Park Alert...

A Truthful Talk About Snakes

July 2020

By Ranger Amy

Snake in grass beside brick house
Timber rattlesnake

It’s warm outside, squirrels are racing, and cicadas are buzzing: all signs that we’re entering the doldrums of summer and snake encounters.

This month we celebrated World Snake Day. Many state parks did special on-line talks about snakes. World Snake Day has passed, yet I’ve been thinking about snakes and our relationships to them more than what’s normal for this park ranger.

Changing perceptions

I find myself thinking about all the people who do not attend my snake programs. People who will never appreciate snakes, no matter what.

Months ago, I had a couple in my nature center proudly tell me that their grown son killed …. (some plural number) of copperheads in his backyard.

When I asked why he killed them, they looked at me in utter disbelief. “Because he has young children!”

We know snakes play a vital role in the ecosystem, but how do we break this cycle of fear and hatred and live alongside them?

Protecting your kids

Most people that despise snakes do so from a good place in their heart. They want to protect themselves, their children, and grandchildren. The adults they looked up to taught them this, but with the same protective sentiment in mind.

As a mother living in the country, I, too, face this challenge of protecting my children.

One night I found myself reflecting on a memory of a tombstone. Years ago, I was visiting a friends’ ranch. She showed us a historic gravestone on the property. Long-ago explorers were traveling through the area and their six-year-old daughter was bit by a rattlesnake. That’s her tombstone. At the time there weren’t any doctors or hospitals nearby.

The tombstone is concrete evidence that snake bites can be serious. The fear is real, and so is the danger.

Teaching outdoor safety

Since my oldest child started stumbling around outside, I begin to teach her to be observant. I was right by her side, always the watchful Mamma Bear.

We started with fire ants. We learned to be observant of what’s on the ground.

As she became better at avoiding ants and looking for other dangers, I became more trusting and morphed into a hummingbird parent. When she approaches a big oak tree, I’ll “fly” in, do a quick check for snakes with her, then “fly” back to a patio chair to let her be.

It’s up to us to continuously teach our children to be aware of their surroundings. That’s the best way that we can protect them from many dangers.

Sounds simple but having worked at Yellowstone when I first began my ranger career, I can tell you, it’s a lost art to many. When we lose our ability to be aware of our surroundings, we lose our ability to be safe.

Cautious appreciation

Snake in bucket
Rat Snake

To be honest, I don’t live in complete harmony with all snakes.

We don’t kill them, but we will relocate some. If they’re venomous or found in our chicken coop, we use snake tongs to capture them and release them on wild parcels of land around us. We know that we can’t get them all. I’m still cautious in an area where my husband saw a five-foot timber rattlesnake hunting squirrels. It’s gone now, but this is its home, so we might see it again.

I like snakes. I appreciate all the rodent control they do for us. If we didn’t have them, we would have huge problems with flea and tick diseases. Mice have chewed up the wiring in my car and let me tell you, that ain’t cheap! We need snakes for our pocketbooks, and for the ecosystem.

I know there are some people who will always fear, hate, and kill snakes, but I challenge you. Try to find a positive. Before grabbing the shovel or shotgun, consider getting a pair of snake tongs. Let’s teach that awareness and respect for all living things wild is sacred.