Snakes Not So Charming in the Wild
Keep your eyes open
April 16, 2001 -- Don't invite Wayne King to a party if
television's Crocodile Hunter is on the guest list.
King, the curator of herpetology -- the scientific field that
studies amphibians and reptiles -- at the University of Florida's Museum of
Natural History, is no fan of Steve Irwin, a.k.a. the Crocodile Hunter.
It's nothing personal, just professional: King cringes every
time the high-energy, fast-talking Aussie stalks and then grabs snakes,
including some of the world's most venomous. It's bad enough that the snake is
terrorized, but King is convinced that sooner or later, someone will imitate
Irwin's tail-grabbing antics and suffer a deadly bite.
"If they watch that idiot Irwin, they are going to try
it," King says. "Irwin is telling people that they can have this fun,
too. I hope his ratings go down."
King and other herpetologists know that handling snakes is no
laughing matter, and certainly nothing an amateur should attempt. With
somewhere between 30 and 40 venomous snakes slithering around America -- and
with spring marking the unofficial start of hiking season -- most people don't
have a clue about which are dangerous and which aren't, much less what to do if
Snakes are found almost everywhere in America. But snakes are
cold blooded and favor warmer climates. The farther north you live, the fewer
the snakes. So while there are six varieties of venomous snakes in Florida, New
York has only two -- the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead. Perhaps the
deadliest in America are the Eastern and Western diamondback rattlesnakes.
Each year, 5,000 Americans are bitten by venomous snakes,
resulting in about five deaths. A surprising number of those bites, King says,
are to hands and arms, which usually means the person was trying to handle the
snake. And that makes sense since snakes are shy by nature. It's unusual to
stumble upon one even in the most remote areas, he says.
"An awful lot of people go bird watching, hunting, camping,
and hiking and never see a snake," King says.
There are several things you can do to avoid getting bitten by
a snake in the wild. For starters, if you see a snake, back away and walk
"Snakes will not pursue you and are not aggressive unless
they feel cornered," King says. "If you find them at the base of a rock
face where they can't back up, they may seem aggressive. But given a chance,
almost every snake will flee and get away."
When you're out in nature, keep your eyes open and watch where
you're walking. Don't step across a rock or fallen tree limb, because you can't
see what's on the other side. Instead, step on the rock and then over.