Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Readers Write In: Can We Identify This Snake Before it is Killed?

"Hi Dr. Steen,

Earlier today I managed to capture a snake at the Fisheries station - genetics station where I work, I'm sure it's poisonous although I don't know my snakes, and I'm looking to get rid of it without killing it.  If you have any interest in wanting it, or have any advice on who to give it to, that would be great.  I didn't catch it outdoors or anything, I caught it inside where it still stays in a bin.

Could you help me with this, I don't like killing things if I don't have to.

Mike F.

Auburn, Alabama"


I have found that as a general rule, the less people know about snakes the more likely they are to identify any snake as venomous (I guess it's better safe than sorry). So I wasn't completely convinced by Mike's identification.

However, the venomous Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus, loves to hang around fisheries ponds (free dinner!). So, I knew there was a distinct possibility that Mike had come across (and captured) one of these vipers. And they're not very popular.

I asked Mike to quickly send me a picture so I could first confirm that his snake really was a potentially dangerous species. At the same time, I brought a couple colleagues that were still in Auburn into the loop so that if the snake was a Cottonmouth, they could quickly and safely relocate the animal before it was given a death sentence. I got the impression that if Mike's supervisors thought this was a venomous snake, then they would require him to kill it, and he didn't want to do that. If it wasn't venomous, Mike was comfortable releasing the snake.

What do you think happened to the snake? 






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