Snakes, rodents common summer visitors to base

by Staff Sgt. Sarah Loicano
Air University Public Affairs

7/13/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Runners and residents on base are encouraged to watch out for more than just the humidity and summer sun - snakes, raccoons, opossums and even feral cats have a presence around Maxwell.

"Snakes have been spotted by the base lakes, along River Road, by some buildings and base housing," said Bob Davis, 42nd Civil Engineer Squadron environmental technician. "Any time you are moving wood from a pile or pine straw or walking in high grass it is possible to find a snake."

Snakes are coldblooded animals that regulate their body heat through the outside air temperature. During the hot summer months that may mean people around base might be sharing the cooler parts of the day with snakes said Tech. Sgt. Michael Martin, 42nd Air Base Wing Safety office ground safety technician.

"The outside temperature has a lot to do with a snake's activity. In the summer, they are trying to stay cool so they are most active during the early morning and late evening hours and in areas of water and shade," he said. "In the fall and spring, snakes will be out in the warmest part of the day."

For the most part, Martin said snakes generally like to be left alone, and very few are territorial or aggressive, unless provoked. For this reason, anyone encountering a snake should back away slowly, and leave it alone.

Although it's best to leave a snake undisturbed, sometimes an encounter is unintentional and hard to avoid, especially if a person is running during the cooler hours of the day like Capt. Dan Langan, LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, learned when he encountered two snakes on his afternoon run in June.

While running near the woods on River Road, Langan came across two moccasins, one of which angrily lashed out at him.

"The first snake moved away pretty quickly when he saw me, but the second was in the road and I thought it was just a piece of bark or a stick at first," he said. "It wasn't until I was pretty much on top of it that I realized it was very much a water moccasin and I thankfully noticed at the last minute."

Certain areas around base have more appeal for a snake, especially when it's hot outside, such as River Road, the boat launch and anywhere near the base lakes. They can even be found in gardens, where it's moist and shady.

To help differentiate between dangerous and non-poisonous snakes on base, Davis said to look at the snake's head for clues.

"One can use head shapes to determine venomous snakes. Triangle shaped heads usually point to a venomous snake, while a 'U' shaped head points to a non-venomous snake," Davis said. "All poisonous snakes possess a vertical elliptical cat-like shaped pupil. Venomous snake will possess a small depression between the eye and nostrils. This is termed a pit, which is used to sense heat in their prey."

If the snake has stripes from head to tail, chances are it is a non-venomous snake, he added.

In order to stay safe, Davis recommends people keep their distance from snakes, regardless if they're venomous or not.

"When you do see a snake, treat it as poisonous, keep a good distance from it and call entomology for removal. If bitten, call for medical help immediately," he said.

Some of the more common snakes found on base are rattlesnakes, cotton mouths and water moccasins.

"We're right here on the river, so you're going to have all kinds of animals, and with the amount of water on base, there are a lot of life forms attracted to that, from rabbits and squirrels to rats," Martin said.

To report a snake or vicious animal sighting, call entomology at 953-3333.