Mid-Missouri snakes cause misguided fear
BOONE COUNTY - When the weather heats up, mid-Missourians report seeing more snakes on golf courses, in parks and in their front yards.
Eagle Knoll Golf Course Superintendent Neal Thompson said he has seen his fair share of snakes throughout his 14 years on the job.
"I think during the drier years like in 2012, we saw a lot of snakes, especially heading to water," Thompson said. "This year has been wetter, so the snakes are a lot more spread out."
Missouri is home to around 42 snake species, including some venomous snakes.
The most common venomous snakes in Missouri are copperheads, while rattlesnakes are a bit harder to find.
According to a blog post uploaded on the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) website, between 1993 and 1999 there were about 85 venomous snakebites in Missouri each year.
But some members of the department dispute that number.
"In fact, it is kind of rare that we have a year where someone is bitten," said John George, the wildlife regional supervisor for the Central Region Department of Conservation.
"I think snakes should be respected," George said. "If you are messing around with venomous snakes, it can be dangerous. But non-venomous snakes are not dangerous at all, and most of our snakes are non-venomous."
And the statistics support George's statement.
Of all the reported snake bites in Missouri, George said many of the victims were either looking for snakes and/or intoxicated at the time of the bite. He said that problem is easily avoidable.
"It's good to have a healthy respect for snakes" George said. "Assume all of them are venomous until you know the particular snake you have encountered is not."
Since 1933, there have been three reported cases in which a venomous snakebite led to a death.
The blog post said, "A snakebite ranks just above falling space debris as a threat to human life."
Even Thompson, who works outside daily, said he understands the realistic threat Missouri snakes pose to people.
"In Missouri, there aren't many dangerous snakes," he said. "The few reports we get from golfers about a copperhead. More times than not, it ends up being just a water snake or something not too dangerous."
In case of a venomous snake bite, the MDC compiled a list of things to do and not to do.
But George said with the threat snakes pose, they offer more benefits to the environment.
"Snakes are a natural pest control." George said. "A lot of snakes eat rodents and insects while being prey to some hawks and other predator mammals."