Flooding displaces wildlife in Southeast Missouri

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Human beings weren't the only population disrupted by the recent flooding. High waters have also forced wildlife from their habitats.

Among the displaced groups of animals on many minds are snakes.

"With regard to snakes, the flooding certainly disrupted their habitat and the places they're used to hanging around. They're having to find a new place to bask, feed and cool off," said A.J. Hendershott, regional supervisor for outreach and education for the Missouri Department of Conservation's Southeast Region.

Because the snakes are displaced, that means they might be wandering into new territory, Hendershott said.

"This time of year we get a lot of snake [spotting] calls anyway. Most of the summer, snakes go nocturnal," he said.

Sikeston code enforcement supervisor Trey Hardy said so far this season, the city's code enforcement officers have received a only one report of a snake spotting, on Missouri Street.

"I can't say for sure it was associated with the flood because it's not unusual this time of year to see snakes," Hardy said.

Even though most snakes in this area do more good than harm, this year residents may want to be extra-cautious, Hendershott said.

"If you see a snake, it's best to leave it alone," Hendershott said. "Snakes really don't deal well with people because they see us as a threat."

King snakes, black rat snakes, water snakes and garter snakes are the four most common snakes found in this region, Hendershott said.

Most Southeast Missouri species are nonvenomous, "but that doesn't mean they're not cranky," Hendershott said.

"Snakes that are panicked make odd decisions, and snakes are not real bright," he said. "If someone is cleaning up after the flood and sees a snake under debris, it's best to leave it alone."

Residents should be careful about where they put their hands and feet. For example, when moving a big piece of plywood, a person should lift it so the plywood is between them and whatever is on the other side.

"Move it where you're not exposed," Hendershott said.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, likely places to find snakes around homes include firewood stacked directly on the ground, old lumber or junk piles, gardens and flower beds with heavy mulch, untrimmed shrubs and shrubs growing next to a foundation, unmowed and unkept lawns, abandoned lots and fields with tall vegetation, pond and stream banks with abundant debris and trash, cluttered basements and attics with a rodent, bird or bat problem and feed storage areas in barn haylofts where rodents abound.

Besides biting, a snake's biggest defense is to get away and hide, Hendershott said.

"Snakes like to feel secure," Hendershott said. "The way we manage our yards with mowing and weed eating -- they don't like that. They like the landscaping and shrubs -- things that look good for a mouse. They want a dry spot, a place to hide under, like a wood pile. They like to be secretive and get away."

The region's excess water has also affected the insect population.

"Anytime you have a lot of water, insects that like to use water for reproduction are going to enjoy it. It will be bad for some insects like mosquitoes and good for some, like dragonflies, which are predators and eat mosquitoes," Hendershott said.

Some residents have already noticed a swarm of another pesky insect this year, which Hendershott thinks may be midge flies.

"Midge flies resemble gnats, but they're very small flies," Hendershott said. "I suspect we have had a hatch [of midge flies] across the region."

In an effort to prevent providing more habitat than mosquitoes need, Hendershott suggested homeowners make sure they remove items from their yards that catch water, such as buckets or old tires.

Dragonflies, on the other hand, help control the insect population so an increase in their population is welcomed, he said.

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