Snakes serve important role in our ecosystem

Mention snakes, and most people will cringe in fear and disgust. Snakes are some of the most feared, misunderstood organisms on the planet.

Many people think of those in movies like the ridiculous “Snakes on a Plane” film or even the vicious Nagini from the beloved Harry Potter series.

While snakes can indeed be vicious, it is usually only when they are threatened. Contrary to negative stigmas of snakes, they are extremely important to the ecosystem.

Snakes assist in keeping populations of other organisms in check. They help prevent overpopulation of earth worms, lizards, frogs and most importantly to people, rats and mice. Black snakes are known to eat venomous snakes such as copperheads and rattlesnakes.

Without snakes, many disease-causing rodents would exponentially breed and populate causing an ecosystem imbalance. As a result of this humans may start using things such as rat poisons. The poisons would not just kill rats.

Organisms that eat rats can also be effected and killed by these poisons. Snakes are also an important part of other organisms’ diets.

The first thought of most people is to kill a snake when seen. While some snakes can be dangerous due to venomous bite, most are not. In Pennsylvania, the chance of encountering a venomous snake is rare. The most common species are garter snakes, rat snakes and milk snakes.

They are all harmless other than maybe biting when threatened. One other snake that may be seen is a water snake.

Water snakes found in Pennsylvania are not venomous.

What should you do if you come into contact with a snake? Keep your distance and give them space. If you are curious you can observe safely from a distance. Relocation is the best option. If the snake needs to be relocated you may carefully do so yourself, although that is ill advised.

Contact a professional. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission can assist with relocation of wildlife. The snake can be relocated to another area where it can thrive. There are also many companies that help with relocating wildlife such as snakes.

So remember, when you see a snake keep your distance. Out of the 21 species of snakes in Pennsylvania, only three are venomous. Snakes are vital in the ecosystem both as predators and prey.

The best way to fight the stigma against snakes is to become educated. Some educational resources include The PA Fish and Boat Commission website and PSU extension website.

Many state and national parks also have information on their websites or will have guides available in visitor’s centers.

Michael Pyo


(The writer is in the natural resource management program at Mount Aloysius College.)


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