Sunday, April 7, 2013

Signs of Spring

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Signs of Spring

Pansies blooming, purple martins arriving, grass getting green, buds sprouting everywhere, temperatures warming, snakes slithering by—what?--snakes? No, that’s not one of most people’s favorite harbingers of spring. Warmer days call humans to come outdoors and snakes to slither out from under their napping places.

“Sssnakes” at Port Discover’s Afterschool Science on March 28, 2013
Last week Port Discover hosted an outreach program from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “Snakes” was the topic for the afterschool program attended by 45 students.

Our presenter brought several of her slithery friends with her and allowed the students to pet them and ask lots of questions. Her companions included a very impressive ball python, a common black rat snake, and a brown water snake which so many people mistake for a venomous water moccasin.

She told us that North Carolina has 35 species of snakes of which six are venomous. They are the eastern coral, copperhead, cottonmouth, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake and the pygmy rattlesnake.

Copperheads are found in all 100 NC counties and are responsible for 90 percent of the state’s venomous snakebites. They are edge dwellers and love ivy and the cover of rocks. They are less likely to slither away from humans than other snakes, and usually freeze in place. If you see one, the best thing to do is back away. Most snakebites happen when people are trying to kill the snake. In general, most snakes are just as afraid of you as you are of them.

My personal theory concerning wildlife is that I enjoy watching them from a distance. If they don’t bother me, I certainly won’t bother them. The problem with snakes is that they are silent and blend into their environment so well that you might come up on one without meaning to do so, thus startling both of you.

Last December in Queensland, Australia a little boy, age 3, found some eggs and wanted to keep them. His mother provided a container and let the child keep them in his room. A few days later, she found that the container was full of hatchlings of eastern brown snakes which are one of the most venomous snakes on Earth. She took the snakes to a sanctuary where they were released into the wild.

In Darwin, Australia, a daycare facility had to be closed because of an infestation of 23 baby pythons. Upon investigation, the mother and more babies were found hidden in the wall of the center. Stories like these help maintain the snake’s fearsome reputation.

Snakes are invaluable to humans because they help control such pests as rodents and insects. Scientific study is being done to discover other beneficial uses. Snake venom might be used to treat cancer and diabetes someday. The venom of the Black mamba effectively blocks pain in mice and may become an alternative to opiate drugs.

As with all wildlife, people should show respect for snakes and their place in the natural order, but keep a safe distance.

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