Oct 9th, 2008 | By | Category: Campus News, October 9, 2008

Ferraro to share slithery creatures Oct. 14

Herpetologist Dennis Ferraro promises to bust myths, introduce local snakes, and instill appreciation for their role in the ecosystem at his talk, “Snakes on the Plains of Nebraska,” 7 p.m. Oct. 14 in Hardin Hall. He’ll do it while handling live snakes.

Dennis Ferraro and snake
EASY TO HANDLE – Herpetologist Dennis Ferraro introduces a female bull snake (Pituophis catenifer) that he caught in Seward County.

“It’s easy to handle a snake and not get bit,” Ferraro said. “And in 60 percent of rattlesnake bites, no venom is injected. If people have been around snakes, they know the strike distance. I can look at it and know where I have to be to be safe. If they do strike, it’s not a close call, it’s a calculated risk.”

Twenty-nine species of snakes are native to Nebraska, including four that are venomous, Ferraro said. The half-dozen snakes he’ll introduce in person at his upcoming talk will be native to Lancaster County.

The talk, free and open to the public, is part of the School of Natural Resources Outreach series. Free parking for the event is available next to Hardin Hall.

Ferraro said that while he doesn’t necessarily hold out hope that all who hear him speak will build a backyard hibernaculum for garter snakes – although he has the instructions if anyone is interested – his goal is “to get them to appreciate snakes in the environment.” Snakes are the natural predators of gophers, rats, and other rodents that can become a nuisance if their numbers go unchecked.

“Each indigenous species is part of the ecosystem, and it’s all hinged on habitat. When you take away one component, the ecosystem starts to deteriorate,” Ferraro said. “We need ecosystems just as much as the other animals.”

Like other wild animals, some snake species appear to be on the decline in Nebraska as their habitats shrink due to draining wetlands, row cropping, and urbanization. Others, like garter snakes and bull snakes, are doing fine, Ferraro said.

Contrary to popular belief, even venomous snakes do not chase people. “No snake in Nebraska has territory or protects its young,” Ferraro said. “Sometimes people might have the impression because of a snake’s fright mechanism that they’re chasing them.”

In fact, Ferraro said, snakes chasing humans “only happens in my dreams. Since 1990 I have had just over 4,000 snake captures. I can’t remember any of them coming to me. I had to chase every single one. I wish they’d stay still.”

— Story by Kelly Smith, School of Natural Resources

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