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Snakes: Is a good dog a dead dog?
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Last time I was here I shared the first portion of Dr. David Steen’s blog entry, “The only good dog is a dead dog” — a logical and fact-based approach to a very emotionally charged subject — snakes.
The complete article is too long for my space here, so like Gaul, it is divided into three parts. This week, I’m sharing the second portion of the blog entry.
Steen received his Ph.D. from Auburn University, his M.S. from the State University of New York-College of Environmental Science and Forestry and his B.S. from the University of New Hampshire. He researches the ecology and conservation biology of wildlife and blogs about his work at
I contacted him for permission to share it here. This is a reprint of that blog. You can find the cited references at
I think there is a common misconception that if you see a venomous snake in your yard, your chances of being bitten by one have suddenly skyrocketed. Here’s why I think this is seldom the case: It is very unusual for a venomous snake to just emerge from the depths of hell of the forest and take up residence in an area that is not good snake habitat. If you live in or around venomous snake habitat, you walk by venomous snakes every single day without knowing it.
Snakes are extremely secretive creatures. I did not fully appreciate this fact until I started participating in snake radio-tracking studies. Often, even though my receiver was telling me that there was a snake right in front of me, I couldn’t see it. I’ve heard similar stories from eastern diamondback rattlesnake researchers that stepped past, over and, yes, even on rattlesnakes while they were tracking them. Sometimes, they’re practically invisible.
Every once in a while though, you may see one in your yard. This doesn’t mean that this one snake is a danger to you, it just happened to be the one that was unlucky enough to be seen. Killing this one individual snake doesn’t address the fact that you are surrounded by them. And killing them one by one is not a long-term solution to sharing your land with rattlesnakes, it’s just an isolated and dangerous activity repeated over and over (keep reading for alternative strategies).
Do you make a habit of killing all the dogs in your neighborhood? If you kill venomous snakes for your family’s safety, then it makes sense for you to kill dogs as well. Dogs generally kill more than 30 people in this country each year (3).
Do you hide everyone’s car keys and stay off of the roads? If you kill venomous snakes for your family’s safety, then it makes sense for you to do so. In the United States, roughly 90 people are killed in car accidents every single day (4).
What about the dangers in your very own backyard? About 15 children die every year on playgrounds (three times as many people that die from snakebite, 5), yet we push our children towards them. Why don’t we dismantle all the playgrounds? From a risk standpoint it makes more sense to do so than killing a venomous snake (and it is safer, too). And don’t forget swimming pools, well over 100 people drown in them each year (6).
Because rattlesnake is often fried up and eaten, and 500 people die in this country every year from choking (7), biting into a venomous snake is probably about as likely to kill you as a venomous snake biting into you.
To be clear, I do not think anyone should be killing their dogs or hiding their car keys. I also want to make abundantly clear that every single accidental death is a tragedy, regardless of the cause. The point I’m making here is that people take risks every single day with things that are much, much more dangerous than venomous snakes. And, if you’re not killing all the neighborhood dogs in the neighborhood (or chewing your family’s food and forbidding them from using playgrounds, pools, or cars), it does not make sense for you to kill venomous snakes to protect other people — the risk of anyone dying from a snakebite is just too low.
Further, killing venomous snakes is a relatively dangerous activity. So, why do it?

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series. Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.

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