A huge spike in snakebite calls leaves the community wondering why
When the North Carolina Poison Control Center announced it had received more than 71 snakebite calls in April (up from 19 the previous year), it raised several questions in the community: Are we seeing an increase in the snake population? Are snakes getting more aggressive? Are people spending more time outdoors in snake prone areas?
According to experts, the recent rise in reported snakebites is most likely attributed to several factors, including a mild winter, a temporary rise in population and simply more public awareness.
“Venomous snakes might reproduce every other year. It takes a lot of energy,” says Meagan Thomas, Animal Care Manager at Davidson College, who specializes in herpetology, the study of reptiles. However, she’s quick to note that this is a temporary rise. “People think the snake population is out of control—that’s not happening. Actually, populations are declining due to a loss of habitat.”
One reason we might be seeing more snakes could be due to this loss. Reptiles are returning to once hospitable areas only now they’re housing developments. Moreover, mild temperatures could be luring snakes out of brumation (a hibernation-like state) earlier. Lastly, Thomas says, a growing awareness around reporting snakebites could be a factor in the spike.
For the last two years, Davidson College has worked with the NC Poison Control Center to develop collateral materials and messaging encouraging people to speak out when they encounter a snake. The dividends from the efforts could be paying off now.
Instead of becoming fearful of the outdoors, Thomas encourages people to get informed. First thing: learn what a Copperhead looks like. It will alleviate a lot of stress when you see a snake. If you’re still unsure, snap a picture and email it to Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org); she’ll try to identify it for you within minutes. Next, don’t try to kill it or grab it. Instead, wait until it moves of your path or gently spray it with a hose. It will immediately move away from the water source. If it’s stuck in your yard or in a populated area, contact a local wildlife removal professional. Make sure you have the number on hand ahead of time.