Copperhead snake

IN MISSISSIPPI, most venomous snakes, such as this copperhead, have a triangular-shaped head with vertical, cat-like pupils in their eyes. The only exception is the coral snake. (Photo courtesy of Taylor Hannah)

Snakes on move with warmer weather

Encounters with humans more likely

Warmer weather means wild creatures of all shapes and sizes are on the move, which makes it a whole lot more likely you will encounter a snake during the spring or summer.

The increased number of snake encounters is mostly due to movement of the reptiles from one seasonal habitat to another. Because snakes are cold-blooded animals, they rely on external sources of heating and cooling, such as the sun or a patch of shade, to regulate their body temperature.

In the winter, snakes seek warm dens in burrows, stumps or piles of wood and brush where the temperatures are higher than the surface. During this time, snakes rarely eat as they go into a long period of inactivity.

When outside temperatures increase in the spring, snakes become more active as they search for food. They also bask in sunny areas and move to find mates or give birth. Young hatchlings will begin to move as temperatures rise, so it appears there is also an increase in the number of snake sightings this time of year.

Male rattlesnakes move extensively during the late summer in search of mates. At this time, they are often reported crossing roads.

People are most likely to encounter snakes in their yards, gardens and porches, as well as when moving brush piles or stacked wood. Homeowners should be aware that snakes could be present and keep an eye out for them while working on their property.

Although snakebites are rare, snake encounters in the wild are common. Leaving a snake alone and allowing it to go on its way is the best way to keep both snakes and humans safe.

Despite myths about snakes being aggressive, these reptiles are generally timid and will not interact with anything that doesn’t appear to be a threat. Most snakebites occur when people try to move, kill or harass the animals.

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My first bit of advice is to learn the snakes in your area and be able to tell the difference between venomous and nonvenomous snakes. If you can see from a distance that a snake has a more diamond-shaped head than a round head, keep a safe distance and let the snake pass. Do not approach or try to kill the snake.

Be observant when placing your hands under rocks or even in the soil. Watch where you are walking, and wear appropriate footwear, such as boots, instead of sandals.

If you are working in areas that might attract snakes, such as an area that provides good cover or has abundant rodents, be cautious that a snake encounter may occur. If you spot a snake, let it move out of the vicinity before resuming work.

If you see a venomous snake — such as a copperhead, rattlesnake or cottonmouth — be sure to keep children and pets out of the area until you are certain the snake has moved on its way.

Don’t let the fear of a human-snake interaction keep you from enjoying the outdoors. Most dangerous snake encounters can be prevented with common sense and awareness of your surroundings. It is important to understand that snakes are vital parts of our ecosystems, and they should be respected, not feared.

Always supervise children and pets in areas where there might be snakes, and teach children to respect animals and leave snakes alone. If a nonvenomous snake bites you, a horseshoe-like pattern of scratches will appear. This minor injury will require nothing more than some topical antibiotic and perhaps a bandage.

If a venomous snake bites you, you will see distinct fang puncture marks and possibly oozing of blood. Even with the fang marks, the bite may be a “dry bite” or absent of venomous injection.

Stay calm and get immediate medical attention. Remove any restrictive clothing — do not apply a tourniquet — and keep the bitten area below the level of your heart.

Keep in mind that most snakebites are not fatal if treated immediately. An accurate description or identification of the snake will help medical personnel treat the wound quickly and properly.

Being able to identify a snake is very important and can actually make a safe encounter very enjoyable. You can find information about snakes in Mississippi at the website http://www.phsource.us/PH/ME/Snakes/, which is a great place to see pictures and identify the snakes of Mississippi. Check out MSU's information about reducing snake encounters around the home.

Jessica Tegt is an assisistant Extension professor,Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture atMississippi State University.

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