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Learn to identify venomous snakes, respect their space

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• These magnificent reptiles roam the woods and water of Alabama searching for food and shelter free of persecution until either we enter their habitat or their search unknowingly brings them into “our space.”

As one of the most misunderstood reptiles, the snake seems to bear the brunt of man’s fear of nature.

“It all goes back to the Garden of Eden,” I can hear my sweet Southern Baptist mother say. “Snakes are cursed.”

Cursed indeed — but I believe that curse has more to do with man’s chosen ignorance than a God-given stigma regarding one of His most fascinating creations.

These magnificent reptiles roam the woods and water of Alabama searching for food and shelter free of persecution until either we enter their habitat or their search unknowingly brings them into “our space.”

What are we so afraid of? Alabama is home to more than 40 species of snakes, and only six of these are venomous: the eastern coral snake, the eastern cottonmouth, the copperhead, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake and the pygmy rattlesnake.

What is the solution to our snake trepidation? Learn how to identify the venomous ones, respect their space and enjoy the rest.

The eastern coral snake is so rare and secretive that the odds of an encounter are slim to none. It is a slender-bodied snake with a short head only slightly wider than its neck. Its upper jaw has a pair of immovable fangs with a body pattern consisting of alternating red, yellow and black rings (with red and yellow touching, hence “red on yellow, kill a fellow”) that circle both the back and belly. While this snake is not aggressive, its venom is considered to be the most toxic of any snake in North America.

The five pit vipers are so named for the pit-like depressions between the nostrils and eyes. These serve as heat-seekers, helping the snake locate warm-blooded prey. These snakes also have elliptical pupils and a set of impressive fangs that are capable of injecting venom. In the juvenile stage, most pit vipers possess a yellow-tipped tail that is used as a lure.

One venomous snake encountered in and near the water is the eastern cottonmouth. It is often confused with non-venomous water snakes because of its color pattern, but take a good look at its head. It is thicker and broader than the neck; and when viewed from above, the eyes cannot be seen. As for behavior, it will shake its tail when excited and throw its head upward to reveal its signature “cotton mouth.”

The copperhead is another commonly viewed venomous snake in Alabama. This thick-bodied reptile features a classic copper-colored head that is much wider than its neck. While its body color may vary, the copperhead displays classic, dark, hourglass-shaped cross bands.

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