The Norman Transcript

May 24, 2013

Watch for snakes in storm debris

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — While touring the May 20th tornado-damaged areas of Moore, I noted many debris-clogged streams and wet areas. Severe storms can play havoc with water sources, such as drainages, creeks or even sewer systems; sometimes driving snakes into places they are not usually found.

Most snakes are beneficial and do not pose a threat to us or our pets. While a few species are venomous, most are harmless and help us in many ways. They eat insects and rodents primarily, neither of which are likely to benefit crops, gardens, lawns and pastures. In fact, one rodent-eating snake can consume a mouse family in a few weeks and several small species will consume countless grasshoppers in just one summer.

Best of all, they do this work without damaging our environment. Obviously, snakes don’t dig holes (just use holes previously dug by rodents).  They don’t chew or damage the landscape like rodents and no plants are harmed by snakes, either from being eaten or from their physical presence. They leave few droppings compared to invasive birds and rodents and are non-aggressive. They do not attack people and never bite unless harassed, stepped on or near, are picked up, forced into a corner, or threatened. 

Snakes are clean and have few diseases to transmit — they don’t carry rabies, fleas, or mange like raccoons, skunks, or coyotes. A snake is less likely to bite someone even if picked up than almost any other wild animal. Even if a non-venomous snake is forced into biting, their bites are less worrisome than from something as common as a cat. Far more people have lost hands or become ill from cat bites than from snake bites in the U.S. 

The most common snakes encountered in Oklahoma are garter snakes, green snakes, ribbon snakes and water snakes. These snakes feed on insects and sometimes rodents and are highly beneficial, shy creatures. Another group of common and beneficial snakes are king snakes, gopher snakes, racers and rat snakes.  These animals live primarily on rodents, and who doesn’t want rats, moles and gophers removed from their gardens? 

For some reason far less people are bothered by lizards than snakes, yet the two are closely related. Both are pest predators. Perhaps if one thinks of snakes as legless lizards, it might help to make them seem less “scary.” There is no reason to fear snakes, and the benefits they provide make it worthwhile to have them around. When I meet someone scared of snakes, oftentimes it’s because they overreact or were mistakenly led to believe as children that “all” snakes are “bad.”  

“Taking a few simple precautions can help diminish the chance an unwanted encounter with a snake turns into a problem,” said Dr. Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Extension wildlife specialist. He provided some helpful tips for folks who may run across snakes while cleaning up storm debris. 

· Learn to identify venomous snake in your area, as not all snakes are venomous and most provide benefits in terms of controlling pests;

· During clean-up activities, wear heavy leather or rubber high-top boots, as well as heavy gloves, and wear pants legs outside your boots;

· Keep children away from debris, and use rakes, pry bars or long-handled tools when possible;

· Avoid sudden movement when you see a snake, as many tend to lose interest in a stationary target;

· If the snake does not leave after a few moments, back away with deliberate movements; and

· If somebody is bitten by a snake, stay calm and seek medical help. Try to identify the species of snake that bit the individual so medical personnel will know how to treat the patient.

Heath Herje is an agriculture educator with Cleveland County Cooperative Extension service.