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City Hall Snake raises questions on Missouri Herpetology

Whether you're spending the summer outside hiking and swimming, or keeping cool indoors, stay on the lookout for things that slither. KSMU's Megan Keathley has more on Missouri snakes and what to do when they rear their heads.

Southeast Missourians were surprised to say the least to see a water snake in the Cape Girardeau City Hall last week. Jay Barber is an education consultant with the Missouri Department of Conservation. He says snakes don't distinguish between indoors and outdoors and that they would rather be warm, not hot. This particular animal was most likely just looking for some shade and shelter when courtroom officials tried to chase it out.

Barber says there are five types of venomous snakes native to Missouri, the most common of which is the Osage copperhead. The Show-Me state is also home to the western cottonmouth, or water moccasin, which can (despite popular myth) strike while in the water. The other three venomous snakes in Missouri are different variations of rattlesnake. Barber says that too often people mistake harmless snakes for venomous vipers and kill them unnecessarily. But correct identification of a venomous is trickier than you might think.

If you're bitten by a poisonous snake, Barber says you will know it almost immediately, if not by the look of the snake, then by the pain.

Barber advises that if you suspect you've been bitten by a venomous snake, you should kill it and put it in a sturdy container if you are able. Use a stick or another object to move the dead snake; Barber says severed heads can still bite and inject poison. Seek medical attention immediately, and take the snake with you for correct identification. Keep the bitten extremity at rest below the heart; do NOT attempt to cut off circulation to the area or suck out the venom, as this will cause more harm than good.

Department of Conservation records indicate that no Missourian has died from a snake bite in over twenty-five years.