ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You wouldn’t want to stumble across one in the wild, but adults and saucer-eyed kids got up close and personal with both venomous and nonvenomous snakes from New Mexico on Saturday.
Tom Wyant, a volunteer with The Wildlife Center in Española was using his decades of experience with rescuing the animals to teach people about how the scaly creatures live and how people can be safe around them.
Tank after tank of snakes, some calm and curious, and others suspicious and rattling, were on display at the center. To some people, the scene sounds like a nightmare, but 3-year-old Andrew Bacrania of Los Alamos found it fascinating.
Bacrania drew close to Wyant so he could get a better look at some of the nonvenomous snakes the volunteer was handling. Bacrania said his favorite was a snake with red eyes and a red tongue, an albino bull snake that would likely not survive long in the wild, according to Wyant.
Bacrania was interested in some of the more menacing snakes as well.
“One (rattlesnake) was super loud,” he said. “It was so loud it almost busted my ears.”
Wyant said there are about 47 species and subspecies of nonvenomous snakes in New Mexico, about eight types of venomous rattlesnakes and a type of venomous coral snake. Wyant wore shin guards in case one of the demonstration snakes were to strike at him. He described the demonstration as partly a safety course.
Snakes mostly just want to be left in peace. “(Bites) are extremely rare if you leave the snake alone,” Wyant said.
Generally, the poisonous snakes in New Mexico will have sharp pointy tails, or rattles and diamond-shaped heads, Wyant said. Nonvenomous snakes, however, do a pretty good job of mimicking their more dangerous friends. Some, when threatened, flatten their heads to take on the shape of a venomous snake and their hissing can imitate the sound of a rattle.
Wyant said a good strategy for hiking outdoors in summer is to wear long pants rather than shorts. Snakes can sense heat, so someone walking in shorts would be perceived by some snakes as a large, threatening neon light.
A good idea when crossing fallen logs on a trail is to step on top of the log first, rather than stepping directly over it, Wyant said. That way, if a snake is on the other side of the log, it’s not being presented with a threat.
Wyant also suggested standing on the log, looking down and tapping on the other side with a walking stick, to cause the snake to start rattling.
“Tap on the ground,” he said. “The snake will be more than happy to let you know he’s there.”
Snakes react to movement, so if you do come across one and it starts to rattle, it’s a good idea to freeze, Wyant said. This gives both you and the snake some time to calm down, and you can look around quickly to see if there are any other snakes near you. You can also call for help.
Snake venom is extremely potent, Wyant warned. There are snakebite kits that can help, but if you’re bitten, Wyant said the best course of action is to call for help and seek medical attention immediately.