Often times snakes get a bad rap. They’re usually more frightened by you than you are of them, and you’ll most likely overlook them if you’re trekking through the woods.
“Venomous species only tend to use their venom in defense when absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Brian Greene, professor of biology at Missouri State University. “Most of the snakes you find aren’t looking for a fight and will only attempt to bite you if you touch them.”
There are several species of snakes in the Ozarks, but the ones people run into the most include water snakes, garter snakes, black rat snakes, prairie king snakes and speckled king snakes. Most of the other species are very difficult to find because they hide under something.
“There are four venomous species here in southwest Missouri, including two rattlesnakes,” said Greene. “The most commonly encountered venomous snake is the copperhead because they’re found basically everywhere in Missouri.”
The venomous species include the timber rattlesnake, the pigmy rattlesnake, the copperhead, and the cottonmouth. If you do come across a snake, there are a couple of key identifying marks you can look for to help you figure out if it is venomous.
“If you see a snake with a long stripe down its body you can automatically know that it is not venomous,” said Greene. “Unfortunately, as far as coloring and other features that can be seen from a distance it is far more difficult to determine because venomous and nonvenomous snakes look so similar.”
Most features would require you get very close or touch the snake to identify it. Venomous snakes in this area have a secondary hole in their head used for infrared vision, and their scales beneath their tail run in the opposite direction of nonvenomous snakes.
“There are several thousand people a year bitten by snakes, and fewer than 10 deaths,” said Greene. “You’re much more likely to be killed by a dog bite or a lightning strike than to be killed by a snake bite.”