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Bob Jankowski wants to make one thing clear right up front: Snakes are our friends.
Oh sure, Jankowski, operator of Critter Control of the Triad, a pest-removal organization, knows most people aren’t going to believe what he says — that they’re going to turn and run at the sight of a snake.
But Jankowski said their fears are unfounded.
“They perceive snakes as being evil creatures, and they’re not,” he said of the public’s reaction to a glimpse of a slithering reptiles. “They perform an invaluable service. They help keep rodents under control. They’re not aggressive.”
Jankowski has been in high demand in recent days, answering media questions since news broke last week that North Carolina leads the nation in copperhead bites. According to the Carolinas Poison Center of Charlotte, 228 people in the state were bitten by copperheads last year.
The news has stirred interest in snakes, creatures that most of us would just as soon forget.
“They’re actually pretty slow,” Jankowski said of copperheads. “They’re going to avoid humans if at all possible.”
He said copperhead bites are pretty rare, despite the fact North Carolina leads the nation in such strikes. People generally have to virtually step on one of the snakes to get it to bite, Jankowski said.
But in his next breath, Jankowski admitted, “I’ve seen some pretty nasty bites,” and said, “I’ve got two of the biggest copperheads I’ve ever seen sitting in my office right now.”
Jankowski plucked those creatures from Triad neighborhoods and planned to relocate the snakes before releasing them. Critter Control of the Triad is a no-kill organization.
“They’re too important to us to kill,” Jankowski said of snakes.
He said he works to educate children about all the wonderful qualities a snake possesses. Jankowski generally visits a number of third-grade classrooms over the course of a year. He’ll stand before the children, then reach inside a bag and pull out a snake.
“You get the attention of 30 third-graders real fast when you do that,” Jankowski said. “At that age, they’re not afraid.”
The same can’t be said of their parents, he said.
“All they know is, they don’t want that animal there,” Jankowski said of the typical adult’s reaction to a snake.
He said more snakes have been on the move this summer, the hot weather a large part of the reason. Jankowski said snakes have been coming indoors at a larger number than usual this year, seeking to regulate their body temperatures as the mercury soars.
That’s typically when Jankowski or someone else in the critter-removal business receives a call.
“When treated properly, they’re not dangerous,” Jankowski said of snakes. “You just don’t want to step on them, and you don’t want to handle them.”
Tony Sharum, a sergeant with the N.C. Wildlife Commission who serves Davidson and Rowan counties, agrees.
“They try to avoid you,” he said of snakes in general and copperheads in particular. “People usually get bitten when they step on one. They depend on their camouflage.”
According to the Carolinas Medical Center, there are about 45,000 snakebites in the United States each year. North Carolina leads the nation with an average of 19 snakebites per 100,000 residents. The national average is about four bites per 100,000. A spokeswoman for Lexington Memorial Hospital said the hospital hasn’t treated a venomous snakebite this year.
Sharum said it’s not unusual to see copperheads in the wild, especially after dark and following a rain when the creatures seek asphalt or other warm areas on which to lie. He said joggers who go for a run on country roads after dark run the risk of stepping on a snake curled up for an early-evening snooze.
Sharum said individuals who have the misfortune of being bitten by a snake need to remain calm and immediately seek medical treatment. He said it’s important to remember that the odds of dying from a snakebite are minuscule.
The injury is going to hurt, Sharum said, but it’s as important to remember what not to do as remember what to do.
“Don’t do a John Wayne, cut around the wound and try to suck the venom out,” he said. “That’s not smart.”
Nor should individuals apply tourniquets to restrict the flow of blood.
“As much as possible, you need to stay calm,” Sharum said. “If you take off running, it’s just going to raise your heart rate and spread the poison.”
Credits: By Steve Huffman - The-Dispatch.com