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Park Ranger ends mystery snake debate

The mystery snake has been identified.

In early September, Kent Harrell of Cofield killed a seven-foot snake while weed eating around the base of the water tower on Hill Street.

The story, with an accompanying photo, of his run-in with such a large creature made the front page of the Sept. 16 edition of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. That article and photo generated much interest among News-Herald readers. The majority said it was one of the largest snakes they had ever seen.

However, the story stopped short of identifying the snake. Even Harrell said he didn’t know what type of snake he had encountered, only that it was big.

Enter Jane Wyche into the story.

Wyche is employed by the State of North Carolina as a Park Ranger at Merchants Millpond State Park in Gates County. Her specialty is reptiles and amphibians.

After viewing the photo in the newspaper, Wyche determined it as a mud snake. She said mud snakes and their close relative, the rainbow snake, are both known in the local area, but due to their nocturnal, aquatic nature they are rarely seen by people.

“Both species are docile, not known to bite humans,” Wyche said. “I have handled several and never even seen one open its mouth.”

Wyche said she had read what Harrell said in the newspaper article.

“He said the snake raised its head up in an apparent attempt to bite him,” Wyche recalled. “It may have been that the snake was just trying to see what was moving.

A better clue that a snake is ready to bite would be if it opens its mouth or shakes its tail.”

Wyche then presented an alternative.

“An option to killing a snake is to back up and leave,” she suggested. “Contrary to popular belief, all snakes are not moccasins. Even venomous snakes pose little threat to humans if left alone.”

According to Wyche, the record size of a mud snake in North Carolina is 78 inches, or roughly 6.5 feet. The national record is 81 and one-half inches, or roughly 6.9 feet. The females are bigger than the males.

With that said, Wyche is of the opinion that the snake Harrell killed in Cofield was a female.

Wyche said female mud snakes are known to remain with their eggs in the nest, which is not typical of other species of snakes. She added that mud and rainbow snakes are aquatic. The mud snake’s diet consists largely of aquatic salamanders and frogs.

The rainbow snake adults feed mainly on eels whereas the juvenile’s diet includes amphibians.

Both species have a pointed hard tail tip that is possibly used to manipulate prey items.

“This could be a great help, since snakes don’t have hands,” Wyche noted. “When held, these snakes often press their pointed harmless tail against the captor’s hand.”

As someone who spends the majority of their time outdoors, Wyche said creatures of nature, including snakes, should be protected from harm.

“Snakes are beautiful, intriguing creatures,” she said. “Among wildlife species, they are unique because they are approachable and therefore can be observed up close.”

Wyche closed by reminding local citizens that there are only three venomous species of snakes in this area – the cottonmouth moccasin, the copperhead and the timber rattle snake.

She urged area citizens to call Merchants Millpond State Park at (252) 357-1191 if they have an identification question concerning snakes.