BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — Like people, snakes on the Gulf Coast are looking for a cool, shady place to hide during record heat. But, when they catch us off guard it can be really scary for us and them.
“I don’t like how it just slithers around. It’s just scary,” said Olivia Anderson. When she spotted a snake on the front porch of her home in Millry, she and her cousin armed themselves with a broom and a flag pole.
Ally Chapman said, “I don’t like the way they look, like how they look at you.”
After a lot of excitement, it didn’t end well for what turned out to be a gray rat snake identified by Michael Niemeyer with Wildlife Solutions as nonvenomous and harmless.
“We have the Timber Rattlesnake, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Pigmy Rattlesnake. We have Cottonmouths, Copperheads as well as Coral snakes,” said Niemeyer.
The cottonmouth, also known as a water moccasin is by far the most common venomous snake in our area. People often confuse it for a copperhead, but Niemeyer said copperheads don’t exist in South Baldwin or Mobile Counties.
Despite the painful and potentially deadly experience of being bitten by a venomous snake, Niemeyer re-locates and protects wildlife for a living.
“I was bitten by a cottonmouth when I was a young man…a teenager..messing with it..got exactly what I deserved. I was in the hospital for a couple of days and it was a rough go. My whole arm turned black. A lot of the skin sluffed off my finger. I had to go to physical therapy to get the motion in my finger back.”
He explained why he actually prefers to work with snakes. “Snakes are much more predictable than mammals. Reptiles are more simple-minded. They’re kind of more just all instinct.”
He added, instinctively, snakes want to be left alone, including cottonmouths, which many people believe will chase you.
“That is a myth. A lot of people push back on that. [Cottonmouths] don’t even chase their food really. If you’re between a cottonmouth and the water, it’s gonna get to that water whether you’re standing there or not if it feels threatened. So, that can be misconceived as chasing.”
Niemeyer said Alabama snakes are native and vital to the ecosystem. They keep the number of varmints down. Yet, he understands many people prefer to avoid the slithering creatures and offers some tips.
“Keep a clean yard. Don’t have wood piles. Don’t have tin metal, you know, things for them to be able to harbor under. Keep the grass cut low. Like this wide open grass here, this is not very suitable for a snake. Most snakes don’t want to be in an area like that because their susceptible to predators and really there’s nothing for them to eat here.”
However, some fast, nonvenomous snakes don’t mind open spaces, like a black racer or coachwhip. Also, don’t rely on nursery rhymes or head shapes to identify a snake. These creatures are adaptable and mimic one another to survive.
Niemeyer said venomous snakes will rarely find their way inside your home. They don’t typically climb and investigate spaces like a hungry rat snake.
“Generally when we go into a situation where there’s a snake in the house, we check the attic. Nine times out of ten there’s mice or rats up there. Snakes follow their food,” said Niemeyer.
Though low on the food chain, snakes are here to stay. Niemeyer said we might as well accept them and leave them be.
“The thing just wants to get away, chill in the shade, eat a frog. That’s all he really wants..and then make new ones one day,” said Niemeyer.
In Niemeyer’s opinion, mothballs or other repellants like “snake away” won’t guarantee that snakes will stay away. So, if you find yourself in a situation like Anderson and Chapman, want the snake out of your yard, and don’t want to hurt it, he recommends spaying it with a water hose.
He said it’ll likely crawl away. If you’re unsure if a snake is venomous, call a professional to have it removed. Get too close and bitten, you could wind up in the ICU.
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