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Sneaky snakes: Professor offers tips to ID identifying local snakes

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A Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis holbrooki). can be found throughout the Ozarks. Its yellow-on-black mottling makes it easy to spot and identify

A speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis holbrooki). can be found throughout the Ozarks. Its yellow-on-black mottling makes it easy to spot and identify

Often times snakes get a bad rap. They’re usually more frightened by you than you are of them, and you’ll most likely overlook them if you’re trekking through the woods.

“Venomous species only tend to use their venom in defense when absolutely necessary,” says Dr. Brian Greene, professor of biology at Missouri State University. “Most of the snakes you find aren’t looking for a fight and will only attempt to bite you if you touch them.”

There are several species of snakes in the Ozarks, but the ones people run into the most include water snakes, garter snakes, black rat snakes, prairie king snakes and speckled king snakes. Most of the other species are very difficult to find because they hide under something.

Bears Show How To Identify Venomous Snakes

“There are four venomous species here in southwest Missouri, including two rattlesnakes,” said Greene. “The most commonly encountered venomous snake is the copperhead because they’re found basically everywhere in Missouri.”

The venomous species include the timber rattlesnake, the pigmy rattlesnake, the copperhead, and the cottonmouth. If you do come across a snake, there are a couple of key identifying marks you can look for to help you figure out if it is venomous.

Identifying characteristics

“If you see a snake with a long stripe down its body you can automatically know that it is not venomous,” says Greene. “Unfortunately, as far as coloring and other features that can be seen from a distance, it is far more difficult to determine because venomous and nonvenomous snakes look so similar.”

Most features would require you get very close or touch the snake to identify it. Venomous snakes in this area have a secondary hole in their head used for infrared vision, and their scales beneath their tail run in the opposite direction of nonvenomous snakes.

Snake bites by the thousands, but few deaths

“There are several thousand people a year bitten by snakes, and fewer than 10 deaths,” said Greene. “You’re much more likely to be killed by a dog bite or a lightning strike than to be killed by a snake bite.”

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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