by Mark Sasser, Nongame Wildlife Coordinator
Of all wildlife that exists on our planet, snakes are the Rodney Dangerfields of the wildlife world. As he always said, “I get no respect,” and neither do snakes. They are scorned and feared by many, but actually are most interesting creatures and serve a vital role in the health of our natural world.
How can there be such a thing as a “good” snake? you might ask. Snakes are a key component in the balance of nature. Small snakes feed on many harmful bugs and insects. Larger ones eat mice, rats, and other small mammals that can destroy crops or damage personal property. Without snakes, we would be completely overrun by these nuisance rodents. Also, snakes serve as a food source for larger predators such as hawks, owls, herons and carnivorous mammals such as bobcats. Some snakes consume other snakes if given the opportunity. Immune to the poisonous venom, king snakes will readily make a meal of a rattlesnake that it might encounter.
What about the “bad” snakes? While all snakes have ecological value, some snakes might be considered bad because they are venomous. Of the 42 different species of snakes in Alabama, only six of these are venomous: the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, pigmy rattlesnake, cottonmouth, copperhead and Eastern coral snake. While no one wants one of these unwelcome visitors around their home, malicious killing of all snakes negatively affects the environment.
Most snake bites are the result of people trying to catch or kill a snake. The best way to prevent a snake bite is to take precautions by being aware of your surroundings when outdoors and using common sense. First, learn to identify the venomous species from the non-venomous species. If you encounter a venomous snake, instead of trying to capture or kill it, simply leave it alone and allow it to flee and move away. If it is in your yard, consider calling a professional wildlife damage control agent and have it captured and removed before killing it needlessly.
How can anyone appreciate a creature so “ugly?” As is often said, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Actually, when you study photos of the various colors and patterns of the different species and how they are camouflaged with their natural surroundings, you realize the natural beauty of this misunderstood creature. Unfortunately for snakes, they aren’t cute, warm and fuzzy like the baby birds in a nearby nest in your backyard or the young cottontail at the edge of the roadside.
Instead of being frightened by or hating snakes, learn facts about them and their importance to the environment. Teach your children what you have learned -- that all wildlife deserves to be treated humanely and to respect all forms of life.