Snakes, bears should not be feared

Published 11:33 am Wednesday, May 17, 2023

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If you’re one of those people who worries that a black bear or a copperhead snake will get you, arm yourself with facts.

It seems that people consider every snake they see a copperhead because they aren’t knowledgeable enough about snakes to identify them. That’s because it is our nature to fear the worst, and in doing so we imagine we are in danger, even when we are not.

Snakes are never “aggressive.” They might become “defensive” if threatened by you. This can happen if you approach them and get too close, even unknowingly. If you see one in your path, you only need to take your hiking stick or something long enough to gently tap them on the tail. They will move away from you.

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Bears also are afraid of you. If you leave them alone, they will move along. You can complicate that scenario if you have bird feeders. Bears don’t understand that the food isn’t for them. They just know they want to eat and there it is. If your teeny-tiny dog goes after the bear, in most cases the bear will run because it only sees a squeaky predator. But if your little love muffin sees this 300-pound invader lumbering away, it might think, “Oh, you want some of me? We’ll see about that.” And off the little furball charges until it disappears forever.

Bears and snakes are plentiful in Western North Carolina. That’s a good thing because they are an important part of our ecosystem. But the fear of being attacked or bitten when encountering one of them is fueled by misinformation, especially on social media. No surprise there, right?

Someone posted on a neighborhood site that “all black snakes can cause muscle breakdown that can cause kidneys to fail.” That is no more true than the story of Monty Python is about a snake.

A black bear attacked a couple on the Blue Ridge Parkway a couple of years ago. But the devil is in the details. They were having a picnic, so there was food involved. They had their pet dog, which was not on a leash. When the dog saw movement in the trees, it bolted toward the bear, which is what most dogs would do if they are untethered. 

An investigating park ranger said the bear was likely provoked by the dog coming toward him and acted defensively. “Over the next several minutes, there were repeated attacks by the bear while the couple retreated with their dog to the safety of their vehicle,” the ranger said. My guess is that during that retreat there was a lot of yelling, screaming and barking–and not by the bear.

The bear was innocent. The picnickers were guilty of a variety of mistakes.

Here are some facts to consider the next time someone says black bears will get you.

Bear Fact: There have been no unprovoked attacks on humans in North Carolina. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Snake Facts: In 2019, there were 92 venomous snake bites reported in North Carolina. Snake bites are almost never fatal–only 3.4 deaths occur annually in the United States.

It’s always good to have some context. You’re much more likely to die in a car accident. North Carolina had the fifth-highest number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. last year.

You also are far more likely to be shot to death. In an average year, 1,388 people die and 3,407 are wounded by guns in North Carolina.

So enjoy the bears and snakes, and by all means, drive defensively and keep your guns safely stored.


Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at