Expert seeks to debunk snake myths amid rising number of Georgia bites

AMERICUS, Ga — Snake bites are rare occurrences, but the Georgia Poison Control Center says snake bites have been on the rise statewide.

“I actually know a local person that was bitten here recently. So just be really careful,” says Bill Starr, Sumter County Extension Coordinator.  “She’s doing great now. She had to go, of course, to the hospital, and she received several vials of the antivenom.”

So far, 55 snake bites have been reported in Georgia this year. A third of those were from copperheads.

Georgia has only six species of venomous snakes. Three of those are rattlesnakes that use their rattles to warn of their presence. The others include the cottonmouth with the white mouths and the rare coral snakes colored with bright red and yellow variations.

However, the copperhead doesn’t show off and blends so easily into its environment—and that probably explains why it accounts for so many of the reported snake bites.

“Anywhere there’s a lot of leaves on the ground, up around the forest, they use that to hide as opposed to hide or advertise to warn where they are. So, they’re easy to come across, easy to get bit if you step on a copperhead,” says Tom Lorenz, biology professor and herpetologist at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.

The best ways to avoid snakes is to steer clear of wood and brush piles and any places where rodents congregate. That’s where snakes are likely to lurk.  Also, people should always watch carefully where they are stepping.

Should a person be bitten by a snake, Dr. Lorenz says he or she should try not to panic and seek medical help immediately.

While snakes are to be respected, many people find they have an intense fear of snakes.  Are you one of them?  If so, have you ever stopped to ask yourself if those fears are rationally-founded? Also, do snakes serve valuable purposes you never stopped to consider?

Dr. Lorenz says snakes get a bad rap.

“A famous quote by Clifford Pope, a herpetologist from decades ago, was that snakes are at first, cowards, they’ll try to get away. Second, they’re bluffers.  They’ll try to make themselves look big or dangerous, or rattle to warn you. And very last, they’re warriors. So if they ultimately think they’re going to die, they will bite, do whatever they can to survive,” says Lorenz.

Dr. Lorenz debunks many ‘snake rumors’ that have morphed into irrational and unfounded human fears.  For one thing, he says snakes don’t chase people.

“If you think about it from the perspective of the snake, it’s not a very good survival idea to chase something that’s 200 times your size,” says Dr. Lorenz.

Dr. Lorenz also says that snakes serve many purposes that help mankind.

“Medicines [are made] from their venom,” Dr. Lorenz says. “They help us treat breast cancer, Alzheimer’s arthritis, diabetes, all sorts of different things. And they also do control the rodent population.”

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