FORT SILL, Okla., June 7, 2018 -- Long before James Brown sang, "goodness sakes, look at those snakes," from one season to the next venomous snakes have existed on Fort Sill.

Generally, these snakes will go out of their way to avoid contact with people, however, it's best to be especially watchful for them in any area where vegetation partially obscures your view of the ground.

In reality, any snake bite can be a serious health risk as even nonvenomous snake bites can produce nasty infections.

Oklahoma has 46 native snake species, though only seven are venomous to people. Of that number, five have been confirmed to exist here.

Those "less than fabulous five" and their preferred habitats are:
-- broad-banded copperhead -- rocky mountainous areas and near water;
-- western diamondback rattlesnake -- arid areas, rocky outcrops and bluffs;
-- prairie rattlesnake -- rocky outcrops or canyons, open grasslands, prairie dog towns;
-- western massasauga -- hillsides, prairies and grasslands, may be found near water.
-- cottonmouth rattlesnake -- are semi-aquatic, meaning they would be equally at home near ponds, lakes or streams; or fields. Also known as the water moccasin, these snakes like to sun on rocks, logs, and tree branches near water.

Copperheads are especially worrisome as they don't sport a rattling tail to warn people if they are too close and pose a potential threat to the snake.

Chris Deurmyer, Fort Sill Natural Resources Office wildlife biologist, said natural resources first confirmed two cottonmouth sightings here in 2015. So, if they've been here before, plan on them being here now.

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is another popular destination for seeing Oklahoma wildlife. Consider a stop at the visitor's center before hitting the trail or exploring the pathless wilderness. Volunteers at the center are often avid hikers and can provide information, such as the possibility of meeting up with rattlesnakes.

IDENTIFICATION
Knowing which snakes are venomous and recognizing their characteristics can go a long way toward keeping people safe when outdoors in Oklahoma. The best way to avoid snakebites is to learn more about the venomous snakes here and where they can be found.

A surprising number of people are bitten each year, because they picked up a snake they thought was not venomous. When in doubt, do not take a chance: Do not pick up any snake you cannot identify. To aid in the identification process, there are four features common to Oklahoma's venomous snakes.

First, all Oklahoma venomous snakes have a facial pit. This is a depression on the side of the face just below a line between the eyes and the nostrils. This pit can be seen from a safe distance if you know what to look for. If you're not sure what to look for, the best option is to stay a healthy distance away.

Second, head shape can help to identify venomous snakes; in Oklahoma these snakes all have diamond- or triangular-shaped heads. Harmless snakes have narrow heads; however, this characteristic is not always obvious since snakes flatten their heads when threatened to make themselves look bigger. Thus, nonvenomous snakes could be mistaken for venomous ones.

Third, vertical eye pupils, or cat's eyes, are a strong sign that a snake is venomous. A few harmless snakes have vertical eye pupils and could be mistaken as venomous on this basis. Keep in mind, though vertical eye pupils are often hard to see in dim light or shade.

Fourth, rattles on the tail positively identifies a snake as being venomous. Be certain the rattles are seen, because other harmless snakes will vibrate their tails when they are nervous or frightened. They may rustle their tails in dried leaves or grass to produce a sound that can be mistaken for a rattle. Still, the lack of a rattle does not exclude the possibility that a snake is venomous. In fact, copperheads don't have rattles and are certainly venomous. Looking for a combination of these characteristics will usually help properly identify a snake.

REPORTING ON POST
Corvias Military Living residents who see a snake at their residence they wish removed should contact the following community offices, open daily during the week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at:
Old Cavalry Post 580-581-2140
Southern Plains 580-581-2142
Buffalo Soldier Acres 580-581-2147.

People who see snakes in the main cantonment area or at Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area should call PCSI Work Reception at 580-442-3251. The office is manned 24 hours a day. All other locations on post are covered by the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division and can also be reached at 580-442-3251.

PRECAUTIONS
Proper precautions such as what to wear and how to act can go a long way toward ensuring a safe excursion into snake country. Proper clothing can further reduce the risk of snakebite. Leather high-topped boots are sufficient to stop the fangs of most venomous snakes. Heavy canvas pants and protective leggings can provide added protection in high-risk areas.

Regardless of what is worn, always avoid placing hands or feet in a location that cannot be safely seen, such as stepping over a log. Finally, do not wander outside at night without a light or protective covering for legs and feet.

BITE TREATMENT
Regardless of precautions, people still get bitten by venomous snakes. If bitten, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm. Then, get to a hospital quickly for advice and treatment from a medical professional. Snakebites are not usually fatal, but are sure to be painful. Currently, 6,000 to 7,000 people are bitten each year, but on average only 15 people die per year. This is fewer than the number of people that die each year from bee stings or lightning strikes.

There is little agreement, even among medical personnel, regarding the proper method of snakebite treatment. To help keep bite victims calm, refrain from giving them caffeine, cigarettes, or alcohol. In most cases doctors can administer an antitoxin that will help reduce damage caused by the bite. Antivenin kits can be purchased through local physicians, but the kits are expensive, may not keep indefinitely, should be administered by trained personnel and can be dangerous if not deadly. Modern snakebite kits are also available at outdoor equipment stores but again should be used by trained people. Finally, never try to suck venom out of a wound like in the old movies.

LIVING NEAR THEIR HABITAT
Some types of snakes actually thrive near homes. Many people who fear or dislike snakes seek to kill them. This may temporarily reduce their numbers, but it can never eliminate them. As long as food and habitat are available, there will always be snakes.

Removing brush piles and scattered refuse will reduce cover for small mammals and snakes, and keep both populations down. Placing feed and grain in rodent-proof containers will reduce rodents and snakes. Snakes can be kept out of houses by sealing cracks in foundations, around windows, air conditioners and doors. Some information courtesy of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.