Snakes are amazing creatures, but unfortunately, snakes are also among the least popular of all animals. Many people have a natural aversion or fear of snakes while others simply choose to hate them for reasons they may or may not know. The negative stigma surrounding snakes is quite undeserved, and it is believed by wildlife biologists and those who work with snakes that this cold-blooded vertebrate is most assuredly a misunderstood animal, especially when you consider it is known by conservation professionals that snakes are extremely beneficial to our eco-system and our environment. Recently a Red-Bellied Water Snake, attacked by a shovel attached to a human, was admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport. The 4-foot snake received her second chance after a neighbor quickly realized what was happening, intervened and transported the reptile to our shelter, but not before the snake had suffered quite a few lacerations. The water snake was not in the best shape when she arrived, but receiving her immediately following the attack helped to minimize further damage and a treatment plan of medication and generous applications of antibiotic ointment was urgently administered. A full examination assessed the cuts were not as deep as they could have been and her vital organs had been spared. The slithery one was quite lethargic at first due to the trauma and shock of her ordeal, but she is doing very well now. The pretty girl is perky, fast, loves her soaks and is putting away quite the number of small fish during a feeding. Around the world there are more than 2600 species of snakes and most are nonvenomous. Fossil records show snakes have been around for over 130 million years. Snakes are valuable components to the communities in which they reside as they play the roles of predator and prey. Most snakes, other than water snakes who like fish and other aquatics, prey heavily on insects and rodents. When snake populations decrease, the numbers of rats and mice increase which causes serious problems for people. Stories have been told where someone thought it a good idea at the time to eradicate an area of all snakes, only to eventually become overrun when the rat population exploded! It proved to take years, hundreds of people hours and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and harmful chemicals to remove rats without natural predators such as snakes. Rats and mice reproduce often and destroy gardens, crops, homes, start fires by chewing electrical wires and can also spread harmful diseases. Snakes are very effective at hunting small rodents because they are designed to crawl into small burrows and other areas used as rodent shelters. These places are too small for other predators to maneuver. All snakes are described similarly; long, linear shaped reptiles covered with a skin of supple, living scales. They are legless with staring eyes that never blink, and they sport a great marvel of nature; the flickering forked tongue used to perceive scents, which is their main sensory organ. Snakes present in every color you can think of depending upon the type. They have fangs that will or will not deliver toxic venom, depending, also, upon the snake species. As defense mechanisms, even the shyest of snakes can hiss, coil, puff up or bite when threatened by a human. These behaviors alone may very well scare people, but the best thing to do if you encounter a snake is LEAVE IT ALONE. Snakes usually prefer to retreat when confronted but can become defensive if provoked. Although most snakes are not poisonous, they can still bite and snake bites usually occur when people try to capture or kill them. Snakes are known to swallow food much larger than their heads. This is possible because the lower jaw of a snake is loosely attached to the skull, allowing snakes to open their mouths very wide. As an extra adaptation, the lower jaw bones of snakes are not joined together at the front. This allows each side of the lower jaw to move independently and helps the snake stretch its mouth over large prey. Then the snake alternately moves each side of its jaws over the prey until swallowed. Most snakes belong to the Colubridae family and are found on every continent except Antarctica. Colubrids are much smaller than Boas and Pythons, move very fast and will eat once a week to once a month. Quite often eating depends upon opportunity and the faster the snake’s metabolism the more often they will need to eat. Snakes use their highly-developed senses of sight, taste, hearing and touch to track and locate prey. They are highly mobile creatures, able to move over sand and rocks, burrow in the soil, squeeze through cracks and crevasses in rocks, climb vertical rock walls and the thinnest tree branches and even swim with great speed. You may have heard a gruesome saying that the “only good snake is a dead snake,” Well, we need to debunk that old myth! Snakes deserve respect because they help maintain a high level of biodiversity that is extremely important to all life on Earth. They are middle-order predators that help keep our natural eco-systems working. In addition, they become prey for other wildlife such as hawks, eagles and other raptors that could simply vanish if snakes were not a viable food source. Venomous snakes, albeit a bit more touchy subject, deserve props too for the great work they do in the medical field. Snake venom is used to treat excessive bleeding, cancers, heart disease and stroke victims, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, which saves millions of peoples’ lives every year. When our Red-Bellied Water Snake is released, please watch out for her, for she is only going to do good things! She will probably bulk up a little before the end of autumn and you might see her grabbing a warm sun spot in the driveway or on the patio before dormancy, which is another term for hibernation, during the winter. When left alone, snakes present little or no danger to people, so adapting to live safely with snakes is doable, as long as you control your fear factor. LET THEM BE! When you get the chance, stop by our shelter to meet Blanca, our resident leucistic Rat Snake. Deprived of her natural camouflage coloring at birth, she has become a hefty, white beauty who is a fascinating Wildlife Ambassador! Total respect!
Best Always and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
Author of “Save Them All“