Venomous Snakes

Kevin Coolidge
Kevin is the creator of The Totally Ninja Raccoons and lives in Wellsboro Pennsylvania
Arts And Entertainment

Jun 05,2018

Humans have always been afraid of snakes. Maybe it’s a vague mammalian memory from when timid, chipmunk-sized creatures scurried in the looming shadow of the giant reptiles. It is no wonder we discovered fire, and invented the repeating rifle — just to make sure it’s “really, really dead”.

Ophidiophobia, the irrational fear of snakes, is quite common. Although fear of snakes may be instinctive, it is increased by ignorance and lack of factual knowledge. With accurate information about venomous snakes, you can enjoy the great outdoors, and learn to appreciate these interesting creatures.

I recommend picking up Wild Guide: Venomous Snakes by Cynthia Berger. Cynthia and her publisher, Stackpole both reside in Pennsylvania. She is also the author of Wild Guide: Dragonflies and Wild Guide: Owls. Also a contributor to the NPR radio program “Earth and Sky” and “The Ocean Report” and Cynthia has written for Birder’s World and Sports Afield, among other magazines.

Cynthia’s Wild Guide is especially informative about the species that live in North America – including rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, and the coral snake, found in specific environments. Cynthia Berger vividly details their habits and behaviors — how they hunt and catch their prey, the effects of their venom, where they live, and how they survive in the wild. The book includes a mini-field guide with descriptions and photographs of twenty species. 

It is important to note that venomous snakes are not common in the United States. Most states are home to just a few species, though Pennsylvania does contain three of the four venomous species — rattlesnakes, copperhead and the cottonmouth. You aren’t likely to see them if you don’t know where to look. Venomous snakes make up only a small minority of the snakes you might encounter. 

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, only 7,000 people per year are bitten by venomous snakes, and those bites result, on average, in about five deaths per year. It is of interest to note that alcohol is often involved. Medical professionals report that forty to a hundred percent of venomous snakebite victims they treat are intoxicated.

Therefore, it would seem most bites could be avoided. Cynthia Berger gives sensible precautions that will reduce the risk of a dangerous encounter: never go hiking alone, don’t touch snakes, and teaching children to stay away from snakes.

If you do happen to get bitten, remain calm. Do not cut the wound and suck out the poison. Do not apply a tourniquet. Do not offer the victim a Jello shot. Get the victim to a hospital. It is helpful to identify the snake, but not necessary. The antivenin formulations contain a mixture of the most common venomous snakes in the region. Keep the patient calm. Be reassured the likelihood of dying is extremely low.

As a naturalist, Cynthia includes a chapter on conservation and ecology issues. The focus of this chapter in Venomous Snakes is that snakes are an important part of the ecosystem, and like many animals they are threatened by a loss of habitat.

Cynthia gives some basic conversation tips, including how to keep a snake-free yard if you live in rattler country. She also discusses the rattlesnake roundup – a mountain tradition — and its often-detrimental effect on the rattler. Though only one venomous snake is on the U.S. federal endangered species list — the New Mexican ridge-nosed rattlesnake — many others are threatened by habitat loss, past bounty hunting, and rattlesnake roundups.

It is important to understand that anyone who is so passionate about animals that she’d write several guidebooks will have grave concerns and strong opinions about activities which are potentially threatening to that species, be they owls, snakes, or sidehill mooties.

Snakes figure prominently in religion and literature around the world, and Venomous Snakes also features a chapter on venomous snakes in folklore and mythology. The Bible may connect snakes with old Scratch, but not all cultures portray snakes as evil.

Some see them as a symbol of rebirth or immortality, and regard them as the wisest of animals. So, enjoy the outdoors, put down that stick, save that cold brew for later, observe, and maybe you will come to appreciate instead of fear the snake.

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