, Muskogee, OK


April 5, 2012

Snakes are necessary evil

— For those of you familiar with Indiana Jones and his snake phobia, you may get the picture when it comes to this columnist’s fear of the snakes. My hunting and fishing buddies are all snickering and no doubt rolling with laughter as they read this and that’s ok.

I thank God everyday for the blessings He’s given me and one of them is living in an area that’s so beautiful and pristine. Anywhere people live, there are some inconveniences and one drawback to some people in this area is the presence of snakes.

Just the thought of them makes our skin crawl but it needn’t be that way says Steve Evans, Naturalist for Greenleaf State Park

Evans, who conducts snake programs for different groups, explains the importance that all snakes are beneficial in nature’s circle of life. He hopes to help better educate the public of the role snakes play.

Venomous snakes located in our area are the western diamondback, timber and pygmy rattlesnakes, the copperhead and water moccasin or cottonmouth. Evans noted there are three ways to identify a venomous snake, including the large head with venom glands, vertical pupils of the eye, and pits, which are a heat sensing organ, on side of the head.

We have a number of non-venomous snakes in our state as well, such as the bull and king snakes, the hog-nosed snake, racers, garter snakes, water snakes, and the coachwhip.

The website, states that the coachwhip is one of the few snakes that’s known to be active during the heat of the day. It is one of Oklahoma’s fastest snakes and will seek safety in a tree or a mammal burrow if chased.

It goes on to say that when cornered, this snake will defend itself by striking and buzzing its tail, contrary to legend that the coachwhip would chase down its adversary and whip him to death with his tail.

I spoke with Dr. Berry Winn of Muskogee Regional Medical Center and he enlightened me to some interesting facts and observations concerning snake bites. One being that the majority of snake bites come from non-poisonous snakes. He said the hospital treats eight to 10 snake bites a year with the majority of venomous bites coming from copperheads.

When bitten by a venomous snake, get to the doctor as soon as possible. No cutting or sucking out the wound and no tourniquets, as was used in years gone by. Keep the wound below the level of the heart. Remove any constricting clothing or jewelry from the extremity. The area may swell and constricting items will cause tissue death.

A drug called CroFab is much safer and is now widely used and has proven to be much more effective than anti-venom given in the past.

If bitten by a non-venomous snake, get a tetanus shot and wash with lots of soap and water and watch for any signs of infection.

Dr. Winn also noted that people in the outdoors such as hikers, sportsmen, and workers, are not the people most bitten. It’s snake owners who own that title.

In one case, a gentleman was face to face with a rattlesnake trying to mimic the snake’s ability to sense its surroundings by sticking out its forked tongue. The snake proceeded to bite the man on the tongue, and he was rushed to a hospital where a tracheotomy was performed to save the man’s life.  

Snakes are here to stay and they help keep the population of mice, rats, grasshoppers and other insects under control. When in snake country, it’s a good idea to wear some type of snakeproof boots or leggings as most bites generally occur below the knee and in the hands area.

Don’t let these creatures keep you out of the woods — just be aware of your surroundings. Watch where you step and take care when picking up limbs. Above all,  have a healthy respect for these creatures.

John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. To reach him with news or comments, call 348-9431 or email him at

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