LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Scrolling through social media shows a number of Arkansans are having encounters with snakes this spring as the weather warms.
Professor Rebecca McPeake, wildlife extension specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said this is typical for this time of year, explaining that with the arrival of spring warmth, a snake’s body temperature rises leading them to become more active.
“Typically they have not eaten in a while, so they are moving around actively seeking food,” McPeake said
Many of the posts include pictures of snakes in gardens or carports along with questions about if the snake is venomous.
According to the UA Division of Agriculture, Arkansas has a total of 39 species of native snakes, and only six of those are venomous: eastern copperhead, northern cottonmouth, western diamond-backed rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, western pigmy rattlesnake and Texas Gulf-coast coral snake.
EXPERTS SAY WHAT TO LOOK FOR TO ID DANGEROUS SNAKES
McPeake recommends memorizing the color patterns of the six venomous snakes native to the Natural State since quickly recognizing those patterns can save important time in case of a dangerous encounter.
It is also key to separate fact from fiction. AGFC officials pointed out in a 2021 article that many of the so-called “tricks” to identifying poisonous snakes such as head or pupil shape are incorrect.
“If you’re close enough to tell what kind of pupil they have, you’re probably getting too close to the snake,” regional educator with AGFC Lori Monday said in the article.
It is also not a good idea to kill every snake you encounter. For starters, it is not legal to kill snakes in Arkansas unless they pose an immediate threat.
McPeake also pointed out that non-venomous snakes are known to consume venomous snakes. She added that those same non-venomous snakes can help control mice and rats.
“Be smart and use nature to fight nature,” she said.
Even after memorizing colors, the safe bet is not to approach a snake, venomous or non-venomous, McPeake said.
“Animals will bite to protect themselves when threatened, and snakes are no exception,” she said, adding, “Many snake bites occur when untrained and ill-equipped people attempt to kill a snake.”
WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF A SNAKE BITE
If the worst does come to pass and someone is bitten by a venomous snake, McPeake said the first thing they should do is go to the hospital.
“If you get bit by a venomous snake, immediately go to the hospital where you can be monitored and treated,” she advised. “If bit by a non-venomous snake, treat it as with any bite wound. Keep it clean and should it become infected, seek medical attention.”
State officials also say that getting to the hospital is the most important thing. An article on avoiding snake bites quoted a representative of an antivenom company who said, “Cold packs, cutting and sucking venom at the bite site, and even electric shock are all talked about, but they don’t work.”
He also said: “You’re likely to cause yourself more damage than anything else by trying these tactics.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes every year, with five of those people dying.
“The number of deaths would be much higher if people did not seek medical care,” the center states on its website. The center also shows that far more people die of bee, hornet and wasp stings yearly.