STILLWATER, Okla. – The vast majority of the more than 40 species of snake found in Oklahoma are nonvenomous, but that does not mean they do not strike fear in many people.
However, snakes would rather avoid people and are incredibly important animals.
“Snakes, both venomous and nonvenomous, cause great anxiety in many people and are considered cold-blooded killers,” said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. “They are cold-blooded, of course, but unless you are a rodent, frog, insect or earthworm, you have little to fear.”
Fortunately, most of the snakes capable of inflicting injury are very docile.
“Many bites occur as a result of someone harassing the snake or putting their hands under objects without looking first,” he said. “Rattlesnakes come to mind when most people think of venomous snakes.”
Note the term venomous, rather than poisonous. Venomous animals inject a toxin directly into their prey as opposed to poisonous animals, which contain a toxin within portions of their bodies that cause harm if ingested or touched.
“Five species of rattlesnake occur in Oklahoma, including the timber, western diamond-backed, prairie, western massasauga and western pygmy,” Elmore said. “The prairie rattlesnake can, on occasion, show some temper, but the remainder are typically mild in nature.”
The copperhead is a common venomous snake in the eastern half of Oklahoma. They can be unbelievably docile, but do occasionally bite noisy dogs and errant hands.
“Their beautiful, but cryptic coloration calls for a sharp eye when moving yard debris,” he said.
It is commonly believed every water snake is a venomous “water-moccasin,” but, this is not accurate.
“While there are several species of water snakes in Oklahoma, only one species, the western cottonmouth, is venomous,” Elmore said. “Although cottonmouth often act aggressive, their bark is worse than their bite.”
All snakes provide important ecological services, including those that are venomous. Elmore suggests using some caution when spending time outdoors, and simply walking away from snakes you may encounter, as they are an important part of the ecosystem and should not be harassed or killed.