Snakes dead or alive

Randy Wilson of Trinity with a copperhead snake he killed in May. The snake measured just over five feet and was extremely thick. Copperheads are extremely poisonous.

Snakes are one of the most feared and avoided creatures on earth. There are certain people who are fascinated with them, but for the most part, they cause people to panic and run the other way. 

Not for nothing did God choose this particular reptile, as the leading bad guy in the Bible, cursing the forked tongue slithering serpent that ruined Eve’s reputation and got the first couple evicted from the Garden of Eden. 

Presently, there are about fifty snakes indigenous to our state. Snakes are everywhere in Alabama from the Gulf Coast to the mountains right here at home. They range in size from roughly the thickness of a pencil lead to lengths close to eight feet.

Alabama is home to six venomous snakes. The Eastern coral snake, the copperhead, cottonmouth,  Eastern diamondback, timber rattlesnake and pygmy rattlesnake. The Eastern coral snake packs the most potent venom of all.  These half dozen are snakes to be avoided, although there are other snakes that will cause a nasty, painful bite.

Imagine Linda Wilson’s surprise when she saw her husband, Randy, walking up their Trinity driveway with a huge copperhead in tow. Some people have the theory that poisonous snakes don’t live long enough to get too big. Linda and Randy beg to differ, throwing that theory right out the window with the discovery of a huge copperhead sunning itself in their driveway this past May. It was only one of several snakes they’ve seen this year, but was certainly the largest. They estimate it to have been over five feet long. The Wilson’s live on a farm in a secluded, wooded, area. Randy was driving the ATV down the drive when he noticed the huge snake stretched out across the driveway. “He ran over it at first,” said Linda. “But it didn’t seem to bother it, then it coiled up and Randy (who was packing) shot it several times.” “I’m convinced that this is a pappaw snake and that he has several generations of snakes lurking in the woods,” said Linda, only half joking. 

She could very well be right. Joel and Sandy Walker who live in the LouAllen community just outside Moulton found a clutch of approximately 28 eggs in the mulch around their flower beds about three weeks ago. “We didn’t touch them,” said Sandy. “But we did take them down the road and throw them out in a field,” said Sandy. “When we found out they were snake eggs we got them suckers off our place!” 

Snake eggs are likely to be found in cold, dark and isolated places; usually buried under the soil for safety during their incubation. Most species, including the king snake, pine snakes and pythons, lay eggs. Others, such as boas, rattlesnakes and garter snakes, give birth to live young. If you come across eggs in the wildlife or your own backyard, you’ll probably be wondering how to tell reptile eggs apart from birds.  Most snake species abandon their eggs after delivering them, you will not be able to tell if they belong to a snake, just by the presence of one. Equally, if you do see one, it is possible they are hunting for food. Snakes can lay anywhere between 1 and 100 eggs at a time. If you see dozens of eggs, they are unlikely to be from birds.   

The best way to differentiate between them is by touch. Snake eggs are soft and leathery, almost springy on the outside, while bird eggs are hard. Bird eggs are brittle, but snakes’ will have a little give if you apply some pressure. Most bird eggs will be oval, a similar shape to a chicken’s, even if bigger or smaller in size. Snake eggs can also come in this oval shape, but not all of them do. Some look a lot like tubers (potatoes) or even long ginger roots. Their texture won’t necessarily be completely smooth and may have little growths on it. 

How do you identify a snake egg? Very carefully! Hold it in your hands, do the eggs stick together? Are they spongy? Even though they are not as hard as bird eggs they can still break. The shell will be translucent and you may be able to see a silhouette of a ball-shaped embryo.  

 It usually takes about 60 days to hatch snake eggs, although each species of snake is different. As the embryo grows and develops and becomes close to hatching, the egg becomes more oval-shaped.  Some snake species lay hundreds of eggs at once. The presence of such huge numbers at one place is a sure sign of them belonging to a snake and not a bird. Surprisingly, the mother may be miles away, having abandoned the eggs as soon as she could crawl. Because snakes are not territorial it’s a toss up as to whether she is a few feet or a mile away.

Snakes try their best to blend in with surrounding flora and fauna. Amanda Goodlett spotted one in a crepe myrtle tree in her yard. The Goodletts live in town, so they are not normally bothered with reptiles. The one she saw startled her by moving. Amanda’s parents live in the Crow Hollow community between Moulton and Courtland. They have seen several snakes this year also. They love feeding birds and providing them with nesting boxes. The snakes are frequent marauders into the boxes to eat the bird eggs. The circle of life, maybe, but one that most people find dangerous and will avoid when possible. 

Paula Spence Newton lives in the Aldridge Grove community. Like many area residents she’s been seeing a lot of snakes this summer. She’s found a black snake on her grill, a chicken snake beside her porch and a water snake at the edge of her garage door. Way too close for comfort, says Paula.

But snakes can be found almost anywhere. Kristi Robertson found one curled inside a potted plant. It turned out to be a black racer. That breed is known for its ability to chase people.  

If you do encounter a snake, do not antagonize it. Even if it is a non-poisonous species, most snakes have razor sharp teeth that can inflict nasty bites. Some people don’t mind having chicken or rat snakes in their yards and barns because they keep down the rodents, but others had just as soon steer clear of them altogether. 

If you or a family member are bitten, try to at least take a photo of the snake so that medical personnel can try to identify the type of snake. But always proceed to the emergency room as quickly as possible.  

Facts: In 2004 six people died from contact with venomous snakes or lizards. However, in that same year, 402 drowned while in, or falling into, bathtubs and over 19,000 died as occupants of vehicles. Further investigation would likely reveal that some if not all of the deaths from venomous snakes or lizards resulted from the animals being handled or otherwise harassed by the victim.

 

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