Snake sense: Education reduces fear

Snake sense: Education reduces fear

June 7th, 2010 by Karen Nazor Hill in News

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.

Staff Photo by Danielle Moore/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

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.


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."

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