Snakes have their place

Published 6:59 pm Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

GOOSE CREEK STATE PARK — You detect a slight movement out of the corner of your eye.
You turn, look and freeze in place.
But don’t reach for a shovel or hoe just yet, says Kevin Bischof, acting superintendent at Goose Creek State Park.
Many snakes are actually beneficial, according to Bischof.
For example, a nonvenomous snake in a barn or other outbuilding is a good way to cut down on the rodent population. In other words, one of a snake’s favorite meals is a mouse or rat. Just let nature take its course.
Keep in mind that Beaufort County is home to four types of venomous snakes, Bischof added. There’s the copperhead, cottonmouth, pigmy rattler and timber rattler.
A careful — and brief — inspection will tell you whether a snake is venomous or not, Bischof said. Nonvenomous species have oval-shaped heads and usually slender bodies; venomous species, on the other hand, have the signature diamond- or triangular-shaped heads and heavy bodies.
The eyes are different, as well. Nonvenomous snakes have oval-shaped eyes, while venomous snakes’ eyes are crescent shaped, much like those of a cat.
Of course, most people aren’t going to get that close.
“If you don’t know, enjoy the snake from a distance,” Bischof said.
That’s good advice.
On Sunday afternoon, Bischof shared his knowledge of snakes during his regular Snake of the Month program at the park.
“I’m very passionate about snakes,” Bischof said. “They are one of my most exciting topics.”
Bischof focused on copperheads during the program, primarily because they’re the most-spotted venomous snake in the area. And he just happened to have one on hand, safely stored in not one, but two, clear, plastic cases.
Bischof found the copperhead under a sheet of tin in the park. Snakes seek out such shelter, which is why keeping a tidy yard will also help reduce the snake population.
In other words, clean it up and they won’t come.
“An easy way to get rid of snakes is to get rid of places for them to hide,” Bischof said. “Snakes like wood piles and debris piles — those are excellent places for them to hide. If you don’t have a place for them to hide, they’ll go somewhere else.”
Animal-lovers also may be unknowingly creating a snake-friendly environment, Bischof added. Pet food left outside will draw rodents, which in turn attract snakes.
Get the picture?
Bird-seed bags provide a feast for rodents and, therefore, snakes. Pet food and bird food should be stored in airtight containers, Bischof advised.
It’s never a good idea to try to pick up a snake if you don’t know what species it is.
“Young children, especially, should be taught not to pick up something,” Bischof said. “And young males, usually between 20 and 25, will sometimes pick up a snake to try and impress people.”
Education is the key, he continued. But even then, be sure the source is credible.
“Be careful when looking things up on the Internet,” Bischof said. “Make sure the Web site is an ‘.edu’ Web site. Some online information is not reliable.”
Even if a snake is venomous, it doesn’t have to be destroyed, Bischof said.
“It’s challenging for people to understand snakes can be beneficial,” he said. “Leaving them alone is probably the best thing.”
The next Snake of the Month program at Goose Creek State Park is scheduled for June 20, beginning at 3 p.m. For more information about this and other programs, call 252-923-2191.