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Naturalist says short spring may explain snake sightings

A copperhead snake hangs out at the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City. Copperheads are venomous, but can easily be identified by their Hershey Kiss candy-like spots. (Megan Sanchez/KRCG 13)

As summertime approaches and more mid-Missourians find themselves outdoors gardening, hiking and spending time on the water, they also increase their chances of seeing a slithering creature out in nature.

Sam Stewart, a naturalist with the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City, said while the prevalence of snakes is not necessarily up this year, a quick spring may have people feeling like they are seeing a bunch of them lately.

"We've had a long winter," he said. "We haven't had much of a spring at all, unfortunately. Now we have this hot weather, so what I think we're seeing is that snakes are emerging from their hibernation all at once instead of over a period of time like they would on a normal spring."

Snakes are coldblooded, so summer is their favorite season. Snakes don't make their own heat, don't have to eat near as often, but must move around to change their body temperature.

Stewart said while many people are scared of snakes, they actually serve important roles in Missouri's ecosystems.

"We have a whole lot of non-venomous snakes that are really important to the ecosystems where they live because either they eat insects or they control rodent populations," he said.

"They're really good for the balance of nature."

There are 49 species and sub-species of snakes in Missouri and only six are venomous. The most common is the Copperhead. While being bit by a snake may seem scary, Stewart said there are lots of ways to identify them so people can steer clear, and copperhead bites are almost never deadly.

Signs of a venomous snake:

-Triangular-shaped head: venomous snakes have venom glands in the side of their head, creating a triangular looking head. Some non-venomous snakes do have this shape also, so it's not always an accurate identifier.

-Eye-shape: venomous snakes have elliptical pupils. The eyes look more of a thin shape than circular.

-Color and pattern: Copperheads' spots look like Hershey Kiss candies, rattle snakes all have a colored line down their back

If one comes across a snake, Stewart said the best thing to do is let it be.

"Just back up slowly," he said.

"Animals, if they're harassed, will bite. We just need to show snakes respect and the best way to do that is to give them their distance," he said.

"Look at them, because they're cool. Don't try to pick them up because they're wild animals and we're way bigger than them and we're scary compared to them."

Stewart said naturalists at the Runge Nature Center are always happy to answer questions and help identify types of snakes via photos or verbal descriptions.

If you find a snake in your home, naturalists can also talk you through how to safely get it out, but they cannot come out to your home to assist in this. If it's venomous and inside your home, contact the state's herpetologist.

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