal with and treat, but prevention is the best form of medicine.
If people encounter these snakes in the wild, it's best to avoid them, said the wildlife biologist.
"Most snakes aren't very aggressive, so if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone," he said. "Most of the time you would have to step on them or show them you were some type of threat before they would strike."
Spillers also said that if people know they are going to be traveling in wooded areas, they should wear clothing that is appropriate to the environment like boots or some type of heavy footwear that covers up to at least their ankles.
If a person does come across one of these venomous snakes in an area they can't avoid, however, he suggests that people call the military police and they will get in contact with the game warden to try and relocate the snake, if possible.
If a person is bitten by a snake, Spillers recommends that the first thing that people try to do is get medical attention as fast as they can rather than deal with the wound themselves.