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Spring is Snake Season

May 26, 2015
By

Know Your Snakes 

By Chris Erwin

I can’t think of a better time during the year than spring. When winter finely gives in to spring, and we start to see everything coming to life once more. It renews our spirit.

I feel the annual rebirth not only in my attitude but in everything I see. The spring flowers give witness to the warming of all things connected to the earth, as the cycle of life renews itself once again.

Now that we are in the full swing of spring, there are a few things we need to be aware of, and today I felt this would be a good time to tackle one of them… the reappearance of snakes.

While I don’t have time here to go over all 33 species of snakes found in Kentucky. I do want to go over the most common of both venomous and non-venomous species so you can quickly see and know one from another.

While they are four venomous snakes found in Kentucky; the Cottonmouth, the Pygmy Western Rattlesnake, the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake and the Copperhead only two of these are found in eastern Kentucky; the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake and the Copperhead.

The Copperhead is the most encountered venomous snake in Kentucky (pictured top).The snake pictured on the bottom is a Eastern Timber Rattlesnake, which has been reducing in numbers for some time. Notice the eyes, pit and spade shaped head, all are easy ways to identify poisonous snakes from their non-poisonous counterparts. (photo provided by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife)

The Copperhead is the most encountered venomous snake in Kentucky (pictured top).The snake pictured on the bottom is a Eastern Timber Rattlesnake, which has been reducing in numbers for some time. Notice the eyes, pit and spade shaped head, all are easy ways to identify poisonous snakes from their non-poisonous counterparts. (photo provided by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Before we begin to talk about them, I think one of the most important things to know is how to distinguish between venomous and non-venomous species quickly, so I felt this is the first thing we should discuss.

In Kentucky, all the poisonous snakes are members of the pit viper family. This makes them easy to identify quickly from their non-venomous cousins.

They are three accepted ways to do this. The eyes are often the easiest way; non-venomous snakes have round eyes (pupil-shaped) while their counterparts have egg-shape or Cat-like eyes that are elliptical in shape.

Secondly, poisonous snakes in Kentucky also have a very conspicuous sensory or pit (hence the name ‘pit viper’) this area looks like a nostril; it is about halfway between the eyes and end of the nose. Harmless snakes do not have pits.

While they are some ways to identify them other than the three, we want to give you the third way: Head shape. Venomous snakes usually have a triangular (wide at the back and attached to a narrow neck) or ‘spade-shaped’ head. Be aware that many harmless snakes flatten their heads when threatened and may appear poisonous.

I didn’t cover scale patterns and some other ways, mostly because it’s not useful unless the snake is dead so you can look at them very closely.

The snake pictured on top is a male Black Racer. It is non-poisonous, however during mating season this is the most aggressive snake you could encounter this spring-summer. Bottom snake is a Easter Garter Snake. It is harmless but can bite if threatened. Like the common Green Snake it is one you may encounter in your yard this  spring. (Photos provided by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife)

The snake pictured on top is a male Black Racer. It is non-poisonous, however during mating season this is the most aggressive snake you could encounter this spring-summer. Bottom snake is a Easter Garter Snake. It is harmless but can bite if threatened. Like the common Green Snake it is one you may encounter in your yard this
spring. (Photos provided by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Of the non-venomous species, they are a couple that have a nasty tolerance for interruption, and you should just stay clear of them during this spring season while mating is underway. The most aggressive is the male black racer which will attack anything within its guarded territory during matting season. The Northern water snake has a nasty disposition and will strike and bite if harassed. Diamond Back water snake like most water snakes is also aggressive and can deliver a bite. While they are not poisonous, it’s not a pleasant experience I have been bitten, and it bled like a knife wound.

The reason why spring is a time to be cautious aside from the fact that early spring is when they are breeding; both Rattlesnakes and Copperheads give birth to live young. They are usually about seven to 10 inches long, and they are fully equipped with fangs and venom. They stay near the adults for only a few weeks, and they set out on their own. New to the world they can end up in places that may invade your space.

While I don’t advocate killing every snake you see, you should be on the lookout as these young snakes as they start exploring their new world. Both Rattlesnake and Copperhead give birth to two to 10 offspring each season.

Snakebites

Most of the snakebites by venomous snakes in Kentucky come from Copperheads. The chance of dying from a Copperhead bite is quite low; they are the least venomous of all four of our poisonous snakes in Kentucky but are the most abundant appearing in every county of Kentucky. Rattlesnake bites can be more dangerous but your chance of living after a bite is still very good.

Rattlesnakes deliver hemotoxic venom, which acts by destroying tissue and preventing blood clotting. While it’s not a lethal as some neurotoxic venom the volume a rattlesnake can deliver can be lethal. However, only one in 200 bites result in death.

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