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Snakes & Venom

Written by Lipstick 'n Boots

Snakes scare me - yes, I will admit such. But a brown recluse spider who has a mosquito in his mouth that is infected with the West Nile Virus, who has a tick on his back who is infested with Lyme disease could light on my arm and I wouldn't flinch.

But even the wiggle of a harmless green grass snake sends me into shudders and in dire need of trusty-undergarments, which by the way, don't look so lovely when worn under a thong...

Whether it goes back to religious upbringing, or the Shark-Snake Syndrome, snakes still scare me. But without snakes, our world would be overrun with vermin and snipes.

Nonetheless, when out and about in The Great Outdoors, here are the types of poisonous  snakes that live in the following terrains of the greater United States:

Wet & Marshy: Generally moccasins; may be called water moccasins or cottonmouths due to the white interior of the mouth.

Sandy Loam: Rattlesnakes

Woods: The timber rattlesnake; copperheads and coral snakes.

Rocks & Cliffs: Rattlesnakes

Snakes in the Wild, Vipers & the Hiss of Death

If you love to interact with nature, you've probably come across a snake or two while out on the hiking trails. Because snakes are so feared, they have always been on the decline, so those snake-viewing opportunities that used to be common in the wild are rapidly becoming rare luck. People generally kill what they are afraid of, and fear generally stems from ignorance.

Without snakes, rats run amok. Fleas are suddenly presented with free living space - all the space that they could possibly want and more. Like the rats, they reproduce like mad.

Rats were the root cause of one of the world's deadliest epidemics - the Black Plague, wiping out one-third of the world's population from 1347-1350, in just three short years. Fleas can transmit tapeworms to dogs, cats and humans. Fleas can output over 50 eggs per day, so their population rapidly increases without intervention. And suddenly, snakes don't seem so scary at all! And, perhaps the snake seeks revenge through the Hiss of Death......

Snakes are such an important part of our ecosystem. With their assistance, the mice and rat populations are kept in balance, thereby reducing and controlling outbreaks of certain diseases. Snakes are also beautiful animals, with many on the endangered species list.

Snakebite Prevention - If you are out and about, avoid areas where a high concentration of snakes may live such as rocky hills, bluffs, swamps, marshes, and deep holes in the ground. Choose footwear carefully; the key here is usually thick leather or rubber footwear. Next, watch where you are walking and where you choose to sit.

Snakebite, by either a venomous or non-venomous snake, always requires medical attention. A bite occurring in a non-venomous snake can become infected, or the victim may experience an allergic reaction to the snakebite.

Types of Venomous Snakes in the US - There are four types of poisonous snakes in the United States: rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths (also called water moccasins), and coral snakes. It is important to be able to recognize the snake that bit the victim so that the proper antivenin can be administered at the hospital.

Rattlesnakes, Copperheads & Cottonmouths - Traits include triangular heads, slit-like eyes, long fangs and a similar bite pattern. Rattlesnakes and copperheads shake their tails when disturbed, but only rattlesnakes have rattles on the end of their tails. Cottonmouths can be recognized by the white lining of their mouths.

Rattlesnakes are prominent throughout most regions of the United States, though the species vary within these regions, depending on the equipment provided by Mother Nature. Copperheads and cottonmouths can be found in the southeastern regions of the United States.

Rattlesnake, Copperhead & Cottonmouth Bites: pain that increases at the site of the bite, rapid swelling at the site of the bite, skin discoloration at the site of the bite, twitching skin, dizziness, nausea, sweating, numbness around the mouth.

Rattlesnakes: Family: pit vipers (the Crotalidae)

The rattlesnake is one of four poisonous snakes found in North America. Equipped with poison fangs, and heat-sensitive pits that identify warm-blooded prey, the rattlesnake is indeed an agile and effective hunter.

Once the prey has been located, the rattlesnake can strike a little more than the length of its body to sink the fangs into the victim's flesh.  The fangs are perforated like hypodermic needles and once the flesh has been punctured, the pressure on the poison sacs at the base of the fangs sends the venom into the wound.

The fangs of the rattlesnake are to be seriously respected - whether the rattlesnake is alive or dead.  There are accounts of dead rattlesnakes reflexively jabbing a handler, therefore a dead rattlesnake should never be handled - especially one that has just died.

Rattles: An excited rattlesnake will vibrate its tail, thus sending the loosely fitted rings into a dry, whirring or buzzing noise.

A newborn rattlesnake yields nothing more than a blunt scale (or prebutton) at the tip of its tail.  With each shedding, a new ring on the rattle forms.  The very first ring is known as 'the button'.  Because some rattlesnakes may shed their skin several times per year, and rattles have a tendency to break off, the age of the snake cannot be told by the number of rattles on the tail.

The young are live-born from eggs hatched within the mother's body.

Average size of brood: 10 babies

Mother gives birth: 1 time per year in warmer climates and only once every two years in colder climates.

Diet for large rattlesnakes: rats, mice, poultry, warm-blooded prey.

Diet for smaller rattlesnakes: frogs, lizards, salamanders.

Enemies: Man, birds of prey, larger snakes - especially King Snakes.

Hibernation: During the colder months, rattlesnakes hibernate in caves, beneath rocks, in hollow logs in a wound-up position where they will sleep as such until Spring arrives.

Largest Rattlesnake: Diamondback - up to 8 feet long

Deadliest of North American snakes: Diamondback

Species of rattlesnakes: About 30

Trivia: A rattlesnake cannot strike from a coiled position.  However, they can swim and bite underwater, just like the water moccasin.

The Water Moccasin: Family: pit vipers (the Crotalidae)

The water moccasin is one of four poisonous snakes found in North America. Equipped with poison fangs, and heat-sensitive pits that identify warm-blooded prey, the water moccasin - like the rattlesnake, is indeed an agile and effective hunter. The water moccasin makes its home in the swamps and bayous of the Southern United States, preferring the warmer climates of the south.

The young are a pale reddish brown; patterns develop over time.  The young are born 'live' (as opposed to egg hatching).  As the snake matures, its color generally revolves to a dark olive, and sometimes black.  When threatened, one may glimpse the cottony color of the inside of the mouth - thus rendering the nickname, "Cottonmouth".

General length is 3' to 4' though some have recorded in at over 6' in length.  Being expert climbers, they sometimes venture out onto branches overhanging waterbeds and just 'chill out'.

A water moccasin eats both warm and cold-blooded animals and has a reputation of being quite aggressive in the wild.  Moccasins tend to tame down a bit in captivity.

Trivia: Can a water moccasin bite below water? Oh yes!

The Copperhead: Family: pit vipers (the Crotalidae)

The copperhead snake gets its name from the coppery color on its head. It's body is quite pretty, decorated with hourglass patterns.  Like most snakes, the copperhead ranges in color, generally a coppery color to a dark chestnut.  On a warm fall day, on a walk through the woods, one may step on a copperhead, as its color blends in perfectly with the brown fallen leaves.  And most bites occur in this manner; accidentally.

Copperheads make their home in the warmer regions of the United States, seeking out the moister regions, choosing cliffs, crevices, swamp borders and abandoned wooden structures.

When threatened, it may move its tail back and forth like a rattlesnake, though no noise is made because copperheads are not equipped with rattles. They are, however, equipped with fangs that inflict a painful bite. The good news is that the copperhead is a non-aggressive snake and will only bite in self-defense or in defense of its offspring.  Also, although the bite is painful, it is rarely lethal.  Picture of Rat Snake | More on Copperheads

The copperhead is capable of swallowing an animal many times larger than its mouth, and it has digestive juices that allow digestion of bones and fur. Isn't that lovely?

The average copperhead is about 2' to 3' long and may live up to 30 years - though almost all copperheads are lucky to see 8 years.

The young is produced though egg-laying and hatch shortly after being expelled from the mother.  She will have 3-10 babies who generally range in length from 8-10 inches.  Though the babies do not produce as much venom as the adult copperhead, it is just as lethal.

Copperheads may den with rattlesnakes and rat snakes.

Coral Snakes - Coral snakes can be found in the southern regions of the United States. Banded in red, black and yellow hues, the coral snake is quite beautiful. They can be distinguished from similarly colored nonpoisonous snakes with the help of this familiar rhyme: "Red on yellow, kill a fellow, Red on black, friend of Jack"

Symptoms of Coral Snake Bites: pain at the bite site, drowsiness, slurred speech, double vision, sweating, nausea, delirium, seizures.

First Aid for Snake Bite

1. Call 911 for emergency help.

2. Keep the victim calm and still. If possible, place the bite below the victim's heart level.

3. If are able to identify the snake, then do so but stay out of harm's way. The last thing you need is two victims.

4. Remove any constricting jewelry or clothing near the bite.

5. If the victim needs to move, don't let him walk.

6. If the victim is not breathing or does not have a pulse or heartbeat, begin CPR.

A few medical references recommend that if medical help is more than hour away, a tourniquet should be applied 2-4 inches above the bite, and that it should be loose enough so that you can slip your fingers under the tourniquet (belt, etc). Some also recommend cleaning the bite wound with a clean cloth and water, taking care not to rub the bite.

This article is not meant to diagnose or treat snakebite. Always seek medical assistance in the event of an emergency.

Snakes & The 5 Senses - Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Sense

Sound: If you are ever mad at a snake, yelling will do no good at all.  Snakes are deaf and have no ear openings.  Even the Cobra who appears to be hypnotized by the sound of the Snake Charmer's flute is deafer than a doornail.

Sight: Speaking of hypnotism, at one time it was believed that snakes had the ability to hypnotize other animals.  The wild stare was responsible for this conclusion.  If you think about it, have you ever seen a snake bat its eyes?  It's impossible, because snakes have no eyelids.

Taste, Smell & Sense: The snake speaks with a forked tongue, just like your mother-in-law. As the tongue flickers in the air, it picks up traces of chemicals that help it locate food, as well as a mate.

The tongue carries these special scents to organs located in the roof of the mouth where a sensation is produced akin to smell or taste.

A snake also has a Sixth Sense, but that's another story all together...

Reference: over 50 years of personal experience in the Wilds of Texas

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