In regards to snakes, social distancing always a good idea

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This cottonmouth, also known as water moccasin, is in a defensive posture, used as a scare tactic. FRANK FLEMING

Every so often, someone posts a picture of a snake on social media. Sometimes it's a live snake, sometimes dead. The person might ask what kind of snake it is, often adding, "Is it a good snake?"

The answer should always be "yes." There are no bad snakes.

South Carolina is home to 38 native species of snakes. They are all good. Each has its place in the natural order of things. Six of those species, however, are venomous and a couple are highly venomous. Close encounters can be dangerous.

The good news is that snakes, venomous and otherwise, are experts at social distancing. They will proverbially tie themselves into knots to avoid us. We are not their food. We are much too big.

Plus, venomous snakes really don't want to spend precious venom on us unless they feel cornered. They would much rather avoid it.

That is one reason why even regular hikers in the woods don't see snakes often. Snakes are present but elusive.

So what good are snakes? They are neither cuddly nor friendly and provoke an almost instinctive fear in many of us.

Snakes keep down the rat and rodent populations that can spread several diseases to humans. Did you now there are 35 diseases that rats and rodents can transmit to people?

Smaller snakes eat insects and grubs that can cause a good deal of damage to your garden and yard.

Our venomous snakes offer additional advantages to us, provided we don't get too close. Snake venom is often used as a key in producing medicine for people. It's not the venom itself, but the compounds in venom that offer clues in the development of drugs used in the treatment in some forms of cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and others.

So while all snakes are "good," in many ways, the venomous snakes are even more beneficial to humans. However, the best thing to do for both the snake and humans is to simply keep our distance.

The average person might have difficulty discerning the venomous from the non-venomous snake, and there is no reason to find out the hard way. Many websites offer photos to help distinguish the venomous from the non-venomous. For South Carolina snakes, visit the Department of Natural Resources at dnr.sc.gov and search "snakes."

One of the lessons we should learn is that, while humans are the dominant species on the planet, it is hubris to think we are the only species that matters.

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek. john.a.riolo@gmail.com

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