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Snakes Are More Helpful Than Harmful

May 3, 2008
By KENNETH COBB, For The Inter-Mountain
Too many people become unnecessarily hysterical at the mere sight of the tiniest snake. In reality, snakes are more helpful than harmful.

In West Virginia, there are 21 species of snakes in two families, Colubridae and Viperidae. Only two of these snakes are considered venomous and dangerous to people. These are the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead. They are members of the Pit Viper family. Their venom is hemotoxic and used to capture their prey, which consists of small rodents and other small mammals. Neither one of these snakes are aggressive.

The rattlesnake will usually give warning when approached. If it is not crowded, it will usually make an effort to get away from anyone who comes near. The copperhead does not give any warning, but a person has to practically step on one to cause it to strike.

A few eastern diamond back rattlesnakes and cottonmouth water moccasins are sometimes found in West Virginia, but their sightings are rare. For the most part, this state is just too cold for these creatures.

A few of the more common useful snakes include the black ratsnake, black kingsnake, common watersnake, eastern gartersnake, northern black racer, smooth greensnake, northern black racer, smooth greensnake, northern ringsnake and northern brownsnake. All snakes native to West Virginia are carnivores. They usually feed on insects, spiders, earthworms, small fish, frogs, lizards and even other snakes.

The eastern gartersnake is quite common throughout West Virginia and is often found in the backyards of any city. Their favorite foods are grasshoppers and spiders. The black ratsnake is one of the most common snakes in the state and could possibly be West Virginia’s largest snake. They are often confused with northern black racers and black kingsnakes.

The young of the black ratsnake is sometimes confused with copperheads because their markings are similar. The smooth greensnake is a very small snake found throughout West Virginia. The back is bright green, and the underside is yellowish-white. This snake is very docile and will rarely, if ever, try to bite. They feed on crickets, caterpillars, grasshoppers and spiders.

When I was a teenager, I found a greensnake on the side of a road. I picked it up, brought it home, and nearly scared everyone in the house out of his or her wits. Dad made me turn it loose that night.

The northern ringsnake is another common small snake. The bright yellow ring around its neck easily identifies the ringsnake. They will put out a foul-smelling musk when provoked. Their diet mostly consists of salamanders, slugs and snails.

The only time I would try to kill a snake is when it is too close to the house. When I see them in the woods or open fields, I just simply leave them alone unless they are venomous. I have only seen two rattlesnakes in the wild in West Virginia. I do not go looking for them, but when outdoors, I try to keep an eye out for them.

Remember the probability of being bitten by a venomous snake among campers, hikers, hunters and picnickers is much less than being struck by lightning.

However, all snakebites are usually painful. When a snake bites a person, they should stay calm and try to get to an emergency room for treatment as soon as reasonably possible.

All snakebites can often become infected when left untreated.



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