“My daughter found one and my mother found one,” Larry Sappington, a Cleveland resident, said. “We found three or four. When it first started getting warm we saw a lot but not much more than usual now.”
Dr. Eric Blackwell, associate professor of biology at Delta State University, said spring is usually the most common time snake sightings occur but when there is little water during the summer, snakes will roam looking for it, which also contributes to snake sightings.
Right now, there is no real indication that the population of snakes in Mississippi has increased. An increase in snake sightings, though, could simply be the change in weather.
“Typically most snake sightings occur during summer, when temperatures are greatest and snakes are most active,” said Dr. Bronson Strickland, associate extension professor for the department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture at Mississippi State University.
“I can’t think of any biological reason for the snake population to have grown this past year. Instead, it’s likely due to the cold weather we had this spring.
“Now that temperatures have increased and are steady, snake activity has likely increased, too.”
Strickland said there are about 40 different species of snakes in Mississippi.
Keep in mind, though, most snakes around homes are nonvenomous and harmless.
“Numerous nonvenomous species are found here (in the Delta),” Blackwell said. “Some of the most common are garter snakes, rat snakes, racers, numerous nonvenomous water snakes and king snakes.”
Being able to identify the type of snake is an important safeguard in reducing snake problems.
“The best thing that people can do to protect themselves and their pets from snakes is to learn which species are venomous,” Blackwell said. “All of the venomous snakes found in the Delta have elliptical pupils in the eyes and a heat sensing pit between the nostril and eye.”
According to the Web site for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Park, there are six types of poisonous snakes in Mississippi: cottonmouth, copperhead, pygmy rattlesnake, coral snake, timber rattlesnake and eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
Blackwell said the cottonmouth is the most common venomous snake in the Delta.
“Timber rattlesnakes and copperheads are also found here in the Delta, but I haven’t seen nearly as many as cottonmouths,” Blackwell said. “Pigmy rattlesnakes are found to the east and west of us so there is the possibility of a stray being found here, but it is unlikely given their preference for sandy soils.”
Cottonmouth snakes have a banded or blotched olive brown or black upper body with a lighter underside. It can be difficult to distinguish a cottonmouth from nonvenomous water snakes, but the key difference is a cottonmouth will often appear more aggressive.
But both Blackwell and Strickland advise residents not to be concerned if a snake is spotted in their neighborhood.
“Most snakes are shy and tend to avoid humans if possible,” Blackwell said. “They trust their camouflage, so they tend to stay still when approached, and many people walk past snakes everyday without even knowing it.”
“People should not be concerned if they see a snake in their yard — this is normal,” Strickland said. “However, if you see numerous snakes in your yard, and you are uncomfortable with snakes, you may want to alter the habitat conditions around your house to make the environment less attractive to snakes.”
Indeed, making the habitat around a home less desirable is one of the best deterrents. Strickland said keeping the grass cut short and cleaning brush piles provide less cover for snakes.
Make sure to remove all potential food sources, too. Removing places where food sources may be found, such as brush piles, rubbish, etc., will remove a snake’s incentive for being in the area, Blackwell said.
Chemical controls or snake repellants have not been proven as effective deterrents or federally registered as controls, according to “Reducing Snakes Around Homes” published by the MSU Extension Service.
In the event of a snake sighting, it is best to leave the snake alone.
“Although generally non-aggressive, if grabbed, most will bite,” Blackwell said.
Seventy-five percent of all snakebites occur if a snake feels threatened, according to the website for the MDWFP.
The CDC offers these tips to prevent snakebites: Avoid tall grass, piles of leaves, climbing on rocks or piles of wood where snakes may be hiding. Be aware snakes may be more active at night and in warm weather. Wear boots, long pants and leather gloves when working outdoors or handling debris.
If a snake bites, know the signs and seek medical treatment. Try to remember what the snake looks like, as this will help with treatment.
Above all, avoid killing the snake unless it is absolutely necessary.
In fact, snakes provide many benefits, such as eating other rodents and other snakes. A snake’s venom can provide medical benefits to humans. Snake venom has been used in blood pressure medicine and in research to treat blood and heart problems as well as to control harmful bacteria, according to the article by the MSU Extension Service.
For more information contact the Bolivar County Extension Office at (662)-843-8361.