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Warm weather starts snakes slithering

Larry Woody • Dec 15, 2015 at 1:58 PM

After a cold winter and a chilly spring, the warming temperatures have outdoorsmen stirring.

The same goes for snakes.

The cold-blooded critters were inactive during cold weather, which means they are anxious to stretch their legs – figuratively speaking – now that it has warmed up. Snakes are on the prowl for their first meal in months, and that burst of activity means outdoors-persons need to be alert.

In Tennessee there are three types of venomous snakes: rattlesnake, copperhead and cottonmouth.

The rattlesnake – both the timber rattler and pigmy rattler, Tennessee’s two sub-species – are usually easy to identify by the distinctive rattles on their tails. However, in some instances the rattles may be missing, or the snake may strike before rattling.

Also, non-venomous species often shake their tails in dry leaves to mimic the dangerous rattler and scare off enemies. A rattle – or lack thereof – is not always a sure way to determine if the snake is a rattlesnake.

The copperhead is even harder to identify because its skin patterns, particularly when the color is muted, is similar to that of harmless water snakes. Most copperheads have a bright coppery color, but not all.

The cottonmouth is found in and around water, and it too can be hard to distinguish from non-venomous species of water snakes. When aroused, the cottonmouth often opens its mouth wide, exposing a white interior that accounts for its name.

All three venomous species can be positively identified by their arrowhead-shaped heads (the pouches on the sides of their jaws store the venom) and their vertical cat-like pupils. Non-venomous snakes have round pupils.

Anyone who spends time outdoors should learn to identify the venomous species.

The best precaution against a snakebite is to look out for snakes. Most bites occur when a snake is disturbed by someone and strikes defensively.

There are no documented cases of a venomous snake “attacking” someone, although some claim that cottonmouths will fiercely protect their territory. All species, however, become aggressive when they feel threatened, and will strike out at the intruder.

When walking in snake country, try to avoid weeds, brush and trash where snakes could lurk. Never place hands in or around rocky crevices, holes, old tin, trash or lumber that could harbor a snake. Step around, rather than over, a log under which a snake could be coiled.

Many bites are inflicted when humans try to capture a snake. It’s not as easy as it appears on TV and an amateur snake catcher can get bitten in a flash. Besides, in Tennessee it’s illegal to capture or kill any snake, even a venomous one, unless it presents a clear and immediate threat.

While bites by venomous snakes can be serious, they are seldom fatal. If bitten, don’t attempt folklore first-aid by cutting the fang puncture wounds or applying a tourniquet. It doesn’t help, and could damage surrounding nerves, blood vessels and muscle.

Instead, remain calm and seek immediate attention by a medical professional.

Also, don’t waste time and energy trying to kill the snake so that the doctor can identify it. The puncture wounds and a general description of the snake will tell a doctor all he needs to know to begin treatment.

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