Notice the shape of the head. (Photo: Chattanooga Zoo)

For snake enthusiasts, eastern Tennessee is a great place to live because while an abundance of snake species live here, only two are venomous: copperheads and timber rattlers. For the nonsnake enthusiasts, however, this abundance isn’t good news, regardless of whether the snake is venomous or not.

However, all snakes are vital to our area’s ecosystem and should be treated with respect-and never harmed unless it’s a life or death situation.

“Snakes play a vital role in ecosystems,” Ryan Witmer at the Chattanooga Zoo said. “They are a natural form of rodent control and help reduce the spread of disease, ticks and crop destruction.”

So to keep both yourself and snakes out of potentially dangerous situations, it’s best to familiarize yourself with their habits, appearances and homes.

Copperheads have a distinct coloring to them. (Photo: Chattanooga Zoo)

Copperheads prefer forest cover and are often found near water, but not in the water. Timber rattlers prefer to stay in forests and can often be found sunning themselves in sunlight breaking through the trees. Both species like to hide under rocks and other large objects. If at anytime you find yourself in habitat that resembles these descriptions, be alert and stay wary of the potential for danger.

If you encounter a snake, regardless of its danger level, leave it alone. Most snakes will not bite a human at random. Instead, most snakebites occur when people are messing with a snake and it is trying to defend itself.

“Admire (or retreat from) these majestic creatures, but do not poke them, try to pick them up or approach them,” Witmer said.

It’s also a good idea to learn to identify these species so you don’t mistake a nonvenomous snake for a venomous one.

Of course, the copperhead is a copperish color and rattlers have rattles on the ends of their tails. However, there are other identifiers to look for.

Both timber rattlers and copperheads have noticeable depressions between the eyes and nostrils. This is a pit that helps the snake sense heat. Their eyes also have vertical, elliptical pupils, whereas the nonvenomous snakes in our area have round pupils. Additionally, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes both have triangular heads that are wider than their necks; most nonvenomous snakes, especially in our area, have rounded heads.

Venomous snakes have pits on their faces that nonvenomous snakes do not have. (Photo: Chattanooga Zoo)

It’s a common misconception that you need to seek medical attention for bites from nonvenomous snakes, which is only true if you notice signs of infection or allergic reaction. Otherwise, just clean the bite wound thoroughly and keep an eye on it until it’s healed.

Should a bite from a venomous snake occur, you want to remain as calm as possible and keep your heart rate down. Next, clean the wound as best as you can and remove any jewelry because of the swelling that will occur as a reaction to the venom. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Overall, just remember to stay alert during the summer. Snakes are very helpful creatures that provide a variety of excellent, free services for us, and most only strike when scared. However, they are dangerous and should be avoided to prevent injury.

Learyn Miller graduated from UTC with a degree in nonprofit management in 2017 while working at the Chattanooga Zoo as an intern. After graduation, she was hired in the marketing department as the special events coordinator.

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