Snakes in your garden? Thank goodness!

Harmless Prairie King Snake used for demonstrations

For most people, a snake is the last thing they want to see lurking around their lawn or garden, but kids at Farm Safety Day at Mark Twain High School got a much different perspective on Missouri snakes Saturday.

"Snakes are very beneficial to farmers and everyone else. People get cats to put them in their barns to get rid of mice, but yet they'll kill a snake if they see it in their barn and the snakes are actually better mousers," Chris Cox with the Missouri Department of Conservation said.

If farmers and gardeners are not convinced to switch from cats to snakes yet, think of all the money it could save.

"Mice and rats cause billions in damage to farmers every year by getting into grain bins and getting into people's houses and tearing stuff up and snakes are ideal," Cox said.

Of course snakes, like any wild animal, need to be kept at a distance.

"Any snake will bite you if you try to pick it up, it's just its common nature. It thinks you're going to hurt it so it's natural reaction is to bite," Cox said.

Venomous snake bites are rarely fatal, but will swell and be extremely painful. Fortunately there are only two venomous snaked in northeast missouri, the copperhead and the timber rattlesnake.

It is rare to see either snake, but especially the timber rattlesnake. Both are non-aggressive and try to avoid humans. The prairie king snake is often misidentified as a copperhead because of its similar markings.

That is why conservation officers showed kids how to safely identify a venomous snake.

"You can look at your thumb, and you can see the head of the snake is very similar to your thumb. If you look at the venomous snakes, of course, they have the venom gland on top of their head and as a result they'll have a large triangular head and a very small neck," Cox demonstrated for the group.

Most likely the snakes that are commonly spotted here are the non-venomous variety, such at the prairie king snake, black rat snake, and garter snake. Rest assured that venomous or not, snakes only bite for two reasons, either they are scared or hungry. Cox assured a few skeptics in the audience that no northeast Missouri snake is large enough to feed on humans.

This far north in Missouri there are no water moccasins, also known as a cottonmouth, but people will see harmless eastern water snakes.

Due to the current severe heat wave, snakes are actually less likely to be seen. They hide under rocks and brush to stay cool.

The only time you should kill a snake is if you've been bitten. Then you should bring it to the doctor's office or hospital with you for identification and treatment.