GUEST COLUMN: Red and Yellow, Friend or Whatever
Sunday, 05 August 2012 by Mark Magnan
Someone posted a photo of a snake that was found recently. Then came the discussion about how to tell if the snake was the poisonous variety or not. The snake in question was a coral snake. The rhyme to remember if a snake is a coral snake or the less dangerous type is: "Red and Yellow, kill a fellow, Red and Black, friend of Jack". The gist of the limerick is to note that if red and yellow bands are touching then the snake is the poisonous coral snake.
The Texas coral snake is native to this area. It is a ringed or banded snake, meaning the colored stripes are around the body and not down the sides. There are a couple of other snakes that have similar patterns to the coral snake. But I have been interested in snakes since I was a child, and I have never seen another similar snake. The milk snake is the only common snake that would be in the region with similar markings to the coral snake. The only time I have seen a milk snake was in captivity. This is the "friendly" snake in the rhyme.
Here in Texas we have a fair variety of snakes, many of which are poisonous. Mostly what we have are pit vipers, this is where the rattlesnake comes from. These are by far the more dangerous types of snakes that are native to Texas.
But let's be honest, snakes are a vital part of our environment. Rattlesnakes make their meals of rodents, rats and mice, those creatures that carry disease and spread filth wherever they go. Now something that eats rats is OK in my book. There are also snakes that will eat other snakes. So if we attempt to rid our world of snakes we are actually working against ourselves. We could see an increase of rodents and their epidemic of germs.
Why are people so afraid of snakes? Well the fear of snakes is literally of Biblical proportions. In Genesis when the serpent deceives Eve he is cursed for all times to crawl on the ground, and there is also enmity or hatred between the woman and the snake. This is the reason that women tend to fear snakes more than men. But also why snakes tend to run away from women as well, some of that may have to do with the screaming. So there is a good reason for the fear between humans and snakes.
Granted snakes are dangerous and can cause harm to us. But they also serve a valid link in the food chain. I am certainly not against the removal of a snake that is near a dwelling or people. But the wholesale hunting of snakes for "roundups" is not a good idea. This gets the balance off and could allow for an increase of other species. It is also not responsible to harvest without replanting, so to continue to remove one species without a way for that species to replenish itself is going to lead to a decline in the numbers.
So what is the safest way to handle an encounter with a snake? Regardless of the type of snake the best thing to do is to leave the snake alone. Chances are it will leave on its own. I have spent a lot of time in the woods in my younger days and have never been bitten by a snake that just happened to be in the vicinity.
The only time I was bitten by a snake was when I handled it or otherwise caused it stress. I did have the good sense to not handle a poisonous snake.
A snake will usually leave by itself.
Also seeing a snake doesn't mean that it lives nearby. But it could be an indication that the environment is favorable for snakes. So a bit of housekeeping might be in order to remove brush or debris that a snake might think would make a good home.
I had always heard that snakes travel in pairs, I have never found this to be true.
So treat any snake as if it could bite, which they can.
Remove and relocate snakes if possible, or call someone that can.
A coral snake can move rather quickly.
I have attempted to photograph them several times, they make poor subjects. Some other snakes don't move as fast, but some move like lightning. The saying goes "Red and Yellow" like on a stop light, this means caution and stop. But honestly in a way, all snakes are "friends of Jack", we just don't know it.