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Understanding Snakes: How to Avoid Them


Snakes like this copperhead are becoming more active as temperatures rise. Being aware of and following certain recommendations regarding potential snake encounters can reduce the likelihood of them being dangerous. Credit: Texas A&M Agri Life, photo by Toby Hibbets

Snakes, whether we like them or fear them, are becoming more active this time of year and the activity will only increase as spring temperatures warm up.

More encounters with snakes can lead to more bites for people and pets, but a basic understanding of their activity can lessen their fears and prevent a trip to the hospital or vet.

Toby Hibbets, PhD, curator of herpetology at Texas A&M Biodiversity Education and Research Groups, BRTC, and research scientist at the Texas A&M Institute of Natural Resources, has some tips on how to reduce snake attractants around the house and avoid snake bites.

“The main advice at this time of year is to be aware of your surroundings and the scenarios that lead to unintentional snake bites,” he said. “If you know of a snake, my advice is to leave it alone and walk away to let it have its way.”

Where and when you might see a snake

Hibbets said people can encounter snakes while hiking, camping, spring cleaning, or gardening around the house. There is little fear of snakes if some basic precautions and principles are applied before and during an encounter.

He said the snakes are not usually aggressive and will try to escape from the area if someone approaches them. The best ways to avoid snakebites is to watch where you step or reach and to keep your distance if you see one.

Snakes: understand them and avoid them

The simple-bellied water snake is a non-venomous snake that is often confused with the cottonmouth. Learning to identify venomous and non-venomous snakes in your area, their preferred habitat, food sources, shelter, and other activities can allay fears while encountering snakes. Credit: Texas A&M Agri Life, photo by Toby Hibbets

There are no chemical repellents proven to deter snakes, Hibbets said, but there are two things homeowners can do to reduce the likelihood of snakes lurking around a site — remove potential shelter and food.

He said that snakes come out of their winter hibernation, and as they do, they need to shed their skins quickly, so they look for warmer places to collect and keep them. Flat pieces of plywood or sheet metal and rocks or wood piles collect heat and provide ideal places for the snake to bask during the fluctuating temperatures of the spring.

During the summer heat, he said, the snakes become nocturnal and seek shade and cool, damp spots, such as burrows or under logs. Homeowners should be careful when moving debris or mess around the house or when doing yard work, and not put their hands or feet where they can’t see.

“Generally, they’ll be under some kind of wreck or cover,” he said. “A well-maintained yard without tall grass or debris and woodpiles that can provide warmth or shelter will make your garden less attractive to a snake or its prey.”

Food sources such as rodents and insects can attract snakes, and species such as rat snakes have been known to forage in man-made structures such as chicken coops. Rodents and bugs are usually associated with messes and droppings, Hibbets said, so cleaning up around the house can cut back on food and shelter.

Hibbets said homeowners might see snakes basking on rocks and logs at this time of year. However, you are most likely to encounter a snake at night or around the twilight hours — dawn or dusk — as temperatures rise. He recommends carrying a flashlight when walking in the yard at night to avoid a potential surprise encounter.

“There are no barefoot trips to take out the trash without a flashlight, especially if you’re in the country or on the outskirts of town,” he said. “Gardening, pulling weeds, moving debris, these are the most likely scenarios for an accidental snake bite. It’s important to watch where you tread and where you reach, so being a little careful and aware of potential hazards can prevent an encounter from getting nasty.”

Snakes: understand them and avoid them

The western rat snake, also known as the chicken snake, is a common, non-venomous species that can be encountered around structures with food sources such as rodents and bird eggs, including chicken coops. Credit: Texas A&M Agri Life, photo by Toby Hibbets

Understanding snakes helps avoid dangerous encounters

Many Texans may view snakes as a dangerous pest, Hibbetts said, but they are an integral part of the suite of regional Texas ecosystems. They are an important predator of insects and small mammals.

There are about 75 species of snakes in the Lone Star State, but only about a dozen are venomous. Common non-venomous species found throughout Texas include garter snakes, which people also refer to as garden snakes; rat snakes, also known as chicken snakes; and snakes bull.

Venomous snakes found in various regions of Texas include copperheads, cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, coral snakes and several species of rattlesnakes, including the western and timber rattlesnake. Many subspecies of the rattlesnake found in Texas are found in the Trans-Picos region in the far western part of the state.

Knowing about the preferred habitats and habits of snakes found in your area can reduce fears and improve people’s awareness and ability to avoid snakebite, Hibbetts said.

For example, copperhead camouflage blends well with leaf litter, suggesting that they prefer woody and woodland environments, while cottonmouths are generally found near bodies of water, including streams, ponds, and springs.

Understanding the habitats, refuges, and food sources favored by snakes is especially important as the state’s population increases with people unfamiliar with Texas landscapes and animal species and suburban expansion encroaching on the habitat.

“Understanding the habitats and identifying the types of snakes you may see around your property can go a long way in reducing concerns or identifying a potential problem,” he said. “If you see certain venomous snakes more often or at certain times of the year, there is probably something that attracts them to the area.”

Snakes: understand them and avoid them

The western diamondback rattlesnake will warn passersby who get too close for their own convenience. Credit: Texas A&M Agri Life, photo by Toby Hibbets

What do you do if you bite her

Usually, venomous snakes don’t want to use their venom as a defense, Hibbets said. They usually emit warnings – such as the rattlesnakes’ rattle – before they strike. Defensive strikes are usually in response to harassment, surprise, or feeling upset and threatened.

“Venom is a limited resource that they prefer to use to catch prey,” he said. “A lot of negative things can happen to a snake when they strike, so their priority is to escape. They will rely on them to camouflage or escape unless you are very close or put them in a situation where they feel cornered. If you give them space, they will move on.”

The Texas Department of Health Services stated that half of the reported venomous snake bites were “dry,” meaning that no venom was injected into the victim.

Most snake bites to people are on the feet/lower legs or hands, Hibbets said. All bites should be taken seriously and warrant a trip to the hospital.

After the bite, make note of the snake’s features or take a cell phone photo if possible to help medical professionals determine the correct treatment. Don’t try to kill the snake. Many snake bites occur during attempts to kill them.

Victims should take off clothing such as socks if you bite them on the foot and items like rings on the fingers if you bite them on the hand due to swelling.

Snakes: understand them and avoid them

The western ribbon snake is a species of gartered boa found in many parts of Texas. They spend most of their time near the water and eat a wide variety of aquatic prey, including small fish, frogs, and toads. Credit: Texas A&M Agri Life, photo by Toby Hibbets

Tourniquets, suction devices, or other mythical ways to remove snake venom can do more harm than good. Hospitals have antivenoms on hand and protocols in place for dealing with snake bites.

Despite common misconceptions about how to deal with a venomous snakebite, it is best to keep the victim calm and get to the hospital as soon as possible.

Parents should teach their children to avoid snakes and not to get into inner crevices and under bushes with low hanging limbs.

Homeowners should also take precautions to reduce the chance of their pet encountering a snake, such as holding them on a leash while walking. Hibbets said leashes are a good idea at night if snake sightings are common in the area.

“Everyone seems fascinated by snakes, and everyone has stories of snake encounters, but the best we can do is understand them and avoid dangerous situations,” he said. “If you encounter snakes regularly, it’s a good idea to learn more about the common species in your area. There is a comfort level in knowing whether or not they are dangerous, but I still recommend avoiding them and not trying to kill them. Operationally killing a snake is the most dangerous thing to do.”

Provided by Texas A&M University

the quote: Snakes: Understand It and Avoid It (2023, April 21) Retrieved April 21, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-snakes.html

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