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Don't fear the snakes, says local advocate

Springtime means blossoms, birds and, well, snakes.

As the weather warms up, the slithering serpentine population is back at it, but Matt Ellerbeck wants you to stop worrying.

Distroscale

The Brockville-area conservationist and “snake advocate” wants to remind the local population that the region is not inhabited by venomous or otherwise dangerous snakes, and the ones found around the area may even be beneficial.

“We don’t need to be afraid of them. We don’t need to be killing them,” said Ellerbeck, who runs a conservation initiative called Snake Advocacy.

Ellerbeck has been fascinated by snakes since childhood, and frequently gives lectures on them, more recently online.

Speaking up for creatures that have been reviled since the unfortunate events of Genesis 3:1-7 remains an uphill battle.

“Snakes, obviously, are not the most loved animals in the world,” said Ellerbeck.

But they do have their role in the ecological order.

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Ellerbeck notes there are nine species of snake common to the Brockville area, and the smaller ones feed on invertebrate insects, which is a favour to anyone with a garden.

The bigger ones, including rat and milk snakes, prey on rodents.

“When snakes consume rodents, they also inadvertently consume all the ticks attached to them as well,” said Ellerbeck.

That’s good news in an era when locals are constantly reminded to be wary of ticks because of their role in spreading Lyme disease.

Despite their benefits, some local snake species are in trouble. Ellerbeck notes the federal government lists the Gray Rat Snake and the Eastern Milk Snake as species at risk.

The rat snake is “threatened,” while the milk snake is considered a species of “special concern,” he notes.

That means “both species are likely to become endangered if the threats they face are not mitigated – but the rat snake is more at risk given its designation.”

Some snake misconceptions are attached to some species.

A lot of people here mistake milk snakes and rat snakes for rattlesnakes, because of the way they shake their tails when sensing danger. In fact, they are not venomous, notes Ellerbeck.

Similarly, he says people often mistake water snakes for water moccasins, a species of venomous snake that does not live north of Virginia.

Area residents who encounter snakes should remember that when they do bite, it’s defensive: They won’t come out and attack you, but will bite if you try to hurt them or pick them up, notes Ellerbeck.

“It’s like any wild animal,” he said. “You go out, you give them respect and space.”

Rzajac@postmedia.com

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