Venomous snake sightings on the rise in Pike County

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Billy Williams heard all sorts of noise coming from birds and other wild animals outside his home Tuesday and was surprised when he found the cause.

Two diamondback rattlesnakes were a few feet from his backyard porch in Sunset Mountain.

“I chased them away,” Williams said. “You could see the diamonds clearly on them.”

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And Williams isn’t the only one who has spotted the slithering reptiles lately.

Last Thursday, customers at Synco Drugs were startled by a rattlesnake in a nearby parking area. And Pike County Extension Agent Grant Lyons had a close encounter of his own Monday afternoon on Highway 87.

“There was a five foot Eastern diamondback that had just been hit in the road,” Lyons said. “It had been killed, but there were folks out looking at the snake. It was a very large snake and had greatly upset the residents close by.”

Lyons gave those folks the same advice he gives anyone else – take note of what kind of snake it is and slowly back away.

“Don’t provoke a snake. Don’t throw things at it,” Lyons said. “It’s not going to come and attack you. It’s probably more afraid of you than you are of it.”

There are about 40 species of snakes in Alabama and only six of those are venomous, according to Lyons. Five of the six are in the pit viper group – the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake, the copperhead, the pygmy rattlesnake and the cottonmouth (water moccasin). The sixth venomous snake is the coral snake.

And although those six snake types draw a lot of negative attention, snakes as a group are very beneficial to humans, Lyons said. Rat snakes consume about 100 rodents a year.

“It is important to at least try to identify the type of snake,” Lyons said, noting that while no action may be needed against a rat snake, families might want to take precautions if they see a rattlesnake.

“You can identify them easier than you think,” Lyons said.

Pit vipers have a flat, triangular head and other snakes usually have an oval, elongated head. Pit vipers have a facial pit and vertical pupil and other snakes have no pit and a round pupil.

The underside of a snakes tail is also different. Pit vipers have a single row of scales and other snakes have a double row of scales.

Coral snakes can be e identified by black and red rings, separated by yellow rings.

Lyons said the extremely dry weather is the main cause people might be seeing more snakes than usual. Also, the winter was mild and that’s perfect for breeding.

If homeowners are concerned about snakes in their yards, there are simple steps people can take to reduce their appearance.

“Keep your home clean and avoid large brush and trash piles,” Lyons suggested. “Maintain your yard by eliminated high weeds and mowing.”

Lyons also cautioned homeowners to use care when entering areas with high weeds or limited visibility and when performing normal gardening chores where visibility might be low.

Lyons shared that, on average, only one person dies from a snake bite in Alabama every 10 years. He said if anyone has questions about what sort of snake might be present around their home, the Extension agents available at 566-0985 can help.