Now that summer is in full swing, it is an appropriate time to think about an animal that is all too common that most people would rather not deal with – snakes.

While images from horror movies might come to mind when talking about snakes, their negative reputation is entirely undeserved and their role in nature is misunderstood, said Gene Zirkle, a wildlife biologist in the Environmental Division, Fort Campbell Directorate of Public Works.

While snakes deserve our respect and appreciation, Zirkle understands not everyone shares his enthusiasm for the reptile. Rather than killing them, he advises Fort Campbell residents to take steps to minimize their chances of coming across them.

Keep your yard clean

Snakes are apex predators, and so they hunt their prey. The simplest and easiest way to keep snakes out of the yard is to keep it clean and free of debris.

“If people would just clean their area, keep it mowed, pick the trash up and take things away that rodents would want to live in, you minimize the chance of encountering a snake, Zirkle said.

Snakes are a nomadic species that tend to wander while searching for food, he said. Snakes can be found in tall grass, wood piles or trash and debris, as well as near creeks or riverbeds, and often sunbathe on the rocks or riverbanks. Anywhere that could become a home to animals that a snake would consider a food source or a place where snakes would hunt should be considered a potential habitat. Put simply, remove the potential food source and the odds of coming across a snake are significantly reduced.

Karsten Haake, project director, Campbell Crossing, said if a resident encounters a snake on their premises, they should call the maintenance line, 931-431-3966.

“An emergency work order will be created and a pest control operator will be dispatched to the home,” he said. “Safety being a top priority, we do ask residents to stay a safe distance away from the snake, but try to keep an eye on its location until the pest control professional arrives.”

Stan Summers, pest control supervisor, Fort Campbell Directorate of Public Works, said they are responsible for pests such as snakes found in the garrison area and the barracks.

“Do not try to catch the snake,” Summers said. “Walk away and put in a work order by calling the DPW work order section at 270-798-1200 for emergency, life, health and safety needs.”

Animals that are caught by DPW pest control will be released in the wooded rear area of the installation, he said.

Venomous snakes

There are three types of venomous snakes on Fort Campbell – Timber Rattlesnakes, Pygmy Rattlesnakes and Copperheads.

Copperheads are the most common venomous snakes here, Zirkle said, but encounters with them comprise around 5% of those reported on the installation.

Soldiers and their Families should not be alarmed if they come across a venomous snake, because it is very easy to avoid getting bitten. Even if a bite does happen, while painful, dying of a snake bite is a rare occurrence in the United States, Zirkle said.

“Fewer than 10 people die every year in the United States from snake bites, it’s not a very large number, and most of those people perish because they didn’t seek medical attention,” he said.

If bitten seek medical attention

While snake bites are rare, especially if snakes are left alone, they do happen, Zirkle said. In the event of a snake bite, the best thing to do is stay calm.

“If you have a pen or something, circle the wound and then put the time on it, and take all your jewelry off, that way when you go to medical care, they know where the bite’s at and what time it occurred,” he said. “That helps them triage that wound.”

It is essential to remain as calm as possible and keep the affected area below the heart, Zirkle said. Staying calm keeps the heart rate low and will keep the venom from spreading quickly.

Additionally, it is important not to try to treat the wound yourself by sucking out the venom or cutting it open, he warns, and under no circumstance should a tourniquet be used and pain medication should not be taken.

A tourniquet could cut off blood flow and make the affected limb worse and taking pain meds while the venom travels through the body could worsen symptoms.

The best course of action is to call 911 or go the nearest emergency treatment center.

Venom types and effects

There are three main types of toxins produced by venomous snakes – cytotoxins, neurotoxins and hemotoxins. Snakes that can be found on Fort Campbell carry neurotoxins and hemotoxins.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, neurotoxins attack the nervous system and disrupt chemical signals that pass between neurotransmitters. Snake bites that contain this type of venom can produce difficulty breathing and muscle paralysis.

Hemotoxins are responsible for the destruction of blood cells and can lead to internal bleeding or organ damage and failure by preventing blood from clotting normally. Bites that contain hemotoxins often show significant tissue damage at the site of the bite.

Copperhead venom is hemotoxic, while rattlesnakes have a mixture of both hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom.

This might sound scary, but Zirkle insists if treated properly, the effects of a venomous snake bite are painful but not fatal.

Most snakes are harmless

While there are venomous snakes on the installation and it is a possibility to come across one, Zirkle said he hopes people will remember most snakes are non-venomous and what people think is a venomous snake is often a case of mistaken identity.

The rat snake, for example, can use its tail to make a sound similar to that of a rattlesnake as a means of self-defense, and the Midland Water Snake is often mistaken for a Water Moccasin or Cottonmouth.

The most common snakes on Fort Campbell are rat snakes, garter snakes and black racers, none of which are venomous, but all of which are important to keep pests like rats and mice in check.

“If we didn’t have snakes we’d be overrun by rodents,” Zirkle said “They’re an apex predator that controls all those small rodent populations that have a tendency to expand real quickly when you take the predators away.”

Snakes deserve our respect because their role in the ecosystem is a valuable one, he said.

“Every species has its place whether people like it or not, “ Zirkle said. “Snakes have a very key pivotal role to keep the balance of the ecosystem.”