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Pennsylvania's Legless Predators

Snakes are not my favorite part of summer, but here are some tips for sharing the habitat with these slithery beings.

The approach of summer brings many, many things that I love. Swimming, picnics, long days and warm weather, but it also brings out a little legless creature that I am not so fond of. Some people love them, others hate them, but I prefer to steer clear of them.

Snakes are my least favorite animal, and I have to admit that my blood runs cold every time I see one. Despite how I feel about them, I do realize that they have their place in the food chain and are beneficial in many ways, so I make sure to leave them alone no matter what, venomous or non-venomous.

In Eastern PA, we have many different species of snakes; most of them are nonpoisonous, but there are few poisonous types that you should know about, especially if you plan on going hiking, camping or fishing this summer. Northern Copperheads, Timber Rattlesnakes and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes are aggressive pit vipers and carry a potent venom with their bite.

You don’t usually see these vipers around the Upper Dublin area (although I did find a Copperhead by a woodpile last summer not far from there), but if you travel to a more rural area for a camping trip, you could encounter them. You are more likely to find an Eastern Garter Snake in your yard; these are pretty timid and will probably slither away from you as fast as possible.

No matter what kind of snake you come across, the best advice is to leave it alone! Never pick up a snake, even if you think it is nonpoisonous. It can be easy to mistake one type of snake for another if you do not know the species very well.

Nonpoisonous snakes can also have a very nasty bite. A bite from a nonpoisonous snake still requires immediate medical attention because of the threat of infection from the snake’s teeth. Woodpiles, old piles of junk, logs or piles of rocks are safe places for snakes to hide.

Keeping your yard free of clutter can reduce your encounters with serpents, since many types of snakes look for concealed, undisturbed places to nest and evade predators.

Keeping the grass in your yard cut short will also help to minimize those surprise meetings between human and snake. Check out this link for more information about snakes and the Do’s and Don’ts regarding our legless neighbors: www.fish.state.pa.us/factsnake.htm.

Kirk May 27, 2011 at 03:22 PM
You perpetrate a gross falsehood when you call our venomous snakes aggressive. None are. All would prefer to get away or be quietly passed by. Only when they are in danger of death or injury may they defend themselves (but often not even then). It is true that prudence must be taken when in their "living-room," however staying a few feet away from them will keep one more than safe and out of danger, and it will allow one to admire their great beauty. There is no need to fear them. You are clearly misinformed regarding the temperament of the Threatened Timber Rattlesnake, Northern Copperheads, and the Endangered Eastern Massasauga. Although it may not have been you intention, you have helped foster the continuance of the irrational fear so many people have of these amazing animals. Perhaps you could replace your word “aggressive” with an accurate word such as “calm,” “docile,” “retreating,” or “non-aggressive.”
Kirk May 27, 2011 at 03:30 PM
I should have mentioned, too, that I have been bitten hundreds of times by non-venomous snakes (never a venomous one). Hereto there was nothing to fear. Rarely has it felt like anything as bad as tiny, insulin- needle prick, nor have I ever sought "medical" attention beyond washing the bite location with soap & water (or hand sanitizer).
Carolyn Jordan May 29, 2011 at 02:57 PM
they should be left alone, nobody should mess with these animals...snakes will be aggressive when they feel threatened. I have been to the ER with one of my father's employees because he thought it was a good idea to pick up a copperhead. They are wild animals...they are not "docile" kittens...leave them alone and give them lots of space.

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