Concern for creeping, crawling critters

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 16, 2007

In recent weeks, three people in South Alabama learned the hard way that the prolonged drought brought out more than normal foraging snakes.

On June 11, Mary Lacy Lusk, 7, of Troy was bitten by a cottonmouth moccasin while playing in a creek near her home.

A teenaged neighbor rushed her away from the scene and quick medical attention saved her.

Earlier this month, a Wetumpka woman faced the same situation.

Ginger Glenn said she felt the snake bite her on the foot and when she looked down she saw the Copperhead. She kicked the snake and called for her husband who killed the snake. Fast reaction saved her life as well.

Driving along Butler County roads, there seems to be an increased activity in the serpent world as more snakes are seen crossing highways and byways. So why is this happening?

According to Jim Armstrong, a wildlife expert with the Alabama

Cooperative Extension System, as the drought worsened, more and more snakes were looking for water, as their traditional water supplies dwindled or dried up.

&#8220Snakes have the ability to go a long time without food and water, so the fact that we're getting more reports of snake encounters is probably a good indication that we have been in a long-term drought,” Armstrong said.

One of the most recent snake-related calls he received involved the sighting in a swimming pool of a mud snake - a species Armstrong describes as &#8220very harmless and docile.”

In rare sightings of these non-venomous black and red reptiles, the snakes are typically covered in mud - so much so that it's often hard to discern their color. The fact that a mud snake, which is rarely seen, turned up in a swimming pool is reasonably good evidence the snake was in search of water.

&#8220It's hard to say exactly what brings a snake into a pool, but the fact that it was a mud snake is a pretty good indication that it was searching for water,” Armstrong says.

As drought conditions worsen, Armstrong says it's likely that other types of snakes, especially aquatic snakes, will begin moving beyond their natural domains in search of water - sometimes to the dismay, if not utter fright, of many homeowners.

He said people will likely have more encounters this summer due to the drought, but he stressed the vast majority of snakes in Alabama are not poisonous. In fact, of the 45 snake species in the state, only six are dangerous to humans.

However, remain vigilant, Armstrong said, when you encounter a snake, because whether venomous or not, most snakes will act aggressively if they feel threatened.

&#8220They're not going to chase you, but if you take hold of them, they will bite,” he said. In most cases, Armstrong recommends walking away from snakes, especially in cases when they are obviously nonvenomous and appear to be moving. In many cases, he says, they merely are in transit to the nearest water or food sources.

With the drought first and of late an increased in rain, there is also an overabundance of other things that creep, crawl or buzz.

Since summer is a traditional time for gardening or clearing brush and such, state officials are also warning people of the danger of spiders.

&#8220You should also be weary of wood piles, not only for snakes but for spiders, centipedes and scorpions,” Kevin Lee said. &#8220When you pick it up, check it. Take it off once piece at a time and check it. Don't take a handful at a time. You may have a surprise that you don't want in the house.”

Black widow and brown recluse spiders are known to this area, he said.

With the recent rainfall, residents should also be leery of mosquitoes. According to Greenville City Clerk Sue Arnold, the city will continue to spray for the tiny, bloodsucking pests.

If mosquitoes do pose a problem at your home, you are encouraged to use insect repellent or avoid activities from dusk to dawn.