ECU grad brings snake savvy to Park, Berry enjoys herpetology

Published 4:05 pm Monday, July 30, 2007

By By KEVIN SCOTT CUTLER, Lifestyles Editor
Mike Berry doesn’t mind that the swampy areas of Goose Creek State Park harbor a variety of snakes.
In fact, that’s one of his favorite things about the park.
He said he’s been involved in amateur herpetology — the study of snakes, reptiles and amphibians — for about 20 years. His fascination with snakes began when he bought one as a pet.
He spent several years running a bicycle and outdoor recreation business until the urge to return to school led him to East Carolina University, where he enrolled in the parks and recreation program. To finish his degree, he began an internship at Goose Creek and soon joined the staff. He helps rangers research and plan various educational programs offered by the park. The job allows him to continue his study of snakes indigenous to the Beaufort County area.
He also makes it a sort of mission to educate the public about the importance of snakes and some of the misconceptions about them.
For example, there is no such thing as a “poisonous” snake, according to Berry. The correct term is “venomous.”
Nonvenomous snakes found in this area include the black racer and the eastern king snake. The former is aptly named because of its speed, while
the latter is one of the most beneficial snakes, according to Berry.
With his local roots — he is the son of Jim and Betty Berry of Aurora — Berry is familiar with this area’s venomous snakes, as well.
Berry added that the copperhead’s bite could, however, prove deadly for an infant or for an elderly adult with health complications.
According to Berry, the cottonmouth is easy to identify because of its defense mechanism — when it opens its mouth, the inside is as white as a cotton ball. A cottonmouth, Berry said, is also buoyant, almost like it’s wearing a life vest.
Another venomous snake indigenous to Beaufort County is the timber rattler.
While deaths from a snake bite are extremely rare — the last known case in North Carolina was in the late 1970s — Berry said area residents should still know what to do should a bite occur.
Berry also offered advice on how to avoid snakes that may be in the area.
Berry advised that walking with a heavy footstep may also keep snakes at bay; because they have no ears they can’t hear, but they sense vibrations.
Berry’s interest in snakes extends beyond his professional life. He breeds them and currently has 23 in his Greenville home.
Berry’s collection could soon be growing. He estimated he has more than 60 eggs in an incubator. While the thought of so many snakes in one’s home — or even just one snake — would send most people running into the street, Berry said he isn’t worried.
But how do guests in his home feel about the zoo-like atmosphere?