Program tries to ease snake fears

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Wendy, a 3 1/2-foot-long bull snake, wound herself around Bill Brooks neck and arms, wiggling her forked tongue frequently. Wendy slithered on, gently tickling Brooks' ear.

"Wendy is more afraid of me because I'm bigger," Brooks said. "You've got to get to know them."

Brooks, a volunteer, and seasonal naturalist Julie Beardsley led a team that was focused on turning fear of snakes into understanding at a Trail of Tears program on Saturday. About 20 attended.

Brooks said that five years ago he was afraid of snakes, but explained it was important to observe their behavior and respond accordingly.

"Only when she's going to eat will she squeeze," Brooks said of 12-year-old Wendy. The bull snake is a constricter, which means it squeezes its prey in an effort to make them easier to swallow.

Born in captivity, Wendy was relaxed and at ease, while her roommate, a younger snake named Little Bull that was caught in Iron County, appeared a bit more agitated until he found a warm spot on Brooks' hand. Bull snakes, not indigenous to Southeast Missouri, can reach 8 feet in length and live up to 30 years.

Brooks gave two other reasons not to be afraid of snakes: They're the most efficient mousetrap and no one has ever died of a snake bite in Missouri.

Out of 50 species indigenous to Missouri, only five types of snakes are venomous. The timber rattlesnake, copperhead and cottonmouth are found in Southeast Missouri; while the endangered massasauga rattlesnake and pygmy rattlenake are found in other parts of the state.

George Dordoni of Cape Girardeau has enjoyed four of the Trail of Tears programs with sons Benji, 9, Joey, 6, and Danny, 2.

"The boys are interested in animals and reptiles. Benji, particularly, is interested in snakes," he said.

Outside the visitors center the boys tried to catch lizards, spiders and anything else that moved.

335-6611, extension 133

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