DNR biologist shows off snakes at Canaan Valley
DAVIS – More than 100 youth and adults gathered Saturday evening at the Canaan Valley State Park Lodge to learn about an animal that strikes fear in even the bravest – snakes. West Virginia Department of Natural Resources biologist Jim Fregonara not only shared information, but also gave attendees the opportunity to see both non-poisonous and poisonous snakes up close.
Fregonara said West Virginia has 22 kinds of snakes, and only two of those – the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead – are poisonous. He shared a saying, “If eyes are round, no venom found. If eyes are slit, don’t get bit,” helping folks remember how to distinguish poisonous from non-poisonous snakes, but cautions, that only works for W.Va. snakes.
“Most people in West Virginia cannot stand snakes,” Fregonara said. “Hopefully at the end of this presentation you may not like snakes, but at least you will learn enough to just leave them alone. They are not going to bite you unless you bother them.”
Fregonara brought along three snakes that were shown around by his daughter, Julia – and folks, especially the younger ones – enjoyed meeting them up close. These was a milk snake, a green snake and an Eastern corn snake. He also showed a live timber rattlesnake and a Northern copperhead.
“Usually when you are bitten by a snake, you are doing something that you shouldn’t,” Fregonara said. “There have been no deaths in West Virginia in the past 50 years from copperhead snake bites.”
But Fregonara stressed that people, especially kids, should not play with copperheads.
“If you are bitten by a copperhead, you will have to go to the hospital, and you will probably miss a few days of school,” Fregonara said. “Then a week later, you will be home and be OK, but the week after that, your parents are going to go to the mailbox and see a big, thick envelope from the local hospital. Your parents will look at that very last number and it will be so big. A bite from a poisonous snake could set you back between $30,000 to $50,000 or more. Don’t mess with venomous snakes.”
Snakes have hundreds of bones.
“We have 12 ribs on each side of our bodies, but snakes have hundreds of ribs. Their ribs are free-flowing and they control their muscles and scales. Also if we were snakes, we would be able to open our mouths very wide. They have extra bones in their jaws.
“All snakes are predators and they eat other animals,” Fregonara said. “In West Virginia they eat worms, slugs, grasshoppers, fish, crayfish, frogs, toads, salamanders and birds. Some snakes even eat other snakes. They play an important role in the food webs. And lots of mammal love to eat snakes – coyotes, opossums, skunks, bears, foxes and bobcats. Lots of birds such as crows, ravens, owls and hawks love to eat snakes. So snakes play an important role in the food chains.”
Additional information about West Virginia snakes is available online at www.wvdnr.gov or by calling the DNR office at 304-637-0245.
Submitted By Beth Christian Broschart