Mention snakes in a conversation, and 95 percent of Arkansans will respond with a frown, a head shake or a shudder.
Most people simply do not like snakes.
They are all around us, however. Deep woods, field edges, creeks, brush piles and, unfortunately, backyards are snake habitat. Anyone with a little knowledge of snakes will tell us that there are two general categories — poisonous snakes and non-poisonous snakes.
We have four varieties of poisonous or venomous snakes, the Fearsome Four, in Arkansas — rattlesnakes of several types, copperheads, water moccasins (cottonmouths) and coral snakes. The latter are few in number and mostly in the southwestern part of the state.
Then there are good snakes — in spite of the overabundant thinking that all snakes are bad, undesirable, dangerous.
A good snake is the king snake, which is found in two varieties in Arkansas. The speckled kingsnake is found all over the state, and the prairie kingsnake is fewer in number and not found in eastern Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Speckled kingsnakes have a fondness for going after poisonous snakes, killing and eating them.
Dr. Terry Fiddler, a Conway dentist, had a recent experience with a speckled kingsnake at his home and has photos to back up his story.
“This kingsnake killed a big copperhead and ate it, and all this was six feet from my door,” Fiddler said.
Fiddler stood and watched the battle. The kingsnake, apparently impervious to the copperhead’s bite, wrapped around the copperhead and squeezed.
Then the kingsnake ate the copperhead, slowly and gradually swallowing it headfirst until about two inches of the copperhead’s tail was left hanging out of the kingsnake’s mouth, Fiddler said.
The kingsnake is a constrictor, killing its victims by crushing them with powerful coils of its body. In this, the kingsnake is similar to the much larger boa constructors and anacondas of tropical regions.
The Game and Fish Commission says of the speckled kingsnake: “Smooth, shiny scales. Body is black or dark brown, speckled with yellow or white spots. Spots sometimes form narrow bars on the back. Belly is yellow, patterned with irregular black markings. Young resemble adults. Adults average 36 to 48 inches in length.”
Most Arkansas farmers welcome a kingsnake on their premises as much as they do a timely bit of rainfall. Along with killing and eating “bad” snakes, kingsnakes are handy at keeping down rats and mice in barns and other outbuildings.
The Game and Fish Commission also says: “(Kingsnake) habitats include swamps, bottomland hardwood forests, marshes, prairies, pastures and mixed pine-hardwood forests. Active from March through November. Breeds in early spring, lays 6-14 eggs under logs, stumps rocks or decaying plant material. Eggs hatch in late summer months. Like all kingsnakes, (the speckled) is a constrictor and eats rodents, lizards, birds and other snakes. Noted for its ability to eat venomous snakes.”
The kingsnake may be a “good” snake, but in Arkansas AGFC regulations prohibit the killing of all snakes. An exception is if someone is threatened by a dangerous snake.