Not all snakes are poisonous

A copperhead snake is found all across the state.
A copperhead snake is found all across the state. The Clarion-Ledger

On the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy printed in warm red letters are the words DON”T PANIC!

Words of wisdom. Especially when it comes to today’s subject, snakes. These creatures may very well be the most feared group of animals on our planet. But for the most part, that fear comes from superstition and a general lack of understanding about snakes. With a little education, the mystery and anxiety about them tends to slide off like a shed skin.

Of the 38 species found in Mississippi, only six are venomous. Venomous or not, there are a lot of benefits to having snakes in your neighborhood. To begin with, snakes are Mama Nature’s most efficient mouse trap. They kill and consume huge numbers of rodents.

The presence of a large number of snakes showing up at your house is a pretty good indicator that you have an even larger number of mice and/or rats hanging about. Snakes are not going to completely eliminate mice from your property. After all, any creature that systematically destroys its source of food isn’t going to survive very long. But they will keep the population of mice and rats in check.

Of course, not all snakes eat rodents. Members of the genus Nerodia eat small fishes and other aquatic animals. The two species of hog-nosed snakes we have eat toads. Some snakes eat insects and earthsnakes eat worms and other subterranean creatures. Some snakes eat other snakes.

Needless to say, nobody wants a venomous snake hanging around their home. But even they have beneficial aspects. A number of medicines are currently being developed from snake venom. Venom has been found to help control certain blood diseases and heart problems. It is currently undergoing tests to evaluate its efficacy against bacteria that are resistant to other medicines.

People and snakes come in conflicts often as not when someone unwittingly (or wittingly) corners a snake. As soon as a snake senses your approach, they will attempt to get away. If cornered, most snakes will respond with an attempt to frighten you away. It will open its mouth and hiss, rush towards you or coil up and strike. For the non-venom,out types of snakes, these actions are simply done to frighten you away.

Unfortunately this very behavior will often cause the panicked person to react badly, bashing the poor snake with the first object that comes to hand. Most snake bites occur when someone is attempting to kill the snake. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, get prompt medical attention. The bite of a non-venomous snake can be treated with soap, water and an application of an antiseptic.

To control snakes, there are both lethal and non lethal methods. Non lethal methods are the most commonly used forms of control. You can discourage snakes from hanging around by cutting off their food supply. Keep the area around your home mowed. Stow fire wood away from your house and keep it elevated at least 25 centimeters above the ground.

Restrict the amount of mulch you use in your flower beds to no more than five centimeters to discourage small rodents. Keep shrubbery and other plantings away from foundation walls. If your house is elevated, keep the area underneath clean and trash free. Remove any piles of debris. Seal off any cracks in the walls of your house or openings around pipes and utility connections. Make certain that all doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. If you have a pond or steam nearby, keep the banks mowed and clean.

There are a number of home remedies: cayenne pepper, coal tar, creosote, lime, moth balls, sulfur and even musk from dead king snakes. In rigorous scientific evaluations, none of the methods proved to be effective in repelling or deterring snakes. Nor do any fumigants or poisons registered for snake control. You mat very well find various products in stores that claim to repel snakes. But legitimate evaluations have shown time and time again, to be useless. The only way to keep snakes away is to significantly modify their environment.

When it comes to the lethal forms of control, the only one I’d recommend is a long-handled hoe or shovel. A snake should not be killed unless it poses a direct threat to people or pets. If you manage to kill a snake, handle the carcass with care. Even if you manage to severe the head, Do Not Pick Up The Head Of A Venomous Snake With Your Hands!

A disconnected head can still bite by reflex. Four out of five snake bites occur when someone is trying to kill or handle a snake.

If you encounter a snake outside, back away slowly and leave. If you run across one inside, a small one can be swept into a bag or box and carried outside. anger snakes can be removed by suspending them over a long pole.

These methods will reduce, but not eliminate, the presence of snakes. It is best to remove situations that snakes find attractive. Just remember, snakes are highly evolved predators that play a natural and necessary role in their environment. The best approach to managing snakes is to just leave them alone.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.