There is an old saying that says the only good snake is a dead snake. But is it? My eternal hope is that maybe even people who are petrified of snakes will come to respect them as vital to our environment as I do. And I firmly believe that knowledge is power. Learning snake behavior is essential to decreasing chances of running into them, and what to do if you do.
The only good snake is one that is very much alive. Out of all the predators out there, snakes are the only ones uniquely adapted to catch rodents. Birds of prey of course can catch them, but snakes are close to the ground. Cats catch them, but can't follow rodents (or their scent trails) into burrows and nests. They can eat an entire nest of babies and in fact several rodents are consumed a week by one snake. There has been a direct correlation between the decline of snake populations to an increase in rodents - and an increase in rodent-borne diseases. According to the CDC, there are 14 diseases that are transmitted by rodents, that includes the plague, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, leptospirosis, and salmonellosis. Indirectly there are 15 diseases and that includes heavy hitters like Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever, scrub typhus, and the West Nile virus. So it can be said that snakes have literally saved an untold number of humans every time they swallow a meal. And they are also saving people in other ways.
To produce the antivenin used for people who get bit, venomous snakes are “milked.” There is also a lot of promising research being done on snake venom to treat everything from AIDS, diabetes, and cancer, to cardiac conditions like high blood pressure and stroke, to diseases of the brain, like Parkinson’s disease.
So how dangerous are snakes? Only as much as you allow them to be...physically and mentally. Statistically, the chance that you will get bit by a venomous snake is nearly 0%. Fewer than one in 37,500 are bit each year (around 7,000 - 8,000 a year). One in 50 million die from a snake bite a year (5-6 a year, average). I can go on to tell you that 70% of bites occurred because someone was harassing, picking up, or trying to kill a venomous snakes ( guess I did tell you). When it comes to venomous snakes, studies have shown that those most likely to be bit are young white men (90%), who in their drunken state (60%), think nothing can go wrong with picking them up or harassing them. Or people trying to kill one. I don't know how many times I've heard people say that if they see a venomous snake, they kill it. Venomous snakes strike faster than the eye can see. Rattlesnakes have been recorded at two-tenths of a second. Trying to kill a venomous snake that a person comes across increases their risk of getting bit by 80 times.
Realistically, you are most likely to have an encounter with animals like raccoons and deer. Raccoons are the second highest animal that tests positive for rabies routinely and there is a very large population and often have interactions with humans that leads to rabies shots and the raccoon euthanized. Deer are also numerous, and lead to lethal car accidents. Snakes simply aren't considered as dangerous in the wild as you think.
But people obviously do get bit, do they? Find out what to do in the next blog.