published Monday, June 7th, 2010

Snake sense: Education reduces fear

Audio clip

Dave Collins

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Danielle Moore/Chattanooga Times Free Press Animal encounter specialist Clarissa Schneider holds a nonpoisonous corn snake at the Tennessee Aquarium. This particular snake, a constrictor, was turned in to the aquarium after it was found downtown one night slithering across Market Street.

It's almost summer. The fireflies are out, the box turtles are back, and so are the snakes.

"It's that time of year," said Dave Collins, curator of forests at the Tennessee Aquarium. "During warm weather, especially with humidity and warm rain like we've had in the last few weeks, snakes become active."

Several people and dogs already have been bitten this year, though none has died, according to local hospitals and veterinary clinics.

Erlanger hospital spokeswoman Pat Charles said four people have been treated so far this year. Nine were treated in 2009 and seven in 2008, she said.

One snake-bite victim has been treated this year at Memorial Hospital, spokesman Brian Lazenby said.

The statistics are about the same for dogs.

Brandi Hewitt, a River Vet Emergency Clinic staff member, said the Amnicola Road facility has treated several dogs in the last month.

"We're seeing more dogs being bitten by copperheads," Ms. Hewitt said. "A way of knowing your dog was bitten, other than seeing fang marks, is the dog's head will swell twice its normal size."

Cloudland Canyon State Park manager Bobby Wilson said there have been no unusual reports of snake sightings in the park in Rising Fawn, Ga. The park has more than 20 miles of hiking trails.

"It's been a fairly typical season here as far as snake sightings and definitely no bites," he said.



* Northern and Southern copperhead

* Timber rattlesnake

* Western cottonmouth

* Western pygmy rattlesnake


* Black and speckled kingsnake

* Gray ratsnake

* Broad-banded watersnake

* Red cornsnake

* Eastern coachwhip

* Common gartersnake

* Eastern hog-nosed snake

* Eastern and red milksnake and scarlet kingsnake

* Eastern ribbonsnake

* Eastern and Midwestern wormsnake

* Midland and Northern brownsnake

* Midland and common watersnake

* Mississippi green watersnake

* Mississippi and Northern ring-necked snake

* Mole and prairie kingsnake

* Northern diamond-backed watersnake

* Northern and Southern black racer

* Copper-bellied and yellow-bellied watersnake

* Northern pinesnake

* Northern scarlet snake

* Queen snake

* Northern red-bellied snake

* Rough earthsnake

* Northern rough greensnake

* Eastern and Western smooth earthsnake

* Southeastern crowned snake

* Western mud snake

* Western ribbonsnake



Many people, particularly adults, are afraid of snakes, Mr. Collins said. But people who take time to learn about snakes and their behavior are less likely to be afraid.

"I don't believe humans have an innate fear of snakes. It's a learned response," he said.

The aquarium has stepped up its animal encounter program, where visitors are encouraged to learn more about animals and reptiles.

He also suggested that area residents pick up a field guide or go to the Internet to find out about the 40 snakes common in the Chattanooga vicinity.

Only two in the area are venomous: the copperhead and the rattlesnake, he said.

Mr. Collins said copperheads are "very common" in the region.

"It's a very mild-mannered snake in general," he said. "You don't want to grab one, but they won't come after you."

Copperheads live under downed limbs, mulch and woodpiles, Mr. Collins said.

"They like the heat generated by decomposing wood. They typically don't lay in the sun because of exposing them to predators," he said.

Rattlesnakes like rocky slopes on hillsides, he said.


The key to keeping snakes out of your yard is to minimize cover, Mr. Collins said.

"Keep your yard clear of debris and keep a minimal amount of edging. If you have a pathway of monkey grass, it could be an area where snakes hide, but if it's an area that's frequently traveled, a snake is less likely to set up home there."

When moving wood or debris piles, wear heavy gloves and use caution. Carefully peel off the layers and lift away from feet and legs.

"If it's a piece of plywood, stay on one side and tilt it so the bottom stays on the ground next to your feet," he said. "Keep the wood as a shield and do not grab with bare hands."

Mr. Collins doesn't kill snakes.

"With harmless snakes, I try to offer explanations about its value, but I've had some hard sales with the (killing of) other snakes," he said.

"There's a quandary of what to do with venomous snakes in the backyard" where children and pets lounge and play, Mr. Collins said.

"I wish they wouldn't kill the snakes, but I understand when they do."

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Can you recognize a poisonous snake?

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
DeanAllan said...

I have been reading this article with interest and thought I would pass on some information that may help people with an interest in, or fear of snakes. There is a website that has been set up by a company called Living with Wildlife and you can read about them at They teach people how to react if ever they come into contact with snakes and the information they provide is fascinating. It is well worth a read.

June 7, 2010 at 3:47 a.m.
Tahuaya said...

I have lived in the country most of my life and probably have passed hundreds of snakes without knowing it. So far I have not been attacked by a snake and I have not attacked a snake. I believe, if you leave them alone, they will almost always leave you alone too.

June 7, 2010 at 7:12 a.m.
Tax_Payer said...

It appears that the majority of snakes in Tennessee are not poisonous. In Florida, we can't be so sure with all the stuff the slithering around. I heard recently,"people were releasing their Boas and pythons in the wild."

Here's a story about a python bursting after it ate an alligator.

June 7, 2010 at 10:54 a.m.
Relic said...

Nice article; wish folks would just use common sense about all reptiles, snakes in particular, and stop believing every wild tale they hear about these animals. Tell anyone you saw a ten pound squirrel in your yard and they'll call you a nut; them that same person you saw a ten foot snake in your yard and they'll counter with the eleven or twelve foot one they saw recently in theirs. Also, snakes are venomous, not poisonous as the poll and most people identify them as.

June 7, 2010 at 5:17 p.m.
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