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Live Webcast Debuts with Snakes, Alligators

By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Want to be among the first to find out how to register for the upcoming alligator hunts in Alabama? Or maybe you’ve been out cultivating your garden or flower bed and encountered one of the 41 species of snakes that inhabit the state, but you don’t know which one.

For details on both questions, log into Outdoor Alabama Live, a live webcast hosted by wildlife biologist Marisa Lee of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) that will answer those and many more questions at 6:30 p.m. May 17. Lee will get the latest information from guests Chuck Sharp and Roger Clay, both WFF wildlife biologists. Sharp is known for his expertise on the American alligator, while Clay specializes in snakes and other non-game species in Alabama.

Before the live webcast, those with questions can go to http://www.outdooralabama.com/Webcast/ and click on the link to submit questions on alligators or snakes. Photographs of the critter in question can be attached to aid in identification. Questions can be submitted anytime prior to and during the webcast. Please include name and place of residence when submitting a question.

All episodes of Outdoor Alabama Live will be archived on the webcast page and can be viewed within a few days of the initial air time. Any questions not answered during the broadcast will be archived as an FAQ along with that episode.

Kim Nix, Director of ADCNR’s Information and Education Section, said the webcast is another tool to try to reach the public with useful information.

“Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries has been looking for a way to communicate with the public in a different way,” Nix said. “Because we have the equipment, we decided to do a live webcast. And we decided to do it after normal business hours so more people could have access to it and participate at home.”

Nix said all hunting and fish license holders in the ADCNR database will receive e-mails with a direct link so they will be able to click on the link and go straight to the webcast.

Nix also said one of the reasons the subject of snakes was chosen for the first webcast was because of the number of searches on OutdoorAlabama.com on the subject.

“We know there is a lot of interest in snakes and people are coming to our website for identification and information,” she said. “We thought that would be a subject people would find interesting.

“Of course, with the alligators we’ve got the upcoming hunts. With the spread of those hunts across the state, we thought that would be of interest.”

Clay said he would bring two live snakes to the webcast, an Eastern Indigo and a Black Pine. He’ll also bring a replica of an Eastern coral snake, one of the venomous snakes found in Alabama.

“I anticipate there will be quite a few questions about venomous snakes,” Clay said. “We have three types of rattlesnakes – pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, or canebrake rattlesnake as some people call it, and, of course, the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Then we have the cottonmouth and the copperhead. Those two species and the rattlesnakes are all pit vipers and belong to the same family.

“Then we’ve got the Eastern coral snake, which has a different kind of toxin from the pit vipers. And it’s easily distinguished by its bold color markings. The saying is, ‘Red touch yellow, kill a fellow. Red touch black, friend of Jack.’”

Clay also said there is no truth to the myth that snakes attack people.

“They won’t run you down,” he said. “If you leave them alone, they leave you alone. There is a fear of being bitten by venomous snakes, but of the thousands of people bitten annually by venomous snakes there are usually fewer than five deaths. And if you investigate, most of those deaths occur when people are handling or messing with snakes. In the Southeast, the snake that accounts for most of the bites is the copperhead, because you can find the copperhead statewide in just about any type of habitat. The most dangerous is the Eastern diamondback because it can deliver a significant amount of venom. But the Eastern diamondback is not as common as it once was. It’s basically now found just along the southern tier of counties in Alabama.”

The Eastern indigo snake is on the Endangered Species list and has been recently reintroduced into the Conecuh National Forest in south Alabama. The black pine snake is also a protected species by state regulation.

“The indigo snake is one of the rarest snakes we have,” Clay said. “I’ll probably also mention the Southern hognose snake. I think it’s been over 30 years since a Southern hognose has been documented in Alabama. The Eastern hognose is still encountered, but there might not be any Southern hognoses left in Alabama.

“The Southern hognose has a more upturned, pointed nose, but they do look very similar. The best way to tell them apart is if you turn them over, on the underside of Southern hognose the color of the belly and the color of the tail are basically the same. On the Eastern hognose, there is a marked difference between the belly and the underside of the tail.”

For those with interests in larger reptiles, Sharp will discuss the upcoming alligator seasons, which have been expanded to a new part of the state for 2011. West central Alabama (Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox and Dallas counties) will have a season for the first time Aug. 12-15 and Aug. 19-22. The hunts for Mobile and Baldwin counties will also be on those dates. The season in southeast Alabama (Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell counties) is set Aug. 12-28.

“Registration information will be available during the webcast,” Sharp said. “And we hope to answer anyone’s questions about the upcoming hunts. We’ll provide biological information on the alligator and why they’re considered a nuisance. We don’t have any way to get a statewide count because of the habitat, but I do know we haven’t hurt the populations in the areas we’ve been hunting. Our nuisance calls have not gone down in the least.”

There will 120 alligator tags issued for southeast Alabama, 125 for the Mobile/Tensaw Delta and 50 in west central Alabama.

A 742-pound alligator that measured 13 feet, 4 inches was taken in the Delta during the 2010 season.

“The American alligator can grow as big as 14 feet and 1,000 pounds,” Sharp said. “We know there is plenty of interest in alligators by the numbers of spectators that show up at our weigh station on the Causeway.”

Again, to view the webcast, go to http://www.outdooralabama.com/Webcast/ and listen or send in your questions to join the discussion.

PHOTO: The endangered Eastern indigo snake, which has been reintroduced into the wild at Conecuh National Forest in south Alabama, will be among the featured guests in the inaugural Outdoor Alabama Live webcast, set for 6:30 p.m. May 17 at www.outdooralabama.com.

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