It's that time of year — snake-spotting season.
That means Jeff Boundy, of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is getting more calls and emails everyday about the slithering reptiles.
"Most of them aren't going to hurt you or your kids or your pets in any way," says Boundy, adding he's not going to come to your house to kill any snakes.
Here's nine things the herpetologist thinks people should know about snakes.
- We do not have more snakes this year because of last August's flood. You're seeing more snakes now because they are becoming active after winter. They lay out in the sun, shed their skin and begin searching for mates and food. Around mid-May, as nighttime temperatures warm, Boundy says, most snakes shift to hunting at night. "There's not less of them," he says. "We just don't see them out because they show up about the time we go inside and turn the lights on."
- Louisiana has 48 species of snakes, but only seven are venomous — two types of coral snakes, the cottonmouth, the copperhead and three types of rattlesnakes. Many harmless snakes are misidentified as dangerous, Boundy says. For example, the banded water or southern water snake is often misidentified as the venomous water moccasin.
- Snakes don't hunt humans, and they generally aren't aggressive. They slither away from people if possible. "Hundreds of snakes you don’t see have fled before you have seen them," Boundy says. If caught out in the open, some snakes freeze until you move away. Sometimes they strike if they feel threatened. Shiny black racer snakes and water moccasins both have reputations for "chasing" people. But Boundy says these snakes will slither toward a person and sometimes strike — if the person is standing in the way of a safe place to hide.
- The chances of seeing a venomous snake in your yard are small. Copperheads and cottonmouths are the most common venomous snakes in south Louisiana. They have mostly disappeared from urban and suburban residential areas because they need large swaths of wooded areas to maintain a population, Boundy says. "When they chunk up the forest blocks into vacant lots, that stuff disappears," he says. "You have to have connectivity to keep the population going."
- If you have a snake in your yard and you don't want it there, Boundy says chances are it will leave on its own. You may see it slither under your car, but it's not going to pop out from under the seat. "To get away from you they will crawl and hide underneath something," Boundy says. "They’ll stay there as long as you’re walking around it … they’re not going to come out until you leave."
- Common Louisiana snakes, like the rat snake and the speckled king snake, are not poisonous. They're constrictors, similar to boa constrictors and pythons. They wrap themselves around their prey — rodents and rabbits — and shut off blood flow. For these non-venomous snakes, it's the only way to hunt rabbits, rodents and other snakes.
- A snakebite from a non-venomous snake doesn't require a hospital visit — only basic first aid. "Just wash it," Boundy says. "They’re not really dirty. I’ve been bit hundreds of times, and I’ve never gotten an infection from a snake."
- If you are bitten by a venomous snake, head straight to the hospital. Don't stop for ice and don't try to use a snakebite kit, which just delays medical attention. The venom doesn't actually travel through the bloodstream, Boundy says. It slowly seeps into the body's tissue and into the lymph fluid. That old Western story about cutting open the bite and sucking out the poison? "I tell people it’s like trying to suck ink out of a wet sponge," Boundy says. "You get a black mouth, but that sponge isn’t getting any cleaner."
- Most snakes don't travel more than a few acres in their lifespan. Boundy and other herpetologists have studied snakes' movements through radio telemetry tracking. "A lot of snakes, king snakes and racers, they have a routine," Boundy says. "They spend a day or two over here, and then they'll hang out under this fallen sign and then they'll move off to this area and forage.