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OA Live Episode 1: Snakes and Alligators Questions Answered

These questions were submitted during the live show, but not answered due to time constraints.
Thank you for watching OA Live!

Q: Is it legal to kill snakes if they try to hurt you or attack you and you can't get away?
Orange Beach, Ala.
A: Most snakes will not “attack” or harm you unless provoked. All snakes are beneficial to the environment and harming them should be avoided if possible. The non-venomous Eastern Indigo snake is the only protected species of snake in Alabama. However, there are some snakes that are protected by regulations. These snakes include the Eastern indigo snake, black pine snake, eastern coachwhip, Florida pine snake, gulf saltmarsh snake, and the Southern hognose. All of these protected species are non-venomous and harmless. Regardless, you are within your rights to defend yourself against any animal that is actually attacking you and potentially causing harm to you.

Q: Is there a safe way to catch and transport "safe" snakes to where they would be most useful.
Goodyear, Az.
A: Transplanting or handling any wild snake is not recommended. Still, there are things you can do to improve snake habitat if you desire snakes on your property including letting your grass grow deeper and providing brush piles as cover. Keep in mind there is no way to invite non-venomous snakes without also inviting venomous ones.

Q: What the largest snake in northern Alabama?
Huntsville, Ala.
A: The largest snake you might likely encounter in north Alabama would be the rat snake. This snake has the potential to grow to eight feet in length. Rat snakes are commonly found statewide.

Q: Is there a kind of coral snake that has white stripes on it?
Enterprise, Ala.
A: The eastern coral snake found in Alabama has black, red, and yellow bands. Color intensities on individuals may vary and color is generally not as intense when the snake is nearing the time of shedding its skin. Scarlet snakes and the scarlet kingsnake are mimics and have black, red, yellow or whitish bands but remember, their red bands will touch the black bands.

Q: Do mothballs really keep snakes away?
Cullman, Ala.
A: If you put out enough mothballs to keep the snakes away, it would likely keep people away as well! In all seriousness, if there was a tightly confined space or container that had mothballs present the snake might avoid that spot, but to deter snakes over a large area with mothballs is not effective. 

Q: Can an alligator bite you underwater?
Montgomery, Ala.
A: Yes. However, alligators typically avoid humans and this scenario is unlikely. Still, ADCNR encourages you to avoid know alligator habitat.
Q: Are there any crawfish snakes in Alabama? Is this a real snake at all?
Franklin, Ala.
A: The glossy crawfish snake is a real snake and Alabama is within its range. These snakes are highly aquatic ,secretive, and mostly active at night making them seldom seen, even by professional herpetologists. As indicated by their name, the snakes specialize in feeding on crayfish.

Q: Can a snake swallow something bigger than its mouth?
Montgomery, Ala.
A: Most snakes can swallow things larger than their heads. This is because the jaw isn’t fixed to the skull. It is connected by ligaments which can stretch allowing the mouth to fit over bulky prey.

Q: How common is it that an alligator would attack a human? Are they aggressive in general, or only when defending their turf? Also do you all have numbers on annual alligator attacks bites?
Pintlala, Ala.
A: Alligator attacks are not common in Alabama. You would have to provoke the alligator in most cases. The best advice for avoiding attacks would be to avoid the animal’s habitat and if you see an alligator leave it alone.
We do not keep records on the number of attacks.

Q: What type of material is best to prevent snakes from biting through clothing or shoes?
Madison, Ala.
A: Several companies make snake proof boots and chaps. Hunting supply stores and outdoor clothing retailers would be the best place to find snake-proof clothing. The best way is to stay aware while hiking or hunting and watch where you step. Most snakes in Alabama have very small teeth and would find it difficult to bite through thick clothing. Snake-proof boots and chaps are mainly intended to prevent the fangs of a pit viper from penetrating your skin.

Q: How many moccasins would you expect in a pond or small lake based on acreage?
Atmore, Ala.
A: There is not a formula that could be used to accurately predict the numbers of snakes present in and around a small lake---many factors come into play. You ask about “moccasins.” Moccasin is a general term many people use to name a snake found near the water and in Alabama that can be one of a dozen or more species including the venomous cottonmouth.

Q: Are dogs immune to snake venom?
Oneonta, Ala.
A: Dogs (and cats) are not immune to snake venom. If your pet is bitten by a venomous snake seek veterinary help immediately.

Q: What time of day are you most likely to see snakes?
Montgomery, Ala.
A: That depends on the individual snake species. For example, black racers are diurnal and hunt mostly during the day. However, the black rat snake is known to be diurnal in the spring, but will hunt at night in the late summer. In general snakes prefer warm weather, but the summer heat will cause snakes to seek shelter and shade during the heat of the day.

Q: How long does a rattlesnake live?
Hoover, Ala.
A: A rattlesnake can live 20-30 years in captivity. In the wild this is less due to predation and disease. They generally take several years to mature, and females usually reproduce only once every three years.

Q: Why do some snakes bite?
Birmingham, Ala.
A: That depends on the circumstances. Most snake bites are reserved for prey animals or as a defense when other animals attempt to prey on them. When humans are bitten it is most often in defense and often the result of handling a snake

Q: Is there a listing of Alabama hospitals that carry antivenom available on the Internet or another source?
Atmore, Ala.
A: ADCNR does not keep a list of hospitals with antivenom and a Google search didn’t find such a list. If you are concerned about the potential of being bitten by a venomous snake call your local hospital and ask if they have antivenom. You can also call the Alabama Poison Center for more information, 1-800-222-1222.
In general antivenom comes in two varieties: Monovalent (effective against one venom), and polyvalent (effective against two or more venoms). If you are uncertain of the type of snake bite seek medical attention immediately.

Q: If I get bit by a snake, what should I tell the emergency room if I don't know what type of snake it was or I don't know what it looked like.
Ozark, Ala.
A: In situations where the snake is not identified or even observed for positive identification other clues will help determine if you were bitten by a venomous snake. The patter of teeth marks would be one clue. A bite by a rattlesnake, cottonmouth, or copperhead (pit vipers) will often display the puncture of the two larger fangs. Bites by nonvenomous snakes leave different marks. Also the reaction to the bite will lend clues to whether someone has been bitten by a venomous or nonvenomous snake and the doctor could make a decision to administer antivenom. Remember, venomous snakes do not always deliver venom when they bite.

Q: What should you do if you encounter a coral snake on your property?
Tuscaloosa, Ala.
A:  The simple advice is to leave the snake alone. Since you are in Tuscaloosa, consider contacting the biology department at the University of Alabama; there may be someone on staff who might wish to document the sighting. Also, you might consider yourself lucky. Encounters with coral snakes are very rare in Alabama.

Q: Is there any way to keep alligators out of a campsite?
Daphne, Ala.
A: Alligators tend to avoid people. However, some do become habituated due to being fed by people. The best way to avoid alligators in your campsite is to not camp near known alligator habitat. Also make sure you put away any food or other attractants that might entice them.

Q: Are pygmy rattlesnakes and hog-nosed snakes confused for one another?
A: The untrained eye may confuse the two species at first glance. However there are differences. Hognose snakes have a pointed tip of the nose. Their pupils are also round. Pygmy rattlesnakes lack the pointed nose and their pupils are elliptical. Pygmy rattlesnakes also have very small rattles. Hognose snakes may also display the remarkable behavior of playing dead.

Q: Is there an iPhone app or some other electronic tool you can use to quickly identify a snake in the wild?
Deatsville, Ala.
A: There are several great reptile identification websites including the watchable wildlife section of Outdoor Alabama. As far as iPhone apps, there are several to choose from. A search of the Apple iTunes store or Android Market will help you decide which is best for you.

Q: How can I tell the difference between the sound of crickets and a rattlesnake rattle? Cricket sounds. Rattlesnakes rattles are distinctly different from the sounds of crickets. The Wikipedia entry for “rattlesnake” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rattlesnake) has a recording of a rattle
Click here for a Rattlesnake sound.

Enterprise, Ala.

 Q: Wh at is the best way to kill an alligator?

A: Alligators are still a protected species in Alabama. However, there are new regulations which allow for dealing with nuisance alligators. As far as hunting goes there are very specific rules for harvesting them. Contact your district office for details.

Q: What is a "dry bite"?
Birmingham, Ala.
A: A dry bite is when no venom is injected during a snake bite. If you know you were bitten by a venomous snake and no symptoms appear within 8 to 12 hours, it is possible that no venom was injected. Medical attention is recommended for any snakebite.

Q: Is against the law to harm or kill non venomous species as it is in GA. I do my best to educate in both states and fight "the only good snake is a dead snake" mentality
Centre, Ala.
A:  Most snakes in Alabama are not covered under any regulation. However, there are some snakes that are protected by the nongame species regulation. These snakes include the eastern indigo snake, black pine snake, eastern coachwhip, Florida pine snake, gulf saltmarsh snake, and the southern hognose. All of these protected species are non-venomous and harmless.

Q: Do alligators eat turtles?
Montgomery, Ala.
A: An alligator will eat pretty much anything including: turtles, fish, birds, snakes, frogs and mammals such as raccoon and deer. Hatchlings prey on larvae, insects, snails and other small creatures.

Q: Anything one can do to promote snake habitat on their property?
Birmingham, Ala.
A: Yes. There are things you can do to improve snake habitat on your property including letting your grass grow deeper and providing brush piles as cover. Keep in mind there is no way to invite non-venomous snakes without also inviting venomous ones.

Q: What is the different between a diamondback rattlesnake, and a regular rattlesnake? One more question, is the venom in both snakes the same?
Greenville, Ala.
A: The common name of  “regular” rattlesnake is misleading. There are 32 species of rattlesnake worldwide, and 65-70 subspecies. There are three species in Alabama: the Eastern diamondback, timber and pygmy rattlesnake. The Eastern diamondback also happens to be the largest species of rattlesnake in the world growing up to eight feet in length. 
Most rattlesnake venom is hemotoxic , which destroys tissue, causes necrosis and disrupts blood clotting. However, some Mojave rattlesnakes in the southwest U.S. have a potent neurotoxic venom

Q: How do I avoid snake bite when walking in coastal Alabama wooded areas?
Muncie, In.
A: (From the Alabama Department of Public Health.)
  • When entering any area, use caution.
  • Use a stick or some type of rod to move objects slowly and carefully to check for anything hidden behind them.
  • If possible, wear boots and heavy gloves when clearing an area and work with someone else.
  • Make noise when entering an area to alert snakes to your presence and to cause them to make a sound or movement that will tell you their location.
  • Snakes will not usually bite unless cornered, handled or stepped on, and most snakes are not poisonous.
  • If you find a snake, it is best to leave it alone. Snakes will return to their own environment away from humans as quickly as they can. Snakes help keep the rodent population down, so it is best not to kill them unless absolutely necessary.
  • If you must kill a snake, one of the most effective methods is to use a long-handled hoe to strike it in the back of the snake's head.
  • Be sure to warn children to watch out for snakes and not to get close to them. Tell them it is best to back off quickly and quietly from a snake to avoid making it feel threatened. 

Q: Are there any snakes that mimic the markings of a water moccasin. I found one in my yard the other day that looked exactly like a moccasin, but was not aggressive and did not appear to have the triangular head shape.
Gulf Shores, Ala.
A: The brown water snake and diamondback water snake and are often mistaken for venomous snakes, but are harmless and not aggressive unless you handle them.

Q: Do you have photos of how alligators den up in the winter?
Mobile, Ala.
A: Follow this link to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which has a photo of the entrance to an alligator den.

Q: How do you keep snakes away from swimming pool?
Denville, Ala.
A: While you might not be able to keep snakes away from your pool 100 percent of the time, especially if you live near a forested or suburban area, you can take steps to minimize encounters. Read more here.

Q: Having witnessed firsthand snake predation on nesting birds and a snake swallowing a baby squirrel, is there research suggesting the degree of impact snakes have on baby songbird and squirrel populations during spring?
Tuskegee, Ala.
A: There have been several papers written in the last decade on snakes as nest predators including one entitled Understanding Avian Nest Predation: Why Ornithologists Should Study Snakes. However, feral cats may pose a larger threat to song birds and squirrels.

Q: Do alligators bother kayakers? Have you heard of any attacks?
Mobile, Ala.
A: In general alligators steer clear of humans. However, some do become habituated due to being fed by people. ADCNR is not aware of any alligator attacks on kayakers. Still kayakers are encouraged to avoid alligators.

Q: Is there any evidence that some rattle snake venom has become more potent than in previous years and if so why?
A: ADCNR has no evidence that rattlesnake venom potency is increasing.
Most rattlesnake venom is hemotoxic , which destroys tissue, causes necrosis and disrupts blood clotting. However, some Mojave rattlesnakes in the southwest U.S. have a potent neurotoxic venom

Q: We have moles, chipmunks, and other pests in our back yard, but I hardly ever see snakes around.  Is there any way to provide better habitat for such beneficial (but not poisonous) species of snakes?  Could it be that our pet dog or cat precludes finding snakes in our yard?
Jasper, Ala.
A: It is very likely that snakes are avoiding your pets and cats are very efficient predators of small animals including snakes However, this depends on where you live. In general you won’t see as many snakes in an urban area as you will in a suburban or rural area. Still there are things you can do to improve snake habitat if you desire snakes on your property including letting your grass grow deeper and providing brush piles as cover. Keep in mind there is no way to invite non-venomous snakes without also inviting venomous ones.

Q: What is the geographical range of the water moccasin in Alabama?  Are there areas of the state where they are never found?
Atlanta, Ga.
A: Water moccasin or cotton mouths can be found throughout Alabama where there is suitable habitat, which includes: brackish waters, swamps, streams, springs, ponds, sloughs, reservoirs, marshes, and road side drainage ditches.  

Q: Is there really a relationship between the number of rattlers and a snake’s age? 
Atmore, Ala.
A: No. rattlesnakes add a new segment to their rattle each time they shed their skin and since they shed their skin more than once a year, counting rattle segments is not an accurate judge of age. Besides, the rattle can be broken as well.

Q: Do female water moccasins aggressively guard their hatchlings?
Chelsea, Ala.
A: A female cottonmouth does not provide care for its young.

Q: In recent years there have been many reports of venomous and non-venomous snakes from all over the world that have been released, or escaped from captivity here in Alabama. Is it possible for any of these reptiles to survive (and/or reproduce) in the wild here in our state?
Oxford, Ala.
A:  Most animals, snakes included, released originating from other lands do not survive. However it is possible for some to become established. In south Florida with its tropical climate has seen the establishment of two snakes, the small Brahminy blind snake and the very large Burmese python. There is a regulation in Alabama that prohibits the possession of nonindigenous venomous reptiles without a special permit.

Q: Do snakes eat fish?  I found one in my gold fish pond, after the fish began to disappear.  I don't know what kind of snake it was, or if indeed it was the snake that was getting the fish.  What do you think?
Millport, Ala.
A: Yes, fish are on the menu of many snake species. It is possible a snake or snakes are eating your fish. However, egrets and herons are learning that ornamental ponds make for good fishing.

Q: It has been hypothesized that the number of some snakes like king snakes is down because of fire ants. Do you have any research supporting this?
Prattville, Ala.
A:  Here is a link to a paper describing fire ant predation over a variety of animals: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=ncfwrustaff&sei-redir=1#search=%22fire%20ant%20predation%20snakes%22. Though this paper does not specifically address a link between a decline in kingsnakes and fire ants, one can easily deduce that fire ants are not benefiting king snakes.

Q: I have been a paramedic in Alabama for almost 30 years. I am also an avid outdoorsman. Snakes have always been an interest of mine and I know all the species well. In school (UAB), we were taught that the only neurotoxin snakes in Alabama were coral snakes. We were told they were closely related to cobras but were not pit vipers and bites were rare. We were taught all the other venomous snakes of Alabama were hemotoxic. Recently while visiting Arizona I talked with a doctor who was collecting venom from Mojave rattlers and he told me they had hemo and neuro venom properties which surprised me. Now I am finding out that eastern diamondbacks have the same properties and that scientist think venomous snakes are adapting (evolving) and that we can actually see this happening in our lifetime as opposed to the normal thousands of years time period that it takes for animals to adapt and change. Is this true and why are they changing or has this been the case all along and we are just now finding this out? I have a friend who was bitten and loss the use of his legs in just 30 mins along with huge amounts of necrosis at bite site (He has recovered now).
Leeds, Ala.
A: Rattlesnake venom is composed of a variety of compounds. Rattlesnakes can show differences in their venom between species and even among individuals of the same species throughout their range. This adaptation may help the snakes in that ageless battle between predator and prey that evolve defenses against their predators. You are correct in that the Mojave rattlesnake is unique among the rattlesnakes in the United States in that its venom may have more of a neurotoxic effect. The fact that eastern diamondback rattlesnakes have a component in their venom that can interfere with nerve transmissions is an example of the complexity of snake venom.

Q: I was recently asked by a visitor to Weeks Bay Reserve if snakes can jump? Another question was do moccasins and rattlesnakes climb trees?
Bay Minette, Ala.
A:  Snakes may “lunge” or “strike” but jump would not be an accurate description and their  body does not completely come off the ground. Rattlesnakes, water snakes, and cottonmouths are not known for their climbing ability like the corn and rat snakes but they could climb onto low branches or shrubbery. Since their primary prey items are found on the ground there is no pressing reason for these snakes to climb trees.

Q: If a person is bitten by a poisonous snake, does that person's body chemistry change so that other poisonous snakes will seek after that person from then on? 
Corinth, Ms.
A: This is completely NOT true. 

Q:  What dangerous non-native species are now considered to be indigenous to the lakes and rivers of Alabama?
Pinson, Ala.
A:  There are no dangerous non-native snakes established in the waters of Alabama

Q:  I have two little dogs that I keep on a leash when we go for walks in the parks. I was told not to go Eufaula because the alligators will come right out of the water and eat them. I also heard how beautiful it is there and would like to go and take my pets. Is this true about the alligators?
Montgomery, Ala.
A: This is highly unlikely. In general alligators will avoid human contact. However, if you are concerned about the safety of your pets avoid walking them near known alligator habitat. Be assured that Lakepoint State Park is a very safe place.

Q: What should I do if my pet is bitten by a venomous snake?
Knoxville, Tn.
A: Seek veterinary attention immediately. Dogs and cats respond well to antivenom. If you are concerned about the possibility of a venomous snake bite it is a good idea to contact your vet to see if they have antivenom and make a plan in the event your pet is bitten.


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