A cottonmouth caught by The Daily Review Outdoor Writer John Flores' neighbor. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
Backyard enemies lurk about during the spring
Last week while my neighbor down the street, Gilbert Ramagos, was cleaning his yard, he got a big surprise. A snake came crawling out from under a dog house that he was moving.
“I immediately froze up – like ‘what’s going on here,’” Ramagos said. “I was like, what’s happening – you know. My first instinct was to kill it, but I kind of calmed down a minute and went and got something to put it in. I got a stick and captured it, because I wanted to find out what kind of snake it was before I killed it.”
My neighbor subsequently came down to my house, where I happened to be pruning some trees in my yard. Basically, I was doing the same thing everyone does when spring weekends are so pretty and you’ve let your yard go much of the winter. Once the martins start showing up, you know it’s time to get outside and do something.
Ramagos showed up in my drive in his pickup truck, and in the bed was a rectangular fish aquarium with a snake in it. Asking me what kind of snake was it, I told my neighbor I wasn’t exactly sure initially, though I knew it was poisonous because it had elliptical eyes.
It resembled a water moccasin, but for some reason, the color and pattern of its skin looked a bit like a copperhead.
So, I went inside the house and dug out my Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries poster of Louisiana’s common species of snakes. It helped me dial in a little closer.
The snake had wide black markings through the sides of its head, which leaned more towards being a water moccasin (aka: cotton mouth). I was about 90 percent sure at that point but didn’t want to risk my full reputation as an outdoor writer on it. So, my wife took photos with her cell phone, and the next day, I sent them to Jeff Boundy, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries herpetologist.
Boundy came back the same day and said, “John, correct, on the cottonmouth dark face.” He also sent me a picture of a copperhead, showing the sides of its face. It was pale as could be with no black.
“In the Morgan City area, the venomous ones are the cotton mouth, copperhead, timber or canebrake rattlesnake, and the pygmy rattlesnake,” Boundy said. “The pygmy is only on Avery and Cote Blanche islands.”
Essentially, this is the time of year that people need to be aware that snakes are out now that the weather is warm. It’s also this time of year that folks like to put in their gardens, touch up and mulch their flower beds and just do general cleanup of their yards, besides mowing.
According to Bounty, there are 47 different species of snakes in Louisiana, of which seven are poisonous. My Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries poster was not a comprehensive list of all species, just the more common.
People need to take caution when cleaning their yards.
“My advice for folks is to keep your lawn mowed and always watch where you put your hands and feet,” Bounty said. “And for snake bites, snap a quick picture with the camera phone, and go straight to medical help – no first aid, just go!”
Things people should consider when cleaning up debris such as brush piles during the early spring are to wear proper clothing. Working in shorts and flip-flops may keep you more comfortable on a warm day, but they do nothing in terms of protection from poisonous snakes and insects.
It’s better to wear a long-sleeve cotton shirt, jeans, leather gloves and even knee boots when do general yard cleaning.
One other thing: There are lots of plastic children’s toys like slides, castles, and sand boxes that are ideal locations for snakes to lay under during the winter. Be sure to check inside and around these large yard toys before letting your children play on them.
It’s important to know that not all snakes are bad. Some snakes, like the common ribbon snakes and speckled king snakes, are pretty docile and beneficial in that they eat mice, rats and other critters that crawl.
“I’ve caught some other snakes in my yard – they were little bitty,” Ramagos said. “But, not ever a poisonous one like this one!”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Flores is The Daily Review’s Outdoor Writer.