More than 100 snakes found in Carroll County yard

Friday, August 16, 2013
Dale Ertel, owner and proprietor of the educational reptile attraction Snake World, handles the most common venomous snake in Arkansas, the copperhead. As a reptile enthusiast, handler and independent researcher, Ertel has his dream job working with most people's nightmares.

CARROLL COUNTY -- Local snake and reptile handlers have captured and relocated more than 100 venomous snakes concentrated in one area in the last three weeks.

Sometime after July 23, property owner Jess Christensen started noticing a lot of snake activity in the evening around his house, located on County Road 717 just north of Metalton.

"Really what really hit me was how close they were to the house," Christensen said. "I just looked at the statistics and knew that one day I will be bitten if I don't do anything, so I thought to get a professional opinion about it."

So he called Dale Ertel, who runs the educational exhibit Snake World and helps people remove dangerous snakes from their property. Ertel has been collecting snakes for over 50 years, he said. He got his first venomous snake when he was 15 and has been bitten by nonpoisonous snakes countless times. He has been bitten only once by a venomous snake, a diamond back that he still owns.

"The first time he called, he said he'd seen over a dozen in his yard," Ertel said. "So a friend of mine and I went out there the following night and we found over 12 that first night, and we have been back several times since, and it seems like every time we have gone back we are finding at least 12."

Ertel's friend counted more than 118 snakes collected from Christensen's property; Christensen gave up counting after 70. The snakes they are collecting are mostly male and all copperheads, Arkansas's most common venomous snake, according to experts.

The snakes mostly eat insects and frogs but as they grow, so does their prey. Older copperheads go after bigger game like rodents and lizards.

This bucket contains a fraction of the more than 100 poisonous copperheads removed from one man's yard.

"This guy has lived in the same property for five years and he has problems with snakes every summer," Ertel said. "One thing that helps [attract the snakes] is when he keeps his porch light on above his door. He has more trouble with snakes then because somehow they know that light attracts insects and it is a feeding area. Sometimes if it gets late enough at night, they will get up on his porch looking for bugs."

Ertel has spent about an hour and a half at Christensen's property with every visit. He handles the snakes with special safety equipment and does not kill them. He relocates them off the property because it is illegal in this state to kill snakes as they play a vital part in the ecosystem by keeping insect and rodent populations in balance.

"It is definitely not a common occurrence to have that many snakes in one area," said Cheyne Matzenbacher, an interpretative resource specialist for Missouri Sate Parks who has lifelong experience handling snakes with his father and grandfather. "They are just looking for a food source and taking advantage of the easy prey. There was 100 caught in about a month, and that is a lot of snakes anywhere for any kind of species, especially in that small of an area."

He said the behavior of the snakes is not strange, but the large number of them is. He also said he believes it has something to do with the porch light attracting bugs.

Matzenbacher had heard of an incident like this and helped a property owner with a similar problem.

"They were chasing June bugs," he said. "We went there and the people who lived there killed four before we could get there. So we cut the dead ones open to examine the stomach contents and there were still June bugs moving inside them because they were still alive. And they were filled with was as much as they could get in there stomachs."

Matzenbacher recommended getting a porch light that is on a timer and switching to the yellow light bulbs that don't attract insects if you have the same problem.

Most importantly, Ertel and Matzenbacher recommended not trying to handle snakes without a professional. It is extremely dangerous to try and capture them and illegal to kill them, so it is better left to a professional who can treat the snakes humanly.

Even Christensen, who has had all the problems with them, agreed with not killing the snakes.

"I am not afraid of them," he said. "I just respect them. They were there before me and they had a right to be there. A lot of people who kill things have no respect for life, so that's why I don't kill anything unless it is trying to kill me."

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