Snakes play vital role in ecosystems, humans’ health

  • Published
  • By Emma Browning
  • Natural Resources Program, 78th Civil Engineering Group

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga – As summer nears and temperatures rise, you may see more wildlife out and about, and this includes snakes. Snakes are often misunderstood because of unfounded myths and are feared as a result. They play a critical role when it comes to the ecosystem as well as human health. Here are a few facts on why snakes are important to keep around.

The timber rattlesnake reduces tick-borne illnesses in humans. A study conducted by University of Maryland researchers found that one timber rattlesnake can consume an average of 2,500 to 4,500 ticks per year. Timber rattlesnakes eat rodents, which host ticks. Ticks carry harmful zoonotic diseases such as Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and more. Timber rattlesnakes keep the rodent population down, which in turn reduces those tick-borne illnesses.

Venomous snakes have medicinal value to human well-being. A protein called contortrostatin found in copperhead snake venom is used to help treat breast cancer. This protein has been shown to stop the growth of tumors and also helps prevent the spread of cancer cells.

Snakes help maintain biodiversity. Not only do they play a role as predators, but they also serve as prey to a wide variety of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and other reptiles.

Now that you have a better understanding of snakes and their importance, what do you do if you see one crossing the hiking trail? If you see a snake while on an afternoon stroll, give it distance and walk around it. Most likely it will see you first and make an escape as it wants nothing to do with you. Snakes only bite when feeling threatened. According to North Carolina State University, almost 80% of bites occur when people handle or kill them.

Non-venomous snakes are also protected in the state of Georgia and on Robins Air Force Base by the regulation O.C.G.A. 27-1-28, explaining that harassing or dispatching them is illegal. Overall, non-venomous and venomous snakes play a vital role in our surrounding ecosystems and to the health of humans, making them beneficial to have around.