Moody environmental experts caution cooler air brings 'the snakes out'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Eric Schloeffel
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
While the recent onset of winter-like temperatures might tempt some people to seek shelter indoors, the first readings of cooler air often forces one of the most loathed animals in the reptile kingdom out into the open - snakes.

Snake sightings typically increase during the fall, as adult reptiles attempt to mate and find suitable hiding places prior to hibernation, said Rebecca Evans, 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight biologist. This is also when young snakes born in the summer months look for their first meals, said Rebecca Evans, 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight biologist.

But despite the elevated presence, snake bites can still be prevented by keeping a safe distance and using common sense tactics.

"Snakes are content to go about their business if they are not tampered with," she said. "Data shows snake bites usually result from deliberate attempts to handle, harm or kill the snake."

Airmen conducting field training in wooded areas are at the highest risk for snake encounters, as snakes tend to live in areas devoid of frequent human contact, said Ms. Evans. When operating in these conditions, it is important to avoid snakes and refrain from harming them. Harming or agitating a snake can make it feel threatened making a bite more likely.

Harming or killing snakes can also negatively affect the ecosystem by creating an imbalance of other animal species, said Greg Lee, Environmental Flight supervisory biological scientist.

"Snakes help control rodent and insect populations around homes and farms, which reduces agricultural damage and the risk of disease and parasites," he said. "Some snakes, like the Indigo and King Snake, eat other snakes, including venomous species. Other snakes feed on birds and their eggs, reducing the number of nuisance birds such as red-winged blackbirds that damage our agricultural crops and create a risk to pilots."

South Georgia is home to more than 12 snake species, four being venomous. The venomous species include the Cottonmouth Moccasin, Timber Rattlesnake, Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Coral snake.

The two most common venomous snakes at Moody, the Timber Rattlesnake and Cottonmouth Moccasin, usually don't have enough potency to kill a healthy adult, but could be fatal to a child or elderly person.

The Timber Rattlesnake can be identified by black or dark brown bands over a solid color of yellow, brown or gray, and at full size measures 3 to 4.5 feet. They reside in dry areas such as fields or sandy patches.

Cottonmouth Moccasins are typically a solid black or dark brown color, and adults grow between 2-3 feet. They are aquatic and stay in or close to wetlands.

Moccasins have the reputation of being highly territorial and aggressive, said Ms. Evans. But like nearly all snakes, they will not attack unless tampered with.

"Research I've read says they are non-aggressive, but if you talk to someone like my father who grew up around moccasins, they'll claim to have been chased down by moccasins," she said. "Contrary to hearsay, they'll typically coil up and open their mouth to warn before a strike."

If bitten by a poisonous snake, it is important to call emergency medical care as quickly as possible and refrain from using a tourniquet, said Ms. Evans.

"Using a tourniquet is a method seen in western movies, but it's not a good idea," she said. "They can actually cause you to loose a limb, because you are completely cutting off the circulation and the venom has a chance to degrade in your tissue. If you are more than 30 minutes away from medical attention, put a cloth or bandage a couple inches above the bite loose enough to stick a finger through. This can slow the venom from reaching your heart or lymphatic system."

It is also important to keep the inflicted body part immobilized and below the heart, and remove rings, watches and restrictive clothing, said Ms. Evans.

Since it can be difficult to tell the difference between a venomous and non-venomous snake, a victim of any bite should seek care. Bites from non-venomous snakes often cause infections requiring antibiotics.

Dead snakes can also pose a threat, as they are still capable of biting for hours after their death, said Ms. Evans.

"After reptiles die, they still have reflexes for a short time," she said. "If a dead snake is picked up, it can have a reflex and bite. If you come across a dead snake, you usually don't have any way to find out how long it's been dead, so the best advice is just to leave it alone."

The Indigo Snake, whose existence at Moody is unknown, is currently on the federal threatened species list and has the potential of being deemed endangered. To help its chances for survival, several were released in Moody's woodlands in 1991. Despite a few unconfirmed sightings, Moody's environmental experts are unsure if they successfully adapted here.

Indigo snakes are a solid black color and can grow as large as six feet long. They are the largest snake in Georgia's ecosystem and often reside in gopher tortoise borrows.
"Call us right away if you see an Indigo snake," said Ms. Evans. "I wouldn't advise capturing it, but note exactly where you saw it and which way it was traveling. They are very easy to identify because of their length."

If any snake is spotted in a recreational or training area, call the Environmental Flight at 257-5881 for removal. Leaving it up to the experts creates a safer scenario compared to taking the risk of being bitten, said Mr. Lee.

"The majority of snakebites that occur in Georgia are the result of people attempting to pick up or harm snakes," he said. "It is safer for the person and snake if the individual calls the environmental flight so the snake can be removed by professionals with the proper equipment."