Wednesday, March 5, 2014

8ft snake found in Webster County

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
A tip to The Journal-Enterprise led to a big discovery for Fish and Wildlife Officer Todd Jones last week. A very big discovery. 
On Wednesday of last week a reader contacted The Journal-Enterprise office to report seeing the body of a very large snake along side highway 493 in rural Webster County. I contacted Jones who met me at the location.
“It’s definitely an exotic snake,” he said after examining the carcass. “It was definitely raised in captivity, and probably died in captivity.”
At the scene Jones said the snake looked to him like a boa constrictor, but said he would let the professionals make a positive identification. After taking a few pictures to send to herpetologist John MacGregor of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Jones retrieved a tape measure from his truck to measure the animal. The snake measured in right at eight feet in length.
“These boas are native to the tropical parts of Central and South America and could not survive the cold temperatures we have had this winter,” said MacGregor. “Even in captivity they are susceptible to lethal respiratory infections if exposed to cold temperatures.”
“Our fish and wildlife laws only cover native wildlife,” Jones said. “You have to have a permit if you want to keep a native animal like a deer or a raccoon. You don’t on an exotic animal.”
Jones said that some cities and counties have adopted ordinances governing the keeping of dangerous exotic animals, but none in Webster County.
“You would really be surprised to see what some people have in their houses,” he said as he examined the snake. “An animal like this could do some major damage if it was hungry or felt threatened. Especially to a small child.”
Jones also said that he believes reptile owners are not sure what to with their exotic pet when it dies. He believed that this was part of the reason for this snake appearing on the side of the road.
“People get these snakes out of state and when they die, suddenly they get scared because they don’t know what the local laws are,” explained Jones.
MacGregor said that the proper means of disposing of a dead body is much the same as you would do for any other pet.
“I suppose it could be buried in the back yard like any other deceased pet, or put out with the trash to eventually be taken to a landfill,” he said. “A large dead snake is really not much different from a large dead dog, or a load of decaying meat in the dumpster behind a super market.”
Any report of a potentially dangerous snake in Webster County automatically catches the attention of MacGregor.
“I am always interested in reptile reports from Webster County, especially if they are backed up by photographs so I can verify identification,” he said. “Believe it or not, we have no valid records for any venomous snakes in Webster County since the time of W. D. Funkhouser’s “Wild Life in Kentucky” (published in 1925).  Funkhouser reported at least one Copperhead from Webster County but had no records of Cottonmouths or Timber Rattlesnakes from there.”
All three of these venomous snakes are confirmed in Hopkins County.  
“Timber Rattlesnakes seem to be extremely rare there (1 verified observation in the eastern part of Hopkins County), Cottonmouths are common in a few places (Tradewater River, Clear Creek, and Pond River) but in general have a very restricted range in Hopkins, and only the Copperhead seems widespread in the area,” MacGregor said. “Most reports I get of “Water Moccasins” in the Western Coal Field region turn out to be some type of harmless water snake.  The Copperbelly Water Snake, Diamondback Water Snake, and Midland Water Snake all occur in Webster County and are often mistaken for Cottonmouths.”

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