Slithering Around At The Library

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Visitors to the Lincoln County Public Library Tuesday morningmight have noticed a large group of children and their parents, aman named Terry Vandeventer and a big blue box full of snakes.

Vandeventer, a herpetologist, brought several different speciesto the library to entertain the children of the summer readingprogram with a presentation about different kinds of snakes thatare mostly indigenous to Mississippi.

“If you’re afraid of something, the best thing you can do islearn about it,” he said.

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Before bringing out his slithery friends, Vandeventer told thechildren a few rules about how to act, the first one being to treatthe snakes with respect, since they all serve a useful purpose. Thenext rule was equally practical.

“No squealing in the library,” he said, laughing. “You all knowthat’s a rule, right?”

“The Snake Man,” as he was referred to by the children, toldthem there are 55 kinds of snakes in the state, and that only sixof them are harmful. He also told the children that out of about200 snakebites in the state each year, an average of 15 areaccidents. The rest happen, he said, when people are trying to killsnakes.

“So most people who are bitten by snakes are bitten in the actof snake murder,” he said, which brought chuckles from quite a fewof the adults.

Vandeventer also described how snakes will camouflage themselvesin leaves and grass and other natural environments. He gave thechildren practical information on what to do if they come across asnake in the wild, and even combined it with advice that madeparents and library employees happy as well.

“When you’re in the woods, you want to watch where you put yourhands, your feets and your seats,” he said as the children giggled.”And if you see a snake, take two big steps backward and walk away.Then go home and play a video game… No, wait. Go home and read abook.”

Among the snakes Vandeventer brought to share with the childrenwere a ribbon snake, a red milk snake, a corn snake and a kingsnake. He explained how the king snake helps rid the world of a lotof unsavory things.

“He kills rats and mice, and he eats other snakes too,”Vandeventer said. “When I was a young herpetologist and thought Iknew everything, they told me king snakes rid the world of thedangerous snakes, and I didn’t believe them. But as it turns out,they do target venomous snakes, partly because they’re fatter.”

The children broke the squealing rule by laughing with delightas Vandeventer told the story about the hog-nosed snake, or puffadder, which flattens its head out to look like a cobra’s hood whenthreatened.

“It will puff up like a cobra, and it will even strike,” hesaid. “But it can’t hurt you. All it does is bump you with itslittle pig nose.”

The last snake Vandeventer showed the children was an indigosnake, which at 1 year old was around 5 feet long. He allowed someof them to hold it to demonstrate its length, telling them itsfather might have been about 10 feet long.

While the indigo snake has not been indigenous to Mississippisince 1935, he said, it is the largest snake in America, and if aperson is convicted of killing an indigo snake, they can go tojail.

And Vandeventer also reminded the kids that the best way to seethe snakes that they may not be able to find in the state, like thecobras and pythons, is to read about them at the library.

“Plus, it’s good to read, because if you don’t read, you’llforget how, then when school starts back you’ll be in trouble,” hesaid. “Because who gets the good grades? The readers!”