Okay, let’s just put it right out there: I hate snakes.
I know they serve a purpose, and I’m not that fond of the vermin population they keep in check, either. Still, hate their cold blood, their forked-tongue, the way the move: hate’em.
I’ve come across a few. I saw black snake just last week while running on the Carolina North Forest trails. I long-jumped 28 feet.
Last Thursday, however, a snake truly surprised me. I was only about 50 feet up the Carolina North Forest trail from Seawell Road Entrance 3, and there he was: a three-foot copperhead.
On those same trails, I’d seen foxes, bard owls, great blue heron, coyotes, and deer so accustomed to people that one asked me for spare change. Fellow runners, under the influence of post-run caffeine had sworn to have seen manatees in Bolin Creek and herds of unicorns in the forests.
But I’d never seen a copperhead.
What surprised me, however, was that I wasn’t surprised at all. I found myself ... in awe.
I re-routed an oncoming runner and gently “urged” (with a very long stick) my slippery friend off the trail so that he wouldn’t get run over by a passing off-road cyclist. Then I went on my way, and he his.
It was a simple reminder that I shared these trails and this forest. It was a reminder of what a treat that truly is when we give our wild neighbors the respect (and the wide berth) they deserve.
From poisonous spiders like black widows or brown recluses, to stinging insects (runners recently came across a ground wasp nest just yards from my snake encounter), to poisonous snakes, the venom on North Carolina’s menu is enough to relegate one to the couch.
Additionally, it seems as if encounters are growing more frequent, particularly sightings of water moccasins (cottonmouth) and copperheads common to the Triangle.
“We get a lot more calls, because we’re encroaching on these animals’ spaces,” said Kindra Mammone of Creative Learning About Wildlife Species (nc-claws.org), a local non-profit agency dedicated to local wild animals’ safety. Mammone was named an Animal Planet “Hero of the Year” semi-finalist in 2007 and 2008.
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission wildlife biologist Jason Allen agreed.
“When you have more people out on greenways and trails, that concentrates everything into a small area, and you’ll get increased numbers of sightings,” Allen said, noting however that numbers start to drop off after the spring birthing season for almost all sightings except snakes.
“They’re active all year long, and snakes lay eggs throughout the summer,” Allen said. “They hibernate, but on a warm winter day, it’s still not unusual to see a snake out. By the time the temperature’s higher than 75 degrees, it’s snake-time.”
“But a snake’s not going to come after you. That’s not how they work,” Mammone said. “You leave them alone; they’ll leave you alone.”
If bitten, physicians say not to adhere to outdated remedies like a tourniquet but to put ice on a bite and head straight for the emergency room, as bitten appendages can swell up quickly.
Mammone said many of the calls received by CLAWS are about fox and coyote sightings.
“We’re getting a lot of calls about coyotes now,” she said. “Carrboro is just covered with them.
“I grew up in New Mexico, and coyotes were everywhere, but here they cause a panic. All they are is scruffy dogs.”
While foxes will sometimes follow people, Mammone said, they generally aren’t a cause for concern either. “They’re naturally curious about what you’re doing. It doesn’t mean they’re being aggressive.”
Mammone said the biggest protection we can exhibit is noise.
“From coyotes to foxes to bobcats, our best bet is to make a lot of noise and don’t appear threatening,” she said. “If they’re walking toward you, turn around and walk the other way and make as much noise as you can. If you’re out on trails a lot, carry a whistle: whistles are awful noises to animals.”
“The best advice is to observe them from a distance and don’t encourage them,” Allen said. “(Befriending) wildlife is the worst thing we can do. You’re just setting the wildlife up for failure.”
Except for those cleaning forest debris and clearing trails, the greatest threat from local venomous spiders — like black widows and brown recluses — comes when recreational athletes dig through the garage for running shoes.
Both spiders bite humans only in defense. Shaking shoes or clothing and wearing gloves when working in woodpiles can help to avoid problems. If bitten, however, apply ice and see a physician.
Of all of the pests ready to pounce on our summer plans, perhaps no population seems more determined to get under our skin than ticks, which potentially transmit diseases like Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Fortunately, transference of disease from ticks is often preventable by thoroughly checking for attachments.
If a tick is found on the skin, it should be simply pulled off with tweezers. Once the majority of the tick is removed, even if there’s still something there, whatever’s left will die and be expelled like a splinter.
The greatest advice is situational awareness, however.
“I get calls from people who are right on top of a coyote before they even know that it’s there,” Mammone said. “People should just be observant when they’re walking and look ahead on the trail.”
Perhaps that’s why I was in awe rather than fear of my friendly copperhead this past week: I saw him coming; he saw me. Maybe we both parted a bit the wiser.
Still hate snakes, though.
For more about creatures getting close to home, see Tuesday’s News & Observer Science section.
Kindra Mammone of Creative Learning About Wildlife Species suggest a handy home remedy to deter and/or to remove ticks.
“One thing that really works really well is to get some Listerine in a spray bottle — no other mouthwash works — and spray your legs down. It drives ticks off: they drop off and never attach to you.”