For Goodness Snakes! | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

For Goodness Snakes!

Professional herpetologist Terry Vandeventer has been studying snakes for 50 years and is Mississippi's foremost expert on snakes (Mississippi, alone, has 55 indigenous species). Vandeventer is a crusader against the flood of misconceptions about snakes, and bears the mantle of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation's Conservation Educator of the Year in 2006 for in his efforts to stomp out the wriggly little lies surrounding reptiles.

In celebration of St. Patrick's famed mass deportation of every snake off the island of Ireland, Vandeventer has volunteered to stab a stick into the dark hole of snake myths and see what wriggles out.

Snakes don't reside in Ireland because a saint ran them off.
Truth is, there are only three breeds of snakes in the entire British Isles: the European Viper (commonly called an adder), the grass snake and the smooth snake. Ireland is a cool, wet environment, very humid and chilly, and it's just not conducive to snakes. Snakes have been found smuggled in, but they are illegal as pets.

Snakes chase people.
No, they don't. Get this out of your head. People tell me every day about that evil snake that chased them. The truth is, if a snake is coming toward you, it's usually because the snake follows the same path to his hole or cave or whatever, and you're on it. Still, if I ask a crowd of 500 adults how many have been chased by snakes at least 200 will raise their hand.

You can die instantly from a snake bite.
In Vietnam there was supposed to be a snake called a two-stepper or a one-stepper, because you could only get one or two steps before falling over dead. That's a myth, too. When a fatality occurs, which is rare, death usually comes two to three days after a bite.

Doctors know everything about snake bites.
For some reason, a doctor who treats a victim for snakebite instantly becomes an expert in herpetology. They might say things like, "If it had been a half hour longer, he would've died, because he's got enough venom to kill 15 men." There's no method for figuring out how much venom he got. A doctor also can't tell by looking at the size of the bite what the age of the reptile is. The fangs stretch outward as the snake opens its mouth, so a little 2-foot-long snake can leave bite marks that look like they came from a 7-footer. The doctor's making that up. There's no data.

My cousin's boyfriend's uncle caught a 100 pound rattler.
You've seen 'em on the Internet, some guy holding a 9-foot, 119-pound Western Diamondback on a stick. The guy is holding the poor pounded animal out to the camera, making it look bigger than it actually is. Put a 100-pound bag of concrete on a stick and hold it out in front of you. Go on, see if you can do it. You'll soon get an idea of how credible that story is.

Vandeventer is available for presentations and shows. Call 601-371-7414 for more information.

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