Fedrick hosts lecture to improve knowledge of snakes

Published 12:07 am Sunday, July 25, 2010

NATCHEZ — Bryan Fedrick knew he probably wasn’t going to change any minds, but he at least wanted to educate people.

Fedrick, a herpetologist for the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, hosted a snake lecture at Historic Jefferson College last Wednesday, complete with live specimen.

Fedrick hoped to combat ophidophobia, or the irrational fear of snakes, by explaining to his audience of both children and adults the benefits of having snakes in the ecosystem. He also wanted to teach safety around snakes, including how to identify a venomous or non-venomous snake, and what to do if you come across one.

“You’re not born with a fear of snakes. You put a toddler on the grass, and he’ll go pick up a rattlesnake. He doesn’t know,” Fedrick said.

“Parents need to teach children to respect them, not to fear them. The problem is people not being educated about them — and that’s not their fault. Their parents taught them, and their parents taught them, but the more you know, the less you fear.”

Fedrick explained that there are 55 species of snakes in Mississippi, and six venomous ones. He also said that in Adams County, people had to be on the lookout for all six kinds.

In addition, Fedrick explained the proper term to be “venomous” snakes, instead of “poisonous” snakes.

“Venom is something that’s harmful if it’s injected into the bloodstream, but it can be swallowed. Poison is ingested,” Fedrick said.

Among identification techniques are watching for a triangular-shaped head, seeing whether they have elliptical pupils, if it has pits or if the scales toward the tail are singular.

“One characteristic by itself isn’t enough, though,” Fedrick said.

Coral snakes are an exception. The color pattern is what distinguishes coral snakes from the rest. Red, black and yellow are the three different colors found on a coral snake, and Fedrick said a nursery rhyme was the best way to tell if it’s poisonous.

“Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Red and black, friend of Jack,” he said.

“If the red touches the yellow, it’s poisonous. If the red touches the black, it’s not. Non-poisonous snakes like to mimic the poisonous kinds.”

Robin Person, branch director at Historic Jefferson College, said she was pleased at the turnout, which had a nice mix of children and adults.

“There’s nothing like a venomous snake to get people interested, especially when they start rattling their tails,” she said.

“We’re very pleased with the kids. Those are the people I want to come most of all.”

Among those children was Thomas Perry, who said he already liked them before the lecture was given.

“I used to not like them, but I’ve been taking classes here and learning about them. That’s what made the difference,” said Perry, 12.

Even so, Fedrick said it’s the adults he’s trying to get through to even more than the children.

“They’re who you’re working on the most. The kids aren’t afraid of them” he said.