By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 18, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 18, 2012) -- October brings with it the fun and frights of Halloween, but the cooler weather can also bring out real-life creepy critters that people might encounter in the wilderness.
Fall seems to bring with it an increase in the snake population on Fort Rucker, but according to Danny Spillers, fish and wildlife biologist with the Directorate of Public Works, the season's cooler weather just makes for easier interactions with the reptiles.
"There seems to be an increase in sightings during the fall rather than an increase in snake population, and there are two reasons for that," he said. "During this time of year, many of the snakes young have been born, so they're trying to go out and establish their territory.
"Secondly, during cooler weather, snakes are a lot more active than they are during the hotter summer months," he continued. "Those two things make them more visible to the population on Fort Rucker, not to mention the fact that people are out and about more because of the cooler weather as well."
There are a wide variety of snakes on the installation, many of which are not dangerous and pose no threat to people, according to Spillers, but there are a few that people should especially avoid. These snakes are 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 we have on Fort Rucker and they can be identified by the diamond shape markings along its back," said the wildlife biologist. "The rattlers 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, and unlike most venomous 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 the Coral snake, he said.
"This is not a snake that can easily strike you and inject its venom," said Spillers. "It would basically have to grab onto your finger and start chewing on you to get it's 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," he said. "The hemotoxic venom of the pit vipers are very harmful as well, but it is a blood toxin that causes necrosis of the tissue and kills the tissue around the area of the bite."
Spillers said both venoms are dangerous, but neurotoxic venom is harder to deal with and treat, but prevention is the best form of medicine.
"If people do encounter one of these snakes, they shouldn't try to catch or kill it," he said. "There are many instances where people get bitten by a snake because they tried to catch or kill it.
"Most snakes aren't very aggressive, so if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone," he continued. "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 poisonous snakes in an area they can't avoid, however, he suggests that people call the military police desk on Fort Rucker at 255-2222, and they will get in contact with the game warden to try and relocate the snake, if possible.
"If you just keep your yard clean and don't have piles of lumber and things like that too close to your house, it will help keep the snakes away," said Spillers. "A cluttered yard with lots of debris tends to attract rodents, which will attract snakes."
Also, if a person is bitten by a snake, he recommends that the first thing that people try to do is get medical attention as fast as they can.
"Don't try to cut yourself and suck the poison out," said Spillers. "That can lead to more complications if people don't know what they are doing, and if they can get to medical attention in a reasonable amount of time, even if it's a couple hours, they should do so."