FORT POLK, La. — One of the safer social-distancing activities for Families, no longer under stay-at-home orders, is to explore and enjoy nature. Louisiana is known for fishing and hunting, as well as its many waterways, wildlife and natural beauty.
However, it isn’t always safe when explorers unexpectedly encounter some of nature’s creatures (especially the slithery kind).
From May through September, the weather in Louisiana is usually hot with average temperatures ranging from lows in the 70s to highs in the 90s and above, according to www.weather-us.com.
Why does that matter? It’s an important fact when you remember that snakes are cold-blooded and thrive in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. That means they become more active in spring and summer, just like humans do.
Jon West, Directorate of Public Works, Environmental and Natural Resource Management Division, Conservation Branch chief, said the best thing to do when you see a snake is to leave it alone.
He said when people encounter snakes or any other type of wild life, they need to remember that they are treading into that animal’s natural habitat.
West said during an encounter, snakes are usually going about their normal lives and don’t want a confrontation any more than people do and, given the chance, will simply slither away.
“The best thing to do is slowly walk away. Unless they are provoked, snakes typically aren’t aggressive. The chances of getting bitten are slim,” he said.
However, in the event that you accidently stumble across a snake — literally — understand the snake may see it as an attack, according to West.
“If that happens and you get bitten, you need to seek medical attention immediately. Treat any bite as venomous, and try to remember what the snake looked like to help professionals identify it later,” he said.
West said that snakes play an important role in the ecosystem and shouldn’t be killed just because they are snakes.
“Every snake we have captured has been relocated and released back into a safe environment, even the cottonmouths,” he said.
As you walk through the woods or enjoy the beauty of the many waterways found in Louisiana, be careful for your own sake and that of the snakes and other wild life you may encounter.
Though there are about 48 different snake species in Louisiana, here are a few that are common to this area.
• Louisiana Pine Snake — this snake usually reaches lengths of 4 to 5 feet long. The snake is generally associated with sandy, well-drained soils and open pine forests, especially longleaf-pine savannah. Pocket gophers appear to be an essential component of the Louisiana Pine Snake habitat. They create the burrow systems in which the pine snakes are most frequently found and serve as a major source of food for the species. It is a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
• Rat snake (also called Chicken snake) — this is probably the most common and harmless snake found in the area, according to West. Adult rat snakes are typically 3 to 5 feet long but may reach more than 6 feet. The snake’s appearance varies greatly throughout its geographic range. The Black Rat Snake and Texas Rat Snake are the most common in this area. They are often found in abandoned barns and buildings in suburban areas.
• Garter snake — they can reach 2 to 4 feet long and can be distinguished from other species by the presence of three yellow, longitudinal stripes down a dark body, but some exhibit a checkered body pattern. They tend to prefer moist, grassy environments and are often found near water like the edges of ponds, lakes, ditches and streams. Garter snakes may be active by day or night and are often found under boards or other debris.
• Speckled king snake — these are medium-size nonvenomous snakes that kill by constriction. They are one of the most common snakes in North America. They are called king snakes, because they sometimes eat other snakes. The patterns, especially the bands and speckles, break up the snake's body outline so it is less visible to predators like birds of prey, foxes, coyotes and other snakes, according to the San Diego Zoo. The speckled king snake is common to this area and has a yellow or white speckle on each black or brownish scale. The size of the speckles can be evenly distributed, leading to the nickname "salt and pepper snake" or can be denser in certain areas, creating a banded look.
• Yellow belly water snake — this species lives throughout east Texas and much of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama. It is an aquatic species generally found near the larger, more permanent bodies of water like marshes, swamps, river bottoms and along the edges of lakes and ponds. They feed mainly on fish, frogs and tadpoles. Adults typically reach 4 feet in length. Due to its plain, dark-greenish to black dorsal color, stout body, aquatic nature and nasty disposition, this harmless species is often mistaken for the venomous Western Cottonmouth.
• Broad-Banded water snake — this is a subspecies of the Southern water snake. Not venomous, but it may bite if harassed. They are typically found in and around bodies of water. It grows from 1 to 2.5 feet in length. Like other nonvenomous water snakes, it has several dark, vertical lines that outline the upper lip scales. A dark line is often present running from the corner of each eye diagonally down to the corner of the mouth. They can be active day or night.
• Corn snake — these are often mistaken for venomous copperheads. Copperheads, however, have hourglass-shaped (rather than square) blotches, and are generally browner than corn snakes. Corn snakes especially favor sandy pinewoods. This species is relatively tolerant of human disturbance and can be found in suburban and agricultural areas. They are often found around old buildings and barns and often enter people's homes searching for rodents or hiding places. Corn snakes spend most of their time underground or hiding under objects such as logs, boards or pieces of roofing tin. Corn snakes are active day and night but become primarily nocturnal in the warm summer months.
Except for the coral snake, the other members of this poisonous list are members of the pit viper family. All of them are extremely venomous snakes. Pit vipers have "heat-sensory pits between the eye and nostril on each side of head," which enables them to detect minute differences in temperatures, so the snakes can accurately strike the source of heat, which is often potential prey.
• Northern cottonmouth (or water moccasin) — North America's only venomous water snake, it has a blocky, triangular head. They are semiaquatic, so they're happy both swimming in water and basking on land in their native range in the southeastern United States. The name 'cottonmouth' comes from the white coloration of the inside of the snake's mouth. They range from 2 to 4 feet in size.
• Timber rattlesnake — this snake is found in a wide variety of habitats including lowland cane thickets, high areas around swamps and river floodplains, hardwood and pine forests; and mountainous areas and rural habitats in farming areas. Timber rattlesnakes become active above ground by late spring and can be seen periodically until late fall. They are active during day and night but spend the majority of their time coiled in ambush positions ready to capture prey. Their average length is 5 feet.
• Copperhead — they average lengths between 2 and 3 feet. In contrast to its patterned body, the snake's coppery-brown head has a pair of tiny dark dots, usually on top of the head. They have muscular bodies and their heads are arrow-shaped. Their pupils are vertical, like cats' eyes, and their irises are usually orange, tan or reddish-brown. They are happy in almost any habitat that has sunlight and cover.
• Pygmy rattlesnake — they’re between two and three feet long. The Pygmy Rattlesnake is the most commonly encountered venomous snake in urbanized areas, often found in gardens or brush piles. It has a diet of insects, frogs, lizards, mice and more.
• Eastern diamondback rattlesnake — Diamondback venom is a potent hemotoxin that kills red blood cells and causes tissue damage. Bites are extremely painful and can be fatal. When cornered, rattlers feverishly shake their tails as a last warning to back off. Rattles are made of loosely attached, hard and hollow segments. Snakes add a new rattle segment each time they shed. It averages 5.5 feet.
• Texas coral snake — the coral snake has some infamous cousins. It is a member of the Elapidae family, which includes the cobras of Asia and Africa. It has the second most toxic venom of any snake in the world. They are considered less dangerous than rattlesnakes as they have a less effective poison delivery system. That’s why there have been no deaths in North America since the 1960s when effective antivenom was developed.
If you see a snake, call 531-1379 or Corvias at (866) 463-2047.