Bit, stung and threatened

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 3/27/24

I wrote about some things awhile back that some folks questioned. One column concerned skunks and someone hoorahed the idea that skunks carry rabies and therefore there is liable to be a rabies …

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Bit, stung and threatened


I wrote about some things awhile back that some folks questioned. One column concerned skunks and someone hoorahed the idea that skunks carry rabies and therefore there is liable to be a rabies outbreak this year. We may not see a rabies outbreak on an increased scale, but the increase in skunk populations, which has doubled or tripled their numbers, makes it likely.

Another questioned why I would kill black snakes on Lightnin’ Ridge. That is because they climb high into the trees, and prey upon bird eggs and even baby birds. The other reason I kill them is to save baby rabbits and the eggs of quail, wild turkey and whippoorwills. All three of those birds are declining in number. Blacksnakes are at peak numbers always in the Ozarks. Always! Now if you have a barn where you store grain as food for cattle, as my grandmother did, you have a problem with mice and rats and you like having the snakes as rodent trapper.

But a barn, or a shed is not an ecosystem. An ecosystem is a ‘natural-life’ system which is unaffected by man’s activities. You couldn’t actually call my wilderness ridgetop a true ecosystem with my manipulation of things. But if you want to create a real natural life system today, you have to interfere to correct the bad parts of it which man has caused to happen.

There are few true ecosystems in the Ozarks now. I have seen some true ecosystems in Canada and northwestern U.S. I am trying to create one amongst the big timber where I live on this high point above the Pomme River. But today ecosystems around populations of men have to be worked on. Eliminating armadillos, which are non-native, controlling populations of invasive plants, and not leaving black snakes and copperheads on the property is part of making an ecosystem work for the benefit of desirable native species.

I had a conversation with a lady who said that if the state’s department of conservation said no one had ever died of copperhead bite they surely knew, with their expertise, and she would not believe that dozens of people in the Ozarks of many decades ago had died from snake bites.

I hope to gosh most people do not think that way. The MDC’s erroneous brochure, which contains many questionable statements about snakes, convinced one person of that! He died after being bitten a couple of years back. You will survive snakebite IF you quickly get medical attention. You may survive it if you do not. But an even greater danger is losing a foot or hand if you ignore a copperhead bite. And if a bite is untreated, you may die!! I will say more about this as summer approaches, and I ask you to spread the word.

Only a few hundred people read this column, so there are huge numbers of people who read that brochure, printed by the thousands, who will believe it and possibly lose their life, as that poor man a couple of years back did. Albert Einstein said …”Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of the truth.” The MDC biologists, many of them in their twenties and often without a clue of what is happening in the outdoor world, and unaware of what a true ecosystem is, have made a whole lot of such statements that are not accurate. Once I ask one of them, a game bird biologist, who claimed to have the same wildlife and natural history degree I have, but grew up in a large city, “Are wild turkeys and grouse chicks both precocial?” The biologist had no idea what I was talking about.

Things won’t change. I guess it doesn’t matter. But in the case of copperheads, false information has cost lives and limbs.

I was a naturalist at a park in Arkansas when a young boy got a scorpion on his bare leg. His daddy grabbed it and the scorpion stung him. The father came to me and wanted to know how long he had to get to a hospital, sure that he would die from a scorpion sting, because he had seen it on a movie. I told him to relax, the scorpions of southern Mexico and Central America were indeed poison, but Ozark scorpions were not. A timber rattlesnake nearly nailed me, but it missed! It comforted him some, but he went to the hospital anyway. The next day he apologized for not taking my word for it, me being a naturalist who was an expert and all. I told him that he did the right thing, as no naturalist in his twenties knows everything about scorpions or any other aspect of the outdoors. Sixty years after I began to study nature, I still learn each week. I have, since that time been bitten by a copperhead, a big water snake that I thought would make me bleed to death (their saliva causes blood to flow freely and not coagulate) a brown recluse spider, and stung by hornets, yellow jackets, wood bees, honeybees, and yes, scorpions. More of this in next week’s column. Don’t miss that exciting installment from the life and times of the pool hall kid!