Photo: Gloria St. Mary
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When Gloria St. Mary returned from a trip to the grocery store last Thursday, she noticed her dog named King Kong was playing with something in his mouth. After stepping closer, she realized it was a coral snake and screamed.
St. Mary, who lives on San Antonio’s Northwest Side near Leon Valley, said the red, black and yellow colors of the snake let her know instantly it was the venomous coral snake, which she said was about 18-inches long.
Coral snakes are extremely reclusive and generally bite humans only when handled or stepped on, according to Paul Crump, a herpetologist from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. A coral snake bite to a dog can cause rapid complications that sometimes turn fatal, Crump said.
Crump also noted the Leon Valley area has a cluster of coral snakes that hide along trails and creeks near Cathedral Rock Park. While they are hard to find, the snakes will sometimes come out to look for food and shelter when high temperatures result in dry conditions, he said.
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St. Mary said she found her dog with the snake in an area that was “cooler and damp-like.”
“At that time, I kept screaming and yelling at him to drop it, because I thought it was going to kill him,” St. Mary said about her 2-year-old pit bull terrier she’s had since he was six-weeks old.
But King Kong didn’t listen, so St. Mary hysterically called for her husband to help as the snake dangled from her dog’s mouth. St. Mary said she eventually convinced her dog to drop the snake after swaying him with chicken wings.
St. Mary said she then grabbed a shovel and began pounding the reptile and left it there until her husband arrived, thinking it was dead.
However, when her husband approached the snake and attempted to pick it up with a shovel, it tried to strike the shovel. Although it was “terrifying,” St. Mary said her husband eventually killed the snake, but fears “where there is one, more will come.”
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Coral snakes are attracted to areas where they will likely find lizards, frogs and other smaller snakes, Crump said.
He said if you leave the snake alone, it will leave you alone. As for dogs, he advises pet owners to not allow them to pick up any kind of snake if possible. In King Kong’s case, he said he was fortunate the snake didn’t bite him.
“Almost all coral snake bites are when they are being handled by somebody,” Crump said. “The complications from bites are hard to determine because there aren’t that many cases of it. If you see one, leave it and it will likely be gone half an hour later.”
“Snakes are really important and have an important ecological role in controlling the population of rodents and insects. We want them around, we just have to be safe around them,” Crump added.
Priscilla Aguirre is a general assignment reporter for MySA.com | [email protected] | @CillaAguirre