Snakes are abundant now, but no more than usual

Department of Game and Inland FisheriesContrary to popular belief, there aren’t more snakes in Virginia than usual this spring. That’s according to J.D. Kleopfer, a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries herpetologist.

“There’s no science or evidence that (Virginia’s) snake population is increasing,” Kleopfer said, despite the past year’s record-breaking wet weather.

Even if there aren’t more snakes on the ground, Kleopfer advises people to avoid them. “Most snake bites occur when someone steps on one, or moves a rock out of place.

“Rule number one,” Kleopfer said, “is just leave them alone. They’re not after you by any means.” He added that Hollywood blockbusters and social media sharing have created the impression that snakes are everywhere, and that they’re bad. In fact, Kleopfer said, they are beneficial, particularly to farmers.

Daryl Butler, senior district field services director for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said he frequently encounters water moccasins or “cottonmouths” on his farm along the Blackwater River in Isle of Wight County.

“Water moccasins are not aggressive snakes,” Butler explained. If one of them bites, “it’s a defense mechanism.” He added that the cottonmouth has a camouflage skin tone that makes it hard to see. “His bright white mouth is his way of showing you, ‘Hey, I’m here.’”

Butler agreed that snakes can have a positive impact on a farm’s ecosystem. “We store a lot of seed during the wintertime or during spring planting. In my shop, I have a black snake as big as your arm, and I don’t bother him. He does not bother me; he’s got a purpose … the mice and rats that get in there, he works on them.”

The key to avoiding snakes is remaining aware of your surroundings. “So when you’re taking your dog out in the evening, turn the yard lights on,” Kleopfer advised. “Be careful where you put your hands if you’re going out to get wood.” If you’re a gardener, make sure you use a rake to spread leaves or mulch out first.

Copperheads and cottonmouths are the two most common poisonous snakes in Virginia. Less common is the timber or canebreak rattlesnake. All three should be avoided.

Kleopfer added that it is illegal to kill a snake in Virginia unless your safety is threatened or the snake is a nuisance on your property.

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