The Timber Rattlesnake is Missouri’s largest venomous snake. It is found statewide.
The Timber Rattlesnake is Missouri’s largest venomous snake. It is found statewide.
(Photo Credit: Photo by Tom Johnson, Missouri Department of Conservation)
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Avoid encounters with these steps

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — With spring rains, increased daylight and rising temperatures, snakes are coming out to play.

For residents planning to exercise near high grass or wooded areas, hike, camp or otherwise enjoy the outdoors, that means being prepared for an increased chance of encountering snakes or other wildlife. And state and local conservation officials agree that the best way to handle snakes and other wildlife is to leave them alone — for your health, the health of the snake and the health of local ecosystems.

According to the Natural Resources Branch, Fort Leonard Wood is home to more than 20 species of snakes, but only three are venomous: the Osage Copperhead, the Western Cottonmouth (sometimes called a water moccasin) and the Timber Rattlesnake. Other poisonous species that can also be found in Missouri include the Massasauga Rattlesnake and Western Pygmy Rattlesnake.

A juvenile copperhead makes its way across a wooded area on Fort Leonard Wood.
A juvenile copperhead makes its way across a wooded area on Fort Leonard Wood. (Photo Credit: File photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Missouri Department of Conservation officials note that most snakes will avoid humans, and snake bites are rare. While unintentional encounters do happen, there are some precautions humans can take to avoid snakes, including:

— Know what to do: If you do encounter a snake, back away slowly and allow it to go on its way. Most snakes don’t move fast, and humans can retreat from the snake’s path.

— Be aware of your surroundings: When doing yard work or other outdoor activities, such as camping or hiking, watch not only where you step but also where you put your hands. Being aware can help you avoid surprising a resting snake.

— Cover your feet: Wear snake-proof boots and snake leggings at least 10 inches high if in an area where snakes are found. Never step over logs or other obstacles unless you can see the other side.

— Don’t provide snakes with shelter or food sources. Just like other wildlife, snakes will take advantage of areas that provide shelter and easy prey. So, clean up areas that snakes like to hide in, such as wood or trash piles. Keep gardens tidy, so there are fewer possibilities for snake cover. Pick up and clean areas around the home, keep yards mowed and well kept and pile firewood and brush away from the home. Also, don’t tolerate mice or other rodents in your home, which can attract snakes.

— Don’t try to catch, kill or nurse snakes back to health. MDC officials note that several encounters are preventable and are the result of humans attempting to handle snakes, including those who attempt to care for snakes that appear sick or wounded.

According to Sherri Russell, MDC state wildlife veterinarian, the best policy is to leave wildlife — of all kinds — alone.

“While people have good intentions, the care and rehabilitation of wild animals require special training, knowledge, facilities and permits,” Russell said. “Without such care, wild animals will remain in poor health and could eventually die. And it is illegal to possess many wild animals without a valid state or federal permit.”

— Seek medical attention if bitten: In the event of a snakebite, seek medical attention immediately. If you cannot positively identify the offending species as non-venomous, call 911.

The Wildlife Code of Missouri protects snakes, classifying them as nongame species. While it’s technically unlawful to kill snakes, MDC officials note there is a realistic exception when venomous snakes are near humans. However, they urge people to leave snakes alone, noting that 88 percent of snake species in the state are non-venomous and all snakes play vital roles in the wild by controlling rodent populations and serving as food for other wildlife, such as hawks, owls, herons, skunks and even other snakes.

Learn more about snakes in Missouri on the MDC website at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/general-species-information/amphibian-and-reptile-facts/snake-facts. The site also has a link at the bottom of the page to a free, downloadable document, “A Guide to Missouri Snakes.”