Arboretum Paths: Getting acquainted with our Mississippi snakes

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Terry Vandeventer and his Living Reptile Museum successfully changed the way many of us view snakes in last Saturday’s program at the Arboretum (Image by Pat Drackett).

Terry Vandeventer and his Living Reptile Museum successfully changed the way many of us view snakes in last Saturday’s program at the Arboretum (Image by Pat Drackett).

Last Saturday’s snake program with “Snake Man” Terry Vandeventer lived up to the rave reviews we’ve heard from teachers who visit the Arboretum with students in tow. Terry’s “Living Reptile Museum” is popular throughout Mississippi schools, libraries, and other venues.

Terry gave his educational and entertaining presentation to a crowd of 200 persons who perched on the edge of their seats, mesmerized by his slithery friends. Many undoubtedly left with a different view of snakes than when first walking onto the Pinecote Pavilion.

Snakes, Terry repeatedly emphasized, would much rather retreat than bite when encountering a threat. And the snakebites treated in hospital emergency rooms are frequently the result of someone trying to kill or harm a snake. Take two steps back and walk away, he advised – this is a much safer move. Only about 15 persons die from snakebites in the U.S. each year.

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Displaying a timber rattlesnake, his long-time “friend”, Terry told how these rattlesnakes perform valuable “environmental services”. For example, they eat prey such as rats which have ticks that carry Lyme disease. When snake population decrease, Lyme disease can increase.

After the program, we received enthusiastic feedback from the crowd. Over and over, people praised Terry’s presentation and told how they appreciated his knowledge. Thanks to a Visit Mississippi grant from the Mississippi Development Authority this year, we were pleased to be able to bring this well-received program to the local community.

At the end of the program, Terry pulled out a beautiful and very docile blackish-purple snake named Violet. She was about 7 feet long! He asked for help from the children seated in the front row. One lucky child held the tail, which quickly made a bracelet around his arm.

The smile on this child’s face was priceless, and I’m sure this memory will be sticking with him for a long time. Perhaps the seed for a future herpetologist was planted that day!

With the children holding the bulk of the snake and Terry holding the head, he commented about how children today have much fewer opportunities to become immersed in nature and to explore the outdoors. It was heartening to think that so many of the attendees had brought children to this event, and to experience a walk through the Arboretum.

Several persons made a comment we hear quite a bit – that although they have lived in the area all their lives, they had never visited the Arboretum. So if this is your tale, please know that we are still patiently waiting for you to discover us!

Programs and events at the Arboretum are widely varied, and most have the theme of discovering and celebrating the natural world. Activities can range from mushroom or field botany walks, gardening talks, or nature themed craft programs.

Consider this bonus – Pine Belt Master Gardener Paul Cavanaugh recently told me that there have been many articles in recent years about a bacteria found in soil that has been proven to have anti-depressant qualities, and can make you happy! I’ve always thought that gardeners were nice folks to be around, and this proves it. So, make sure you and your children get outside often to play in the dirt.

Come celebrate Pollinator Day at the Arboretum this Saturday, May 21. Learn how to create a garden that is highly attractive to pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and other insects, as well as birds and other animals. Plants for designing pollinator-friendly gardens will be discussed, and garden tips such as planting in masses rather than providing single plants. Native plants that are attractive to pollinators will also be covered.

At 10:00 AM on Saturday, Heather Sullivan, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & ParksBotanist will lead a spring walk through the Arboretum grounds, discussing the habitats encountered and the native plants within them, with an emphasis on pollinators.

Then, at 1:00 PM, Dr. Charles Allen, accomplished author and authority on coastal native plants, will discuss attracting and feeding butterflies and moths (adults and caterpillars) in your garden, and identifying butterflies and moths in our region.

Please call 601-799-2311 to guarantee your seat for these programs. Cost for each program is $5 for non-members and $2 for non-members’ children. For more information, see The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road.

By Patricia R. Drackett, Director and Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture
The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension Service