Snakes Alive!

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

Snakes of Missouri

about the stranger in the road with a long, thick oak limb in his hand.

I pitched the limb in the weeds. Lisa and I returned to the cabin, where I related our run-in with the rattler. No eyebrows were raised. My family knows my attitude toward snakes. I consider them an interesting part of our natural world - animals that deserve respect.

Many people disagree with this view. They see venomous snakes as a threat. A careful analysis of snake behavior, however, reveals that snakes pursue only two groups of animals - prey and mates. Humans fit neither category.

At first, the rattler that my wife and I encountered instinctively remained motionless to prevent detection. When I attempted to push the snake across the road, it coiled and rattled to warn. Had the snake intended to bite, it would have rushed me and tried to do so. Of course, that did not happen. Most snakes avoid confrontation with large animals, including humans.

Like many Missourians, I grew up fearing venomous snakes. Over the years, however, I have grown to see venomous snakes as part of what I sought on weekend retreats to Missouri's remote reaches. I like to spend time in places where I hear no road noise; where at night, the only light outside comes from the moon and stars; where when I walked afield, I need to watch out for venomous snakes.

At most of the places I visit, a copperhead might be coiled by a pile of rocks, or a cottonmouth might be dozing in a tangle of streamside brush. They are part of the wildness that I seek, and so I appreciate their presence.

I raised my children to hold these same values. Several Aprils ago, my son, Michael, then a grade schooler, and I were hiking behind my parents' cabin. As we picked our way along the edge of a rocky, south-facing slope that flanked Big Creek, I warned Michael to walk close behind me and to watch where he put his feet because venomous snakes could be about.

"Are you afraid of them, Dad?" Michael asked.

I told him that I didn't fear them, but that I respected them. I explained that venomous snakes are well equipped to defend themselves. We walked a little farther along the rocky slope, then turned up a draw that would take us back to the cabin. As we

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