Check for the “Pit” when studying snakes

It’s something I can usually depend on this time of year. If I’m taking a walk down the road after sundown or driving back home from the grocery store before dark, there’s a fairly good chance I’ll see a copperhead.

As the sun slips below the horizon and temperatures drop, something in the mechanism of these poisonous reptiles causes them to want to slide their bellies across pavement. Maybe it’s because there’s a lady copperhead on the other side of the road but the road’s surface is too hot before sundown.

Not only do copperheads give us reason to watch where we step on our late afternoon walks, other creatures seem to like roadways as well. Maybe copperheads have a little armadillo or possum blood in their veins. These two hapless animals seem to gravitate to country roads and highways as evidenced by their torsos flattened by Goodyears and Michelins.

My mind turned to poisonous snakes awhile back when I encountered a couple. While driving to my hunting lease to check things out one afternoon, I stopped to examine the flattened remains of a nice-sized timber rattler lying along the side of the road. Apparently someone had given the serpent the Michelin treatment, stopping long enough to claim the snake’s rattles.

Two days later while on my daily walk along the shady roads at Lincoln Parish Park, my pulse quickened and I did a spirited little two-step when I realized my foot was just about to plant itself in the middle of a coral snake. There are two reasons, though, I needn’t have been concerned. First, coral snakes don’t strike; they chomp down and chew on an ear lobe, finger tip or toe. I haven’t put my ear to the ground since I stopped playing cowboys and Indians, and I had on shoes so I was not in danger of being bitten. The second reason I was in no danger was the snake was dead, having suffered a fate similar to that of the timber rattler.

I mention these two post mortem encounters with the rattler and coral snake to advise that warm weather tends to make snakes more visible this time of year.

Here’s some data on these two snakes I encountered. The timber rattlesnake, like the copperhead and cottonmouth, is a “pit viper”. These snakes have a heat sensitive pit, or tiny hole, between the eye and nostril, allowing them to locate warm-blooded prey and aim their strike even in the dark.

Now frankly, that freaks me out. How close do I have to get to a snake to see whether or not it has a pit? If I should venture close enough to see the pit, I’m afraid the snake has already nailed me.

Should you suffer a snake bite, authorities say you should get to a hospital as soon as possible. Avoid the old “cut and suck” method our forefathers used, which probably explains why there are very few forefathers around today. You can bleed to death or get an infection that’s worse than the snakebite. The cell phone is a wonderful tool to allow you to call a doctor and get advice as to what to do and where to go.

The coral snake, though, is a more deadly serpent. Chances of being bitten, however, are rare. The venom affects the central nervous system and is some of the most potent found in snakes.

So go ahead and enjoy your walks along country roads this summer but watch where you step. A copperhead could have his eye on a pretty young thing across the road.

Glynn Harris Outdoor column is sponsored by D.C. Pawn in Minden

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