I was out for a morning walk with Captain Marshall recently on the Lake Fayetteville trail, totally enjoying the morning sunshine, and guess what? We were not the only ones enjoying the sunshine. I glanced to the side of the pavement and right next to the trail there she was….. a snake. Oh, My!!!!

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Captain Marshall took this photo of the snake at Lake Fayetteville.

She was a copperhead, a venomous snake, and she was very close to us. Captain Marshall was calm, of course, and even though I was nervous about her close proximity, I could not help but admire her beautiful colors. She did not move for quite a while, even when several people stopped to look, but then she slowly wound her way back into the underbrush.

Now, let me back up a little bit. When I was a kid, I was crazy scared of snakes. This is pretty much what I looked like when I saw a snake anywhere near.

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I’m not sure where my fear came from, but I just couldn’t help it. Maybe it was from all the Tarzan movies I watched, where Tarzan had to wrestle giant snakes in the water to save Jane. My Dad would get mad because he thought my fear of snakes was silly. Well, maybe he was right, but I’ve never had a snake chase me or bite me, and I have lived in a lot of places that have snakes.

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A snake enjoying its habitat at Lake Fayetteville Park.

I like to think that my fear of snakes kept me safe. However, when I got a bit older I decided that I needed to overcome my fear.  I visited the reptile house at the zoo and I petted the tail of a very, very large boa constrictor while it was held by its handler. (I tried, but just couldn’t pet its head!)

Moving to Arkansas gave me the opportunity to see more snakes in their native habitat. I have seen several at Lake Fayetteville and now like to take the time to watch them and take photos. I finally decided that snakes just want to survive and enjoy life like we do, sunning on a log, swimming around the lake, or eating their dinner.

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Another photo of a Copperhead at Lake Fayetteville by my friend, Lisa Netherland.

My Dad would say, “If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”   I finally believe him, but I won’t lie to you; I still feel a tinge of fear when I come upon a snake. Even so, I welcome the opportunity to see them healthy and alive in the wild and I respect their place in our world.

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A snake sunning itself on a log at Lake Fayetteville.

Arkansas is home to 36 species of snakes, of which only 6 are venomous (poisonous), but any snake can bite you.

Here are some tips on how to avoid a bad encounter with a snake:

  • Pay attention and watch where you are walking; not just in the daytime but at night too, because snakes are active at night. If you are going to step over a log or a large rock, look on the other side first to make sure you won’t be stepping on a snake.  Make noise when you are walking through brushy, grassy, or rocky areas.
  • Be aware that snakes could be in the water near where you are swimming or fishing. If you are near the shoreline, be careful where you stick your hands. If you are helping with a lake cleanup, it is a good idea to have “grabbers” to reach the trash floating along the shoreline.
  • If you do see a snake, stop your forward motion, back up or turn around and put some distance between the snake and you. Find another path to take. Remember, you are in their habitat.
  • People do get bitten by snakes, but most do not die from their snakebites. Stay as calm as you can and have someone drive you to the nearest hospital for treatment. Do not try to treat a snakebite yourself. Try to remember what the snake looks like so you can describe it to the hospital staff.

To learn more about Arkansas snakes, check out a book at your local library or visit the Arkansas Game and Fish website, www.agfc.com, and search for the Arkansas Snake Guide, which is in PDF format and can be printed.

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Click the photo above to download the PDF version of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Arkansas Snake Guide.

I hope you will take the time to learn more about snakes. They are very unique creatures and they are found almost everywhere in the world. Knowing more about them will help you stay safe while you are out exploring our beautiful Illinois River Watershed!