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Snakes: Friend or Foe?

| Olivia Kaiser

If you’ve hiked our trails or taken a stroll along Floyds Fork, I’m sure you’ve come across one of our many slithery friends. At The Parklands, we have snakes that live in the forest, the creek and meadows. Many people ask me, “Where are the snakes?” The best way to answer is - they’re everywhere. Even if we don’t see them.

Most of the time, snakes hide out under rocks, in old logs and in the branches of trees. We cross paths with them when they are hunting their next meal, looking for a mate or soaking up the sun on a beautiful day.

Snakes spark fear in many park visitors, but that fear usually stems from a lack of knowledge. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying – fear of the unknown. Well, it’s so true when it comes to snakes.  I hope this blog can give you some peace of mind next time you come across one of nature’s misunderstood creatures.

Let’s learn a little about snakes!

Snakes can be found throughout the world and in a variety of habitats. They have many ecological benefits, one of them being feeding on a number of pests, such as insects and rodents.

In Kentucky, we have 32 types of snakes and only four are venomous: copperhead, pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake and cottonmouth.  Snakes are habitat specific and have different ranges throughout Kentucky. People are familiar with the dangers venomous snakes pose, but, most of the time, lack the ability to tell the difference between venomous and non-venomous species. Many snakes are killed each year because they are mistaken for a copperhead. Copperheads are the most widespread venomous snake in Kentucky and share a similar pattern and coloration as many harmless snakes.

          Northern Water Snake 

 

                   Cottonmouth

  

                     Copperhead

In The Parklands, the northern water snake is commonly mistaken for a copperhead. To date, no venomous snakes have been documented in The Parklands. That’s not to say we don’t have them, but the odds of you encountering one are low. If there are venomous snakes in the park, they are most likely copperheads, as The Parklands does not provide the proper habitat for a cottonmouth, timber rattlesnake or a pygmy rattlesnake.                  

                        

                       

Many harmless snakes have taken on defense mechanisms that cause them to imitate the behavior or physical characteristics of venomous snakes. When some harmless snakes feel threatened, they will vibrate their tail. This vibration, when paired with surrounding vegetation, can sound similar to a rattlesnake. Other snakes will flatten their round head to make it look wide and imitate the triangular or spade shaped heads of venomous snakes.

Hognose snakes flatten their head and neck to imitate a cobra. They also do a dance similar to a cobra to scare away predators. When this doesn’t work, they make their entire body go limp and play dead! These snakes have a beautiful pattern and are harmless, but their defense can alarm passing visitors who are unaware of their amazing mimicking abilities.

When in doubt, do not approach or touch the snake. Most snake bites occur when you try to pick up, move or kill a snake.  Snakes do not want to hurt you, they do not want to bite you, and they will not chase you. Observe from a safe distance or walk around them slowly if they are blocking a trail.

Remember, when you visit a natural area you are a visitor to the wildlife who live there. This is their home, they can’t leave and they can’t always choose to stay away from you. As visitors to their home, we must respect their space and life.

Familiarizing yourself with our native snakes can help you feel more comfortable out in nature and also spare the life of a harmless snake.

Want to learn more? Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife has a comprehensive guide to Kentucky Snakes. Check it out here > http://fw.ky.gov/Wildlife/Documents/kysnakebook.pdf

 You can also check out this video from Kentucky Afield. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktxo0GiV7pE

About the Author

Picture of Olivia Kaiser

Olivia Kaiser

Olivia Kaiser joined The Parklands as an Interpretive Ranger in Fall 2014. In March of 2016, she was promoted to Education Specialist. She is responsible for creating and delivering interpretive programs to the public. A Kentucky native, Olivia graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in Elementary Education and a concentration in Learning and Behavior Disorders. As an amateur Herpetologist and secretary of the Kentucky Herpetological Society, Olivia enjoys educating the public about reptiles and amphibians, especially venomous snakes! In her free time, she enjoys photography and road trips.

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