If you grew up in East Tennessee, or have lived here for a while, you probably recall being warned by grandmothers (who will remain nameless to protect their privacy) about the dastardly and diabolical copperheads who lurked in every woodpile and under every rock, just waiting to take a bite out of succulent you. (Of course, these may have been the same grandmothers who took gullible kids on after-dark snipe hunts. But that’s a story for a different day. Or therapist. Just keeping it all in perspective here, folks.)
With all that said, one of the most common phone calls we get is usually a statement, followed by a very breathless question: “There’s a snake in my yard! Is it a copperhead?” Alternatively, we’ll receive emails of very blurry photos taken from a safe vantage point by a shaky and somewhat apprehensive photographer, but the subject line is pretty much the same. So we thought it would be a great public service to the snakes and a great weight off the mind of those with snakes passing through their property to shed some light on the subject.
Enter Phil Colclough, our curator of herpetology, to talk about venomous snakes in East Tennessee!
For those of you who can’t stand the suspense, the odds that the snake you have encountered in your yard is a copperhead is pretty unlikely. Suburbia is just not their scene in Knox County, Tennessee.
It’s always a pleasure to talk with Phil and any of our herpetologists, and they are particularly happy to set the record straight about the types of reptilian fauna one might encounter in our area and put to rest the myth that snakes are just looking for the perfect opportunity to invade your personal space. Quite the opposite, actually. “Snakes will not chase you,” says Phil. “They’re just as eager to get away from you as you are probably from them. They’re looking for a place to hide.”
Now for the preachy part. Snakes are an important part of our ecosystems. They control rodent populations, eat insects and for the most part try to go about their business anonymously. Why, we could even begin a “Have you hugged your snake today” campaign to make up for many thankless encounters!
Wait, no. That’s not what Phil advises. “Leave them alone,” he says. “Most snake bits occur when people are messing with snakes.” Well, yes. That is logical. One could hazard a guess you are far more likely to bite someone if they are violating your personal space. The paparazzi have taught us what snakes have known since time immemorial.
Happy snake watching!