While feared among many, snakes important to environment

By Fort Lee Environmental Management DivisionMarch 19, 2021

Snakes important to environment
The non-venomous Black Rat Snake and venomous Northern Copperhead are common species found in and around Fort Lee. The more dangerous of the two can be identified by the dark hourglass-shaped bands along its body. Juveniles have a bright yellow-green tail tip. (Contributed Photo) (Photo Credit: Contributed Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. – Anticipating a greater number of snake sightings as the seasons change and the weather gets warmer, the Fort Lee Environmental Management Division is advising community members that killing these reptiles is illegal in Virginia.

The first thing individuals should do if they spot a snake is move a safe distance away and call for help with removal. The contact numbers are provided at the end of this article. There are other steps individuals can take as well that will help the EMD team document animal sightings on post, also explained below.

Many people have an irrational fear of snakes, regardless of whether they are venomous or not. A common retort is, “The only good snake is a dead snake.” On the contrary, they’re actually valuable for many reasons.

Ecologically, they are both predator and prey. Snakes are a food source for birds, mammals and other reptiles. Conversely, they feed on birds, mammals, amphibians, fish and insects. Many species of small pests, such as rodents and slugs, are eaten by snakes.

Without this “balance of nature,” most pest species could overpopulate the landscape and cause considerable damage to homes, gardens and farms. Rodents have a tendency to spread diseases as well. Looking even further beyond those plusses, snakes have medicinal, educational and aesthetic values in various capacities.

The first step toward conservation is community education. The best ways to coexist with snakes include: understanding the role they play in nature and how humans actually benefit from them; learning how to recognize venomous species and avoid being bitten; and learning what to do if you encounter a snake. The first point has already been addressed, and the remainder of this article is meant to increase awareness and appreciation of these reptiles and to discourage senseless killings.

There are about 15 types of snakes that are known to exist on Fort Lee. Of the three venomous species found in Virginia, two have been seen on the installation – the Northern Copperhead, which is normally found in wooded areas, and the Eastern Cottonmouth, or Water Moccasin, which has only been seen twice in the last 10 years near the Appomattox River.

A Copperhead is distinguished by the dark hourglass-shaped bands along its body. Juveniles have a bright yellow-green tail tip. They’re usually found hiding under natural or man-made debris, such as logs, boards, scrap metal or trash. Always use caution when lifting such objects from the ground. Contrary to common misconceptions, most snakes like the Copperhead are not purposefully aggressive. They only bite when provoked or stepped on.

Cottonmouths vary in pattern – some are brown with dark bands that are lighter in the center. Larger adults may be mostly dark with only a faint pattern. The inside of this snakes’ mouth is distinctly white; the source for its unique name. Cottonmouths are often found in water and may be mistaken for other non-venomous species of aquatic snakes, particularly the Northern Water Snake. On Fort Lee, any snake found in the water is much more likely to be one of several species of water snakes rather than a Cottonmouth. A helpful website for information on Virginia snakes and other wildlife is www.dgif.virginia.gov.

Snake populations suffer decline from many causes. Among these are habitat loss and fragmentation, over-collection for trade, disease and parasites, and perhaps the most shameful, human persecution. As a result of a general fear of reptiles, many people choose to kill any and all snakes encountered, regardless of location.

Road mortalities are critical causes of population decline for many species of amphibians and reptiles as well. In one study, 8-out-of-10 drivers admitted they would swerve their vehicle in an attempt to run over an object they thought was a snake. It is a goal of the EMD to educate the Fort Lee community on snakes, and to discourage contributing to their decline by intentional human persecution.

The best practice is to just leave snakes alone. If you spot one, it’s likely that it’s merely traveling between habitats, just as humans travel between work, home, the grocery store and so forth. In most cases, the snake will move on shortly. If it’s in an inconvenient location for you, or if it is found indoors, call the experts and allow then to take care of the situation in an ecologically responsible manner.

You don’t have to be a fan of snakes in order to respect their value to nature and mankind. All are invited to make an environmental protection pledge to change the attitude about snakes and help efforts aimed at their preservation.

The appropriate steps to take with any encounter with snakes are as follows:

·      Keep your distance and do not provoke it.

·      Call for help with removal. EMD experts can be reached during regular duty hours at 804-765-7667, 898-9546, 734-5080 or 912-5955. The contact number for the Fort Lee Game Warden is 804-734-7400 – this is the military police desk line that’s operational 24/7.

·      Snakes will likely slither away when spotted. Take a photo to help EMD document sightings. Send images to @flee365 on Instagram or email them to usarmy.lee.imcom.mbx.leee-nepalee@mail.mil. Turtle photos are similarly welcome.

·      If a snake is trapped indoors, capture it instead of killing it. Coax it into a bucket, pillow case, cooler or box with a broom or pole that keeps you a safe distance away. Then call for help with removal.