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Reptiles and Amphibians in the News

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Snake Fears lead to Tragedy

A 5-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet when Noble, Oklahoma, police shot at a snake lodged in a neighbor's birdhouse.

From NewsOK: "Police had gotten a call of a snake complaint from a woman on Crest Lane, whose 16-year-old daughter saw the snake hanging about 3 feet of its body outside a neighbor's bird house on Friday. The woman, who would not identify herself, told The Oklahoman she called the police station to see if animal control could respond and take care of the snake, which she believed to be a diamondback rattlesnake. She was told that the city, which lost its only animal control officer recently, would send a police officer over to help."

The snake's identity appears to be confused. From the Norman (OK) Transcript: "The officer, whose name has not been released by the Noble police department, was responding to a call sometime around 8 p.m. about a snake trapped in a birdhouse. The animal is believed to have been a 'cotton mouth' or 'water moccasin' — a poisonous water snake."

Of course, anyone remotely familiar with snakes will recognize that the snake in question, just from its behavior, was far more likely to have been a nonvenomous species, probably a large ratsnake. It certainly wasn't a "water moccasin." (I might email a journalist just to see whether they can dig up the exact species.) Why, exactly, isn't basic snake identification taught to law enforcement? There aren't that many species to distinguish in most regions. The snake should have just been left alone to begin with.

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