As we move into the heat of summer, one of the most common animals that can be seen by paddlers and hikers in the park is a snake. Snakes have been given one of the worst reputations in the animal world, yet they are an amazing and very beneficial animal. In honor of World Snake Day (July 16th) we thought we’d share a bit about these slithery characters.
In Kentucky, there are 32 species of snake, only four of which are venomous. Those four venomous snakes are the Copperhead, Cottonmouth, Timber rattlesnake, and the Pygmy rattlesnake (none of which can be found in The Parklands). The other 28 species of non-venomous snake typically kill their prey by constriction.
One note to point out, is that it is more appropriate to call a venomous snake “venomous” and not “poisonous”. Venom is modified saliva. It is a toxin that is used to capture and digest prey. In snakes, it is delivered by a set of fangs in the snakes mouth.
Other examples of animals that use venom are spiders and scorpions. Poison is a toxin that is used in a more defensive manner, typically to help the organism from being eaten by predators such as in Poison Ivy and Poison Dart frogs in tropical rainforests.
Snakes are extremely valuable because they are efficient at keeping the number of rodents and insects in check, without relying on damaging chemical pesticides which can degrade the environment and harm other animal species. Snakes are very effective at hunting such prey because they can crawl into small burrows and other areas that rodents use as shelters. These places are too small for other predators to get into.
Snakes are absolutely paramount to the health of many ecosystems, the environment and to biodiversity. They are extremely valuable components to the ecological communities in which they live; playing several complex roles, including that of predators and prey.
So, next time you see one, say “thanks”!
To read more about Kentucky Snakes, visit the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources web page on snakes.