Arboretum Paths: “Snakes Alive” Saturday at the Arboretum

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

:  Watching a black rat snake climb a tree or wall is an amazing sight. These snakes can live up to 15 years in the wild. (Image by Eileen Hornbaker, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Digital Library).

: Watching a black rat snake climb a tree or wall is an amazing sight. These snakes can live up to 15 years in the wild. (Image by Eileen Hornbaker, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Digital Library).

An exciting educational program on South Mississippi Snakes will be presented by herpetologist Terry Vandeventer on Saturday, May 14 at 10:00 a.m. at the Crosby Arboretum. Known as the “Snake Man”, Terry is a Herpetology Field Associate with the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson. He is a popular personality for school presentations and on television and radio.
For years, we’ve heard the stories about Terry from teachers who visit on field walks, and we are pleased to host him for a program. Considered the foremost authority on Mississippi snakes, he has guided scientific expeditions in many exotic locations.
Terry’s snakes will not be in display cages. He will take them out individually and talk about each one. One of the snakes he is bringing for “show and tell” is a Canebrake Rattlesnake, also known as a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), native to our area. These snakes prefer hardwood forests, and will rest in the typical coil position we associate with rattlesnakes.
Although he is bringing rattlesnakes, Terry told me, “You probably won’t hear any of my rattlesnakes rattling that day. I’ve been using them for 25 years and they have never rattled, which is typical. I’ve encountered over 2,000 rattlesnakes in my career and only 16 have ever rattled their tails. A rattlesnake that rattles becomes a dead rattlesnake.”
That reminds me – it is unfortunate one still hears comments like, “the only good snake is a dead snake.” Farmers may have a different perspective on snakes, and their value in keeping populations of rats and mice down, preserving grain stores. About forty species of snakes are found in Mississippi, but only six of these species are venomous. All play an important role in nature, preying on small animals such as rodents, and insects. King snakes will even eat other snakes, including venomous species such as rattlesnakes.
See for the Extension Information Sheet 0641, “How to Identify Snakes”. Most venomous snakes in the United States belong to the pit viper group, snakes having triangular heads with pits located next to their nostrils, narrow necks, and eyes with vertical pupils. They have a single row of scales under the end of their tails. This group includes copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes.
Non-venomous snakes usually have oval, elongated heads, with no pits and round pupils, with a double row of scales under their tails. The coral snake is the exception to this rule, as it has an elongated head and round pupils but is quite venomous. Its venom quickly affects the nervous system, different from pit viper venom, which reduces the amount of oxygen carried by a victim’s red blood cells.
Cottonmouths are semi-aquatic snakes that can be easily confused with non-venomous water snakes. Water snakes will usually quickly retreat once threatened. Cottonmouths are much more aggressive, and will open their mouths to show fangs against a “cotton-white” interior.
At the last snake program at the Crosby Arboretum, an outreach educator from the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science taught us an interesting fact. Emergency room doctors report that most snake bites they treat occur on males between the ages of 18 and 35, with the bite location most frequently being between the thumb and forefinger, and usually, alcohol is involved. By pondering and learning from this fact, you can make the necessary adjustments in behavior that will keep you from ending up as another statistic!
For the snakes program, please call 601-799-2311 to guarantee your seat.
Pollinator Day at the Arboretum is Saturday, May 21. At 10:00 AM, Heather Sullivan, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks Botanist will lead a spring walk through the grounds, discussing the habitats encountered and the native plants within them, with an emphasis on pollinators. 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.
Cost for all of these Arboretum programs is only $5 for non-members and $2 for non-members’ children. For more information, see www.crosbyarboretum.msstate. 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.

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

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