Thomasville Times Enterprise

January 25, 2014

‘Snake Lady’ educates Roundup crowd

Patti Dozier

WHIGHAM — The more one learns about snakes, the less one fears them.

Such is the philosophy of Becky Tucker, who presented three educational serpent shows at Saturday’s 54th annual Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup.

Despite an overcast sky, brisk wind and the temperature hovering around 40, a large crowd gathered in the Roundup pavilion for Tucker’s 10 a.m. presentation.

Prior to the presentation, Tucker told the Times-Enterprise she does not try to get people to like snakes, and she does not care if people kill the serpents.

However, she wants people to know that fewer than eight people die from snakebite in the United States each year. More than 8,000 are bitten annually, she added.

Tucker, an Anniston Ala., resident, has never been bitten by a venomous snake, but her parents were — and nearly died.

Tucker’s parents, the late Tom and Mary Ann Yarbrough, were bitten by eastern diamondback rattlers, the most dangerous snake in the United States.

In addition to damage by the snake’s venom, her mother was allergic to the venom and to the antivenin administered to treat the bite. She went into anaphylactic shock and was near death, but survived.

Tucker’s father was a world-renowned herpetologist, and Tucker carries on her parents’ legacy. She makes educational presentations about reptiles at schools in Alabama and Georgia.

Snakes bite for two reasons: For protection and for food.

Tucker told the Roundup crowd all snakes have curved teeth designed to catch and hold food, but pit vipers also have fangs that penetrate the skin and inject poisonous venom.

If bitten by a venomous snake, one should remain calm and get to a hospital quickly. Physicians will administer antivenin to counteract the venom’s effect on the body.

A snake-bite victim will begin to get better immediately, but might be in the hospital a week or two, Tucker said, adding that people in good health usually survive the bites.

The United States has four venomous snakes — the rattler, copperhead, cottonmouth and coral.

Coral snakes do not live long in capacity and tend to eat other snakes. Tucker said she is not into feeding snakes to other snakes.

She raises mice and rats to feed her snakes. The serpents eat once a week.

Her presentation included not only venomous serpents, but king snakes, which eat other snakes. The king snake kills by constricting. It might be bitten by its poisonous prey during the kill, but the king snake is immune to the venom.

King snakes also eat toads, frogs, fish, salamanders and rats.

Snakes, Tucker said, keep the ecosystem in balance.

If someone finds a snake in their house, it probably is not there for warmth, but for food — namely rats or mice.

The clearing of land is destroying the habitat of the pine, or bull, snake, which swells up and audibly blows out air to frighten enemies.

Tucker compared the bite of a copperhead to slamming a door on one’s hand or burning the body with a blow torch.

The cottonmouth, she said, prefers water, but it does not have to be in water.

“They stand their ground and like to hold the mouths open,” she explained.

This area has not only the eastern diamondback rattler. It also is home to pygmy and timber rattlers, both of which have the same venomous bites as larger rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnakes spend cold months in gopher tortoise holes with as many as 250 other species. If the weather warms up a little, the rattlesnake might venture out.

If a rattlesnake is encountered, Tucker said not to run or move. “It you move, it will strike,” she said, demonstrating her advice with a large rattlesnake that struck when she moved.

Her presentation included other reptiles — a large skink, turtles and Uncle Frank, a 22-year-old iguana.

Senior reporter Patti Dozier ca be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820.