Expert teaches Fluvanna about snakes

By Page H. Gifford

            There is no doubt that people cringe when one mentions snakes and upon seeing one slithering away in the grass, their first instinct is to kill it. Biologist and snake expert Larry Mendoza, spoke to a packed audience at a program Saturday, Aug. 24, sponsored by the Lake Monticello Wildlife Committee. Mendoza was straightforward regarding the misconceptions about snakes. By the end of the program, no one wanted to particularly embrace the reptiles he brought with him but many of the children stood in awe and fascination of these creatures and managed to touch them without fear. And even a few adults joined in as well.


  A volunteer and former president of the Virginia Herpetological Society, he has had experience with a variety of snakes and used humor and facts to set the record straight on snakes; especially the dreaded copperhead and timber rattlesnake.

            “Snakes are the most misunderstood animal and it is because of fear that people are bent on killing them,” he said. “I want to acquaint people with snakes without shovel or shotgun.” It was clear by their questions, that a majority of the people in the room were not only terrified of what they didn’t know but admitted killing snakes. Their goal was to eradicate them from their yards by any means possible.

However, Mendoza noted “it is illegal in the state of Virginia to kill any snake unless they are posing a threat to you or your family.”

            He began by discussing snakes by different categories and species.

            “Some lay eggs and some develop a way to live bear but not as an egg but in a membrane but not like other animals with a placenta and a passage of nutrients,” he said. “There are ectothermic animals, and cannot regulate their body temperature, so their temperature fluctuates according to their surroundings. For example, if they get overheated they will go off to a cooler environment and if they get too cold they will search for a place to get warm.” The common informal term “cold-blooded” associated with snakes, is deceptive because ectotherms blood isn’t cold.

            “There are 24 families of snakes on all continents except Antarctica. They are highly evolved tetrapods,” he said. “They have an inner ear and hear through vibrations from the ground. They lack eyelids and sleep with their eyes open. They smell with their forked tongues, which is their nasal passages. Their fangs are used for more than biting but to manipulate prey to eat.”

            There are five families of snakes in Virginia. Among them are the egg-laying snakes, which are harmless and include the common corn, rat, and king snakes. There is also the category of live-bearing, slender and robust rear-fanged snakes which are also harmless. The snakes in the pit-viper family are dangerous and venomous, including the copperhead.

            “There are five areas of Virginia where these snakes are found. Knowing your area and where certain snakes come from rules out certain species. “He added that we are unlikely to see a canebreak rattler in our area and they are endangered. He then discussed the snakes that might be seen in central Virginia or the Piedmont region.  One of the most common is the rat snake, which can grow to 80 inches in length. “Most snakes in Virginia are usually one foot or over two feet.”

            “A baby rat snake resembles a copperhead with its gray and black markings but they turn all black as adults. They are climbers and swimmers and keep the rodent population down  and like birds and bird eggs.” He said it was not uncommon to see rat snake sheddings in attics since they are climbers and get access through the vents and get the rodents who are up in these areas. “Black racers look similar but have white under their chins and they eat mostly frogs, lizards and will go after copperheads. They are one of the good guys.”

            “The eastern garter snake is common and often seen around gardens. Sometimes they may puff out their jaw and hiss a bit but is all show, they are harmless.” He mentioned the northern water snake, often mistaken for a water moccasin, which does not exist in our area and can only be found in southeast Virginia. “They are often confused with a copperhead as well but you can tell them apart because they float and copperheads don’t. The northern water snake is harmless.”

            The northern rough green snake eats bugs and lizards and is harmless. It turns blue when it dies. Worm snakes live up to their name, looking like worms and can be found under logs and rocks. He mentioned snakes with apparent markings such as the red-bellied snake, Dekay’s brown snake, the northern ring-necked snake (yellow ring around its neck), and the uncommon eastern smooth earth snake, a taupe colored with dots. The most familiar snakes often seen are the ribbon-snakes, related to the garter snake. It has ribbons flowing down its back and is seen near water, rivers and, streams.

            The most beautiful and vibrant colored snakes were the red corn snake (related to the rat snake) and the eastern king-snake, who specializes in eating other snakes. He did add that it is not unusual to find to separate species living together like a black snake with a copperhead.

            “One of the funniest snakes is the hog-nosed, which if it feels threatened it will rear up and puff out its jaw and hiss. But when you won’t go away, it suddenly plays dead and flips over on its back. If you flip it right side up, it will flip back over on its back and not move. Then if you walk away, once it sees the coast is clear, it will slither away.” He added there are other snakes, including the queen-snake, often seen in the area of Natural Bridge, the northern mole snake, the eastern milk-snake, and the scarlet king-snake, only found in a few counties. All of these snakes are harmless.

            “There are 20 species of non-venomous snakes and three of venomous pit-vipers, among them the infamous copperhead. When they are young, they have a yellow tail and the adults have markings similar to Hershey kisses, hourglasses or bow ties,” he said. “A timber rattler has sig-sag markings.” He said you can tell the difference between non-venomous and venomous snakes by looking at a couple of features for each species. Non-venomous will have round eyes and pupils, two rows of scales no pit sensor (holes on their faces used to detect prey) and nostrils. Venomous snakes have elliptical eyes and pupils, a heat-sensing pit and one row of scales.

            After describing the variety of snake in Virginia, he talked about the role snakes play in nature and contribute to mankind in invaluable ways.

            “Their venom is used in medical research for cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and blood pressure.” He followed by giving tips to interact properly with snakes. “Most people get bitten by interacting aggressively. If you see one running toward you, it is not an aggressive act, they are going toward a safe habitat and you are in the way of their path.”

            He added, to properly remove a snake, get a broom, brush, rake, and sweep it into a trash can and release it into the woods. To snake-proof your house, add chicken wire to crawl spaces and attic vents. Remove wood and brush piles and keep grass mowed. They will reduce bug and rodent populations.

            “As areas are developed, they will shift their habitats.” For more information, visit  for a wide variety of information on snakes and identifying them. Also, check out YouTube videos on the hog-nosed snake and others.

Related Posts

dewi88 cuanslot dragon77 cuan138 enterslots rajacuan megahoki88 ajaib88 warung168 fit188 pusatwin pusatwin slot tambang88 mahkota88 slot99 emas138